Character roles and archetypes in O’Casey’s Shadow of a Gunman

The character(s) I find myself interested in exploring is actually a pair – Mrs. Henderson and Mr. Gallogher. The two of them are really working together in their little part of the plot.

                One theme I found myself pulling from the play was the characters’ sort of misconception about politics and the two sides of the Troubles. Both sides are, in a sense, romanticized. For example, Grigson has the ridiculous portrait of William of Orange on the wall and all his would-be religious piety (following the scriptures of the Bible [selectively; he seems to forget the parts about intoxication being a sin]). Minnie (and to a lesser extent, Tommy) thinks that being involved in the Nationalist movement means taking some sort of dramatic, violent action (hiding bombs or shooting people) and all of those mistaken about Davoren seem to think that the only way he could be involved was as a gunman.

I think Mr. Gallogher takes this ignorance a step further. He had this grandiose notion that the IRA would swoop and take care of something so trivial as noisy neighbors – that’s not an army’s job; it’s a job for the police (or whatever the Irish equivalent is at the time – even if there is no police force at the time, the army has bigger issues to worry about). His ignorance is apparent in the fact that he’s writing as if offering a statement in a court (using terms like “defendant” and “aforesaid” along with all his specific dates and details) but then tells the men to “bring their guns” as though to intimidate the neighbors like a gang. He might have kept this ridiculous misconception to himself, if not for the Mrs. Hendersons in the world, who perpetuate misconceptions and encourage others to do the same. It is apparently her idea, after all, to give the letter to Davoren. I think the pair demonstrates how, with just a little information, people jump to conclusions or fill in the rest with whatever their imagination gives them and then perpetuate that speculation as fact – which is, I think, how a lot of political conflict starts, even still today: the whole story never comes out (in the media, for example) and people jump to conclusions with the limited information they have.

The archetype Mrs. Henderson fills is fairly obvious: she is the “Mrs. Malaprop” – the blabbermouth character who believes herself to be more intelligent than she really is and tries to pass this “wisdom” on to others. Mr. Gallogher is more difficult for me to identify; I think of him as a “bumbler,” an archetype we didn’t really discuss – he sort of fumbles timidly around, seeking and waiting for recognition and approval from others. 

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