Irish literature involves largely the prestigious Catholic religion among the people and its effect on their lives. In Angela’s Ashes and Great Irish Short Stories, the word of the priest was not one to argue against and the Catholic teachings and Bible were a way of life. Due to the rule and power of the Catholic Church over the Irish community, sexuality was a symbol of sin, becoming unhealthily repressed and denied by the people. Any sexual encounter, a form of thought, or natural feelings were dutifully abstained from, in fear of sinning or becoming a heathen, for sexuality was shunned by the Church.
Throughout his childhood, Frank McCourt is burdened with the feeling of guilt for his sinfulness of his uncontrollable sexual thoughts and behavior. He is frequently talking of his worries that he is condemned or that he may damn other people. However, the root of his worries stems mostly from the Catholicism in which he was raised.
Although sexual feelings are natural and occur in every person with hormones, he sees himself as being dirty for even toying with any sexual idea this because of the control the church has had over his mind. I know about the excitement and I know its a sin but how can it be a sin if it comes to me in a dreamless a sin when you’re wide awake and going at yourself how shalt Not Commit Adultery, which means impure thoughts, impure words, impure deeds, and that’s what adultery is, Dirty Things in General (McCourt 291-292).
The priests hammered Frank and his community with stories of their beloved Virgin Mary and crucified Jesus, persuading them to believe that sex was a sin, causing total repression of feelings by followers. He says impurity is so grave a sin the Virgin Mary turns her face away and weeps every time you succumb to the vile sin of self-abuse, you nail Christ to the cross can’t help myself and swear ill go to confession and after that, surely after that, ill never do it again (292). Although Frank is conscious of the temptation to surrender to his natural sexual impulses, the worry of his sinfulness against the Catholic Church and God is prevalent, and he begins to suppress his feelings.
In James Joyce’s Davis Story, a young man is recollecting an encounter he faced with a seemingly sexually repressed woman. She asked me if was I tired and if would I like to stop the night there. She said she was all alone in the house and that her husband had gone in the morning and all the time she was talking, Stevie, she had her eyes fixed on my face and she stood so close to me I could hear her breathing (Mercier 223). Davin becomes incredibly frightened, dtheue to the Catholic dominance over his mind which taught sexuality as a sin, by the woman’s constant pleads for him to just stay the night. He flees in a frenzy, completely in fear of her outward sexuality. I didnt go in, Stevie. I thanked her and went on my way again, all in a fever (223). If sex is a sin, he could have nothing to do with it, for the church associates sins with the devil. The Church’s beliefs control the minds of the Irish in Irish literature.
Women, who were much more restricted as matrons and mothers, also became sexually repressed in Irish literature due to the strong Catholic religion running through their blood. Clay portrays Maria, a matron, as a woman with a heart of gold, a peacemaker. Her strong Irish Catholic beliefs are shown in her past hatred for Protestants, who were impure, and incorporation of the Bible in a Halloween game. Maria would enter a convent before the year was out because she had got the prayer book (221). She constantly refers to Joe and Alphy, their greatness, and her undeniable love for them and almost lives vicariously through the families. She was very fond of that purse because Joe had brought it to her five years before when he and Alphy had gone to BelfastJoe was a good fellow on everything was merry again. Maria was delighted to see the children so merry and Joe and his wife in such good spirits (216-220). She symbolizes clay, the lowest form on earth, but the basic essence of life and religious purity. She represses her feelings of wanting to be with a man because of her obligation to Catholicism, Maria had to laugh and say she didnt want any ring or man either (217); however, she could not hide it when she omitted the second and last verses of the song Girl, making it apparent to everyone that she could not allow herself to become active in dating and sex due to the weight of the Catholic beliefs on her mind.
An underlying trait that keeps a constant similarity in Irish literature is the power of the Catholic Church over the people and their lives, especially their sexuality. Their constant brainwashing of the people that any form of adulteration, whether it be thought, action, or words, was against God and would send them to hell, held a force over their minds and natural feelings. Because of the Catholic Church’s, authority and control over the Irish, many feelings of sexual repression arose and were depicted in Irish literature. The people felt the need to fulfill an obligation to the superiority of the Church and God, believing too that sexuality was wrong, suppressing the sexual course of nature.