A Star Called Henry was based around the character Henry Smart,the son of Henry and Melody Smart. Henrycame from a poor family that never really lived in one place for long. They had lived in an apartment where the”walls were alive, looking back out at them” (p.). They moved and lived in “asmaller, darker room” that wasn’t to last because they, once again, moved into”a basement” (Doyle, p.
54-5). It was inthat basement that Henry received a little brother named Victor. The two were inseparable and ran away fromtheir home, “huddling in any corner, under any box or bin” (Doyle, p.72). The two children were “often cold,always hungry…but…kept on going going going” (Doyle, p. 73).
They wanted to survive their poor existence. Allthe two children knew about was being poor and it gave Henry a bleak outlook onlife. In fact, Doyle wrote: We Henry and Victor fended and coped, wesurvived and grew, side by side or with Victoron my shoulder.
We survived but never prospered. We were never going to prosper. We were allowed the freedom of thestreets- no one gave a fuck- but we’d never, everbe allowed up the bright steps and into the comfort and warmth behind the doorsand windows. (p.
75).Henry knew he had nothing, and felt that was all he would ever have inhis life. Yet, it seemed that livingthis poor life with no opportunity to succeed, bred an innate sense ofcompassion towards the poor within Henry. He would “butcher” cows to help feed the poorchildren of Dublin (Doyle, p. 78). He wantedto help them survive.
Roddy Doyle used Henry’s poor background in order toaddress romanticized, cultural nationalism within twentieth-century Irish literature. W.B. Yeats wrote about a mythical character known asCathleen ni Houlihan. She was the symbolof the oppression of Ireland within his writings. Yeats, in Cathleen niHoulihan, wrote: BRIDGET: What was it that put the trouble on you? OLD WOMAN: My landthat was taken from me. (Yeats, p. 100)Yeats, here, referencedIreland being taken by the English.
Yeats displayed the Old Woman as a frail, beaten down creature, playingon the spiritual and romantic stereotype that women in twentieth centuryliterature were given. Thisstereotypical character emboldened the men within the story to fight for her. In fact, the character Michael was so takenby the noble story of the Old Woman, that he said, “I will go with you” (Yeats,p. 101). It seemed as though Roddy Doyle, in A Star Called Henry, was mocking Yeats’s ideas of culturalnationalism within Cathleen ni Houlihan. In Part One, Henry and his brother, Victor, were approached by two menwho asked if they “loved Ireland…” (Doyle, p. 79). Henry, at the time, had nounderstanding of this phrase and only knew that he loved his brother.
He also knew that he needed to make money forthe two of them to survive. Roddy Doylewrote: They wanted us to join the fight against the ranchers,the absentee bastards who were pushingthe small men off the land, to help them win back the land that had been stolen from us. (p. 80)That section seemed tomock the Old Woman whose land was taken from her in Yeats’ piece (Yeats, p.
100). The men were recruiting children, in the nameof Ireland, for a “noble” cause (Doyle, p. 79). The fight that Henry and Victor joined was actually against cows. They tarred and feathered the beasts, thencut off the tails (Doyle, p. 80). Thatseemed to ridicule the men fighting for Cathleen ni Houlihan in Yeats’ piece. It was a, let’s take back the land by fightingcows, moment.
Not only was it a mockery of the men fighting for the idea ofIreland, but Doyle’s character, Henry, was only there to make money (p. 79). Henrywas practical and had no concern for nationalism. Who cared about the land? The poor were more important. To Henry, money was the business for survivaland he was good at it. Roddy Doyle alsoused Henry’s concern for the poor in order to address twentieth century writerspolitical concerns. The main political concern of the Irish in the twentiethcentury was getting out from under England’s thumb.
Yeats, in Cathleenni Houlihan, wrote “Too many strangers in the house” (p. 100). He was referencing the English, citizens andsoldiers alike, who lived in Ireland. Inhis piece, Yeats’ wanted the Irish to basically kick the English out. Roddy Doyle seemed to propose a differentpolitical ideal in part two of A Star CalledHenry. Part Two focused on Henry’spoint of view concerning the Easter Uprising of 1916. Doyle wrote, “…I fired at Noblett’s window…Ishot and killed all that I had been denied, all the commerce and snobbery thathad been mocking me…while the lads took chunks out of the military” (p.
119). Henry was not fighting to free Ireland from Englishoppression. In fact, he did not care whocontrolled Ireland.
His fight wasagainst class and for equality (Doyle, p. 122). Henry had shot each store window with mythical ability. He was protecting the poor from the evils ofwealth like a hero. In conclusion, Works CitedDoyle, Roddy.
A Star Called Henry. Penguin Group,1999.Yeats, W.B.
“Cathleen Ni Houlihan.” Modern and Contemporary Irish Drama, editedby J. P. Harrington, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2009, pp. 3-11.