A Star Called Henry was based around the character Henry Smart,
the son of Henry and Melody Smart. Henry
came 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 “a
smaller, darker room” that wasn’t to last because they, once again, moved into
“a basement” (Doyle, p. 54-5). It was in
that basement that Henry received a little brother named Victor. The two were inseparable and ran away from
their 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. All
the two children knew about was being poor and it gave Henry a bleak outlook on
life. In fact, Doyle wrote:
We Henry and Victor fended and coped, we
survived and grew, side by side or with Victor
on my shoulder. We survived but never prospered. We were never going to prosper. We were allowed the freedom of the
streets- no one gave a fuck- but we’d never, ever
be allowed up the bright steps and into the comfort and warmth behind the doors
and windows. (p. 75).
Henry knew he had nothing, and felt that was all he would ever have in
his life. Yet, it seemed that living
this poor life with no opportunity to succeed, bred an innate sense of
compassion towards the poor within Henry. He would “butcher” cows to help feed the poor
children of Dublin (Doyle, p. 78). He wanted
to help them survive. Roddy Doyle used Henry’s poor background in order to
address romanticized, cultural nationalism within twentieth-century Irish literature.
W.B. Yeats wrote about a mythical character known as
Cathleen ni Houlihan. She was the symbol
of the oppression of Ireland within his writings. Yeats, in Cathleen ni
BRIDGET: What was it that put the trouble on you?
OLD WOMAN: My land
that was taken from me. (Yeats, p. 100)
Yeats, here, referenced
Ireland being taken by the English.
Yeats displayed the Old Woman as a frail, beaten down creature, playing
on the spiritual and romantic stereotype that women in twentieth century
literature were given. This
stereotypical character emboldened the men within the story to fight for her. In fact, the character Michael was so taken
by 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 cultural
nationalism within Cathleen ni Houlihan.
In Part One, Henry and his brother, Victor, were approached by two men
who asked if they “loved Ireland…” (Doyle, p. 79). Henry, at the time, had no
understanding of this phrase and only knew that he loved his brother. He also knew that he needed to make money for
the two of them to survive. Roddy Doyle
They wanted us to join the fight against the ranchers,
the absentee bastards who were pushing
the small men off the land, to help them win back the land that had been stolen
from us. (p. 80)
That section seemed to
mock the Old Woman whose land was taken from her in Yeats’ piece (Yeats, p. 100). The men were recruiting children, in the name
of 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, then
cut off the tails (Doyle, p. 80). That
seemed to ridicule the men fighting for Cathleen ni Houlihan in Yeats’ piece. It was a, let’s take back the land by fighting
cows, moment. Not only was it a mockery of the men fighting for the idea of
Ireland, but Doyle’s character, Henry, was only there to make money (p. 79). Henry
was practical and had no concern for nationalism. Who cared about the land? The poor were more important. To Henry, money was the business for survival
and he was good at it. Roddy Doyle also
used Henry’s concern for the poor in order to address twentieth century writers
The main political concern of the Irish in the twentieth
century was getting out from under England’s thumb. Yeats, in Cathleen
ni Houlihan, wrote “Too many strangers in the house” (p. 100). He was referencing the English, citizens and
soldiers alike, who lived in Ireland. In
his piece, Yeats’ wanted the Irish to basically kick the English out. Roddy Doyle seemed to propose a different
political ideal in part two of A Star Called
Henry. Part Two focused on Henry’s
point of view concerning the Easter Uprising of 1916. Doyle wrote, “…I fired at Noblett’s window…I
shot and killed all that I had been denied, all the commerce and snobbery that
had been mocking me…while the lads took chunks out of the military” (p.119). Henry was not fighting to free Ireland from English
oppression. In fact, he did not care who
controlled Ireland. His fight was
against class and for equality (Doyle, p. 122).
Henry had shot each store window with mythical ability. He was protecting the poor from the evils of
wealth like a hero.
Doyle, Roddy. A Star Called Henry. Penguin Group,
Yeats, W.B. “Cathleen Ni Houlihan.” Modern and Contemporary Irish Drama, edited
by J. P. Harrington, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2009, pp. 3-11.