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Roddy Doyle’s depiction of a working class Irish family focuses on the evolution of the parental relationship between a father, Jimmy, Sr. and his eldest daughter, Sharon, as they struggle to accept the responsibilities of an unexpected pregnancy and the social implications that result. Detailing the trial and tribulations encountered by a poor working family of six children, the Barrytown Trilogy embarks on a passage into overall maturity by an entire family as Sharon must come to terms with her pregnancy by one of her girlfriends’ fathers, George Burgess. The attitudes expressed by Jimmy, Sr. particularly in response to his daughter’s pregnancy, continue to evolve as he learns more about his role as a parent and provider through Sharon’s example, manipulation, and his own guided self-discovery. In the opening pages of this novel, one will note that Jimmy seems to be unable to grasp and get a handle on his own opinions and feelings, though as the narrative progresses through confrontation and patience, Sharon will educate her father on what it means to be a parent, as she steps up to the position herself.
At the onset of this novel, a notable and quite evident strain in the relationship between Jimmy, Sr. and his daughter, Sharon, exists, as each attempt to adjust and come to terms with their own emotions regarding the upcoming arrival of her illegitimate child. Upon finding out that Sharon may be pregnant, Sharon’s father acted much more ambivalently than the average loving father, hinting at an unforeseen distance in familial connection between his daughter and himself; Sharon appears to be anything but “daddy’s little girl” as is made obvious by his reaction. Speaking to her mother about her pregnancy first, an authentic reaction is observed through the frustrated and anxious tears of Veronica, as “She thought that Sharon’s news deserved more attention, and some sort of punishment. As far as Veronica was concerned this was the worst thing that had ever happened to the family. ” (150). Jimmy, however, is unable to embrace his feelings relating to Sharon’s pregnancy; for some unknown reason he seeks to banish his emotions and remain strong for the family. Despite any noble intentions of pushing his feelings aside, Jimmy incites more mental suffering upon himself and his daughter, as she is unable to understand why he does not feel more strongly about her pregnancy. Jimmy, Sr. cannot be true to his own feelings and cannot rationalize how his role as the father figure of the family must evolve. Perhaps it is a positive attribute that he can remain so indifferent to the opinions and rumors, which will inevitably circulate throughout his hometown, Barrytown. Nevertheless, he cannot avoid the turmoil within himself that these criticisms will later rouse. Instead of telling Sharon exactly how he feels about this situation, he swallows his disappointment and heartache to be strong for her, but instead brings about confusion, as he appears to not be a very strong patriarchal figure. Jimmy Sr. goes on so far as to say that he believes Sharon to be a modern girl, a free-thinking woman who should not have to get married because of unwanted pregnancy, an obvious dodging of how he really feels. As Sharon grows up and matures in order to raise her baby properly, so must Jimmy, Sr. as he strives to develop into a more acceptable head of the household through many trails with his daughter and his own self.
Unable to deal with his anger over harsh words spoken about his daughter in a rational way, Jimmy, Sr. becomes violent in one instance and cries childishly in another, offering tainted justification which Sharon uses to prove him a hypocrite, and all of which establish a role reversal between Jimmy and his daughter. Seeking out to defend Sharon’s honor, Jimmy gains a bloody nose in a fight with some of the fellows down at the bar, and comes back home proud of his injury. His actions infuriate Sharon as she is unable to grasp why he would feel the need to take such childish measures; violence certainly would not hinder the mocking of her reputation. Most parents will recommend to children who are being bullied that, “You’re a fucking eejit, Daddy. Why couldn’t yeh just ignore them? ” (277); Sharon proves beyond her years by explaining this to her father, who apparently does not think rationally in regard to dealing with these jeering, drunken men he associates with. It does not even appear that Jimmy, Sr. understands her reasoning for not wanting him to lowering himself to their methods, especially in saying, “All Jimmy Sr had wanted was value for his nosebleed. But something had gone wrong. A bit of gratitude was all he expected. ” (278). It is painfully obvious from this statement that Jimmy, Sr. has learned nothing from the lesson Sharon has tried to impart to him, but she hopes that he will act differently the next time this situation arises, as it inevitably will. Also, when told that Sharon was a good ride by some of his bar pals, Jimmy, Sr. begins to cry and commences telling his daughter about it as a warning for her to know what is being said about herself. Sharon points out, however, that her father has considered other young ladies “rides” themselves, and wants him to realize this is no different, because they are all someone’s daughter. This is a hard lesson for Jimmy, Sr. to take in, but through his daughter’s actions and criticisms, he is able to being to understand what actions he must take, and what actions he definitely must steer clear of in his role as an active father for this pregnant young woman.
The earlier avoidance of conflict and confrontation of true emotions during the opening scene manifests itself into a childish evasion of Sharon altogether following her reprimands, as Jimmy attempts to make her feel guilty for the sin she has committed. By only speaking to her in casual passing and “enjoy[ing] his depression when Sharon was around or when he thought she was around and he could enjoy a few pints with the lads as well. ” (283), Jimmy sought to gain leverage against her claims, to make her remorseful for having sexual intercourse outside of wedlock. However, this plan backfires through the careful manipulation of her father with the threat of moving out, and Sharon is able to bring out his embarrassment due to presence of her unborn child. In this elaborate role reversal, Sharon is the one to confront her father about his less than friendly behavior in an attempt to correct the situation. She twists the situation back on him by demanding “Did I do somethin’ to yeh? I’m pregnant. I saw yeh lookin’ at me. —I’ve disgraced the family. ”(286), but this forces him to admit that he in fact is ashamed of her deeds. When Sharon apologizes to Jimmy, all he really wanted to hear from her to reconcile his differences with her, he insists that she not leave the family. This incidence represents a prime turning point in the evolution of their relationship as the father is, for the first time, truly able to open up to his daughter and make peace with her pregnancy, despite that she must take on the parental role for these results to come about. Examples of such a role reversal abound in this novel as one finds Jimmy, Sr. volleying back and forth between acting as an adult and acting as a child, although, after this scene, he no longer finds it imperative to hide his emotions.
As the novel’s storyline progresses, Jimmy, Sr. makes many very serious, whole-hearted attempts to create a stronger and more intimate bond between his daughter and himself, first by educating himself about her pregnancy. While Veronica seems to desire no part in her pregnancy despite the fact that she herself has been through this occurrence as she is a mother of six children, Jimmy, Sr. takes great interest in Sharon’s health and well-being, perhaps an attempt in making amends for his lack of sentiment upon her initial announcement of pregnancy. Jimmy, Sr. purchases books about pregnancy and becomes relatively educated, even explaining that “Hormonal changes are perfectly normal…But sometimes, like, there are side effects. Snottiness or depression or actin’ a bit queer. ” (306). By suggesting these consequences of pregnancy Jimmy, Sr. makes allowance for any strange behavior coming from Sharon, and therefore, expresses to her that he understands that she may be moody at times but won’t take it personally, although sometimes he should. This is a small step of him coming forward and opening himself up to her in his path to maturing as a father figure. He now also has a new concrete conversation topic to share with his daughter, without having to get too deep into emotional issues, and she feels he is the only one who really cares about this pregnancy. In addition, her father checks up on her when she is vomiting from morning sickness and drives her to work so that she will not have to walk. He even escorts her to Hikers one night so that they may talk, but sends her off to her friends so that he may join his bar mates, much as a teenager would send his parents off when he tired of them. Overall, Jimmy, Sr. affirms his position as father and head of the household in his assistance and concern for Sharon
In the final scene, Sharon’s father drives her to the hospital when her labor begins, instructing her on her breathing and solidifying a more parental relationship with her, trying to prove that he has stepped up to the plate and is prepared to take care of her and her child. This act completes the evolution of the relationship between father and daughter in this novel, although it will later continue to develop in The Van, however, much less drastically.
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