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Theme Of Dirt And Cleanliness In Daniel Maclaverty's Cal

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Outer and inner cleanness have always been defining motifs of European literature and culture. Adam and Eve were banished from Paradise because they were deemed unclean, and their sin sentenced them to the dirtiness of mortal life. Dirt and cleanliness are also embedded in Bernard MacLaverty’s 1983 novel Cal, in which a young man struggles with his past deeds. The symbolism of dirt and cleanliness appear through several aspects in the narrative. In my paper, I seek to show why such a symbolic reading is justified, and to suggest an interpretation in which Cal’s attempts to come clean are ultimately linked to his own person and guilt. The protagonist of the novel, Cal McCluskey, is a young Catholic man in Protestant Northern Ireland. The reader…show more content…
In Cal, fire may be interpreted as a symbol of more than one thing. Cal and his father are “burned out” of their homes, presumably by loyalists, and this makes fire and burning an act of violence, but Cal’s association with fire is positive rather than negative. As he approaches his burning home, he can feel “the heat scorching the skin of his face”, and he has to turn away from the sight. Later, however, the feeling of fire on his skin returns not as a horrible state of burning, but as a feeling of warmth and being home. As Cal and Shamie reside in their friend Dermot’s house, Cal admits in his inner monologue that he loves “sleeping in a room with a fire,” and recalls a memory from his childhood: he would fall asleep by the fire, listening to his mother’s voice, and “feeling the heat from the fire on his face.” This not only creates a link between the two, vastly different ways that fire can affect someone, but it also connects Cal’s mother to the ancient elements of water and fire as…show more content…
To understand why, another library book needs to be examined more closely: Crime and Punishment. Cal borrows Crime and Punishment from the public library, and after being burned out, he tells Marcella that the book was “burnt in the fire”. Cal, up to that point, doesn’t call the library book by its title, it is only in this dialogue with Marcella that we learn what the novel truly is. It is not known whether Dostoyevsky’s book was really destroyed or not, but the fact that Cal says it was distances him from the greatest literary example of committing a crime and facing its consequences. Cal’s diction when he says the book was destroyed shows how the burning effect of the fire is present on a more symbolic level. Cal first deems the Russian novel nameless, then destroyed -- thus he has no chance of recognizing himself in it, has no chance of the absolution and domestication of literature that Marcella (in Cleary’s reading) stands
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