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"Treating the Literary Literally:" The Reflexive Structure of Flann O’Brien’s ... - page 34 / 50





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stories. They are annoyed by Finn, whom they consider an old bore, rather than a respected part of Irish culture. These cowboys are a reference to the popularity of trashy fiction; American-style cowboys are Tracy’s most famous subject matter, and they are obviously out of place in this fictional Dublin. Tracy is noted as having destroyed acres of Dublin’s housing to build a ranch in the Ringsend district, and in a narrative line that one of the cowboys himself tells, to be discussed below in chapter four, Tracy has camped a large group of stereotypical "red Indians" in a Dublin park, wearing full war-paint and buckskin.

As stated in the previous chapter, Finn’s narrative is expansive and overpowering in comparison to the other minor narrative lines. It is during this meeting with Trellis’ cowboys that Finn discourses at length about Sweeney, reminiscing in a sense about ancient times, while keeping up his fight against the injustices done to mythical figures by authors. Finn tells the long tale of Sweeney and his madness, an ailment Finn has earlier proclaimed a great injustice to this important figure of Irish history. Finn becomes an important story-teller based simply on how much of the novel is devoted to his tale, regardless of its content. While it does not really have any great effect on the grand structure or goals of O’Brien’s or the narrator’s work, and is entirely separate from Trellis’, it is interesting because of Finn’s personal feelings regarding authors. Finn sets out what can be considered his own personal literary theory. He opposes the ill-use of mythical figures by authors, arguing that these ancient characters deserve more respect because of their place in history and culture. Finn argues for a sort of seniority for these ancient characters, as he does not seem concerned with the more modern characters surrounding him in the Red Swan. What is truly interesting about Finn’s objections to characters’ treatment is that he is a story-teller himself and uses Sweeney, Finn’s primary example for the misuse of respected characters, as his protagonist.

One must question Finn’s tale telling; are these oral tales the same as the written ones he has already complained about? There is no clear answer for this query, but there are a few pieces of evidence to support Finn’s telling of this tale. Because Finn’s justification of the oral tradition in Irish literature is so strong, this recital in front of his fellow characters in the Red Swan appears to be acceptable. Finn had earlier claimed that the "book-poets" were lacking the melodious Irish language in their work; this appears to taint any new versions of traditional stories by translating and losing the original meaning behind the words. However, it is clear that Finn is not telling the Sweeney’s tale in Irish; none of the cowboys in Trellis’ novel ever show any inkling of the Irish language. In fact, it can be inferred through their characters that they have no knowledge of Irish traditions at all. They are styled after the American cowboys of western novels and movies, not any part of Irish culture. While Finn’s relating of this tale is sympathetic to Sweeney, the tale still involves much suffering. Finn can only escape being one of the story- tellers that he complains about if one thing is true: re-told stories do not involve their original characters being forced to act out the tale again. This would appear to be obviously true, as one does not need to employ all the characters of Tracy’s last western to read the novel; they are free to be hired out to other writers after its completion. However, novels are written works, not oral compositions which change every time they are told, especially when told by an ancient man who falls asleep in the middle of conversations. All oral stories can be considered new every time they are repeated by a person in front of an audience.

Evidence that Finn cannot get away with repeating this tale is also shown in a previously discussed scene: the paintings on the walls of the Red Swan show their subjects as active, posing models. Trellis has adorned his home with these ‘living’ portraits in the same way that he has caused his characters to live in his home with him. Perhaps there are flaws in the process of oral literature that Finn has not realized. More evidence to support this possibility comes from At


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