The ghost in the Irish psyche: Ghost stories in contemporary Irish literature

Date of Completion

January 2010


Literature, Modern|Literature, English|Gender Studies




This critical project identifies supernatural figures and ghost story narratives in contemporary Irish literature, revealing the creative power of the ghost as a metaphor through which to express widespread anxiety. Though ghost stories and supernatural tales have existed from the earliest oral literature in Ireland, these stories are reinvented each generation as manifestations of past traumas and current vexations that the Irish are facing at the time of writing. I argue that while exercising the collective memory of the culture to promote a self-identity distinct from its colonial past, ghost stories tap into structures of communal storytelling that are adapted to express encoded fears about the present. ^ I examine ghost story narratives embedded in select Irish drama, short stories and poetry published from 1987–2007, reading these stories as shuttling between repressive and emergent expression. I contend that when a ghost appears in one of these texts, it is a symbol containing loss that has yet to be fully grieved because of its traumatic nature. Artists who implore a kind of keening to commence through literary animations of ghosts are asserting a postcolonial resistance to replicating exploitative colonial thinking. Specifically, in this recent period, I argue that horror tales take shape through artists' concerns over racism, imperialism, and globalization. When social critique is exposed through the transgressive spirit of the ghost, whose speech is often silence, narratives of community give voice to those who lack power. My implicit suggestion is that if ghost stories are a resistant discourse to colonialism, their hybrid nature comprised of past and present offers a discourse that destabilizes literary forms inherited from the colonizer. My analysis configures the ghost story as a paradigm of the familiar becoming strange, dramatizing the trope of a stranger who crosses the threshold of the home and disturbs the order within. Ireland is in a unique position to usher in such unsettling narratives, as a postcolonial nation that is exhuming its past horrors while confronting the uncertainty of its present prominence in the European Union and the international community at large. ^