Subjective Nationalism and the Immaterial: In the Shadow of the Glen

As Irish playwrights attempted to revitalize a sense of Irish nationalism through their pastoral plays, readers come to understand that the “true” Ireland is immaterial, and exists either in an archaic rendering of the past or an ultimately politicized future.  As discussed in class, John Synge’s expression of nationalism is one of lament over a thing dead and gone- his nationalism seems to be one of mourning, echoed in the keening of a mother whose sons were taken by the sea. In the artistic momentum of the cultural revival, nationalism expressed both strength and weakness as an intangible and ultimately subjective sensation.

If we look at Nora within “The Shadow of the Glen,” we see the struggle of her nationalism as it searches for a place to settle and express itself.  Nora’s nationalism doesn’t exist in her domestic sphere, constructed by an economic system that ultimately commodifies her- nor does it exist in the idealized rendering of the land presented by the tramp. Though pastoral tradition was the poster child the nationalist movement, and more specifically an Irish cultural revival, Synge brings darker substance to the construction of  “reconnecting with the land”: as Nora leaves behind her husband and her domestic sphere, she understands that she is going resigning to freeze out in the Glen- or worse, perhaps end up as the pandering, toothless woman. For Nora, what could “giving herself to Ireland” really mean? To be contented in a a domestic sphere that limits and objectifies her? Or to die freezing out in the rolling green hills? For poets and political orators, the immaterial nature of nationalism is a strength, because it is constructed of promises or gestures toward tradition, never having to deliver in the realm of the now. For characters like Nora, there is no space she can adequately occupy that will express her love for Ireland.

Real nationalism, then, can only be expressed in terms of subjective sensation. Nora’s nationalism does not exist within the home or without, but in the moment of her choosing. The moment she chooses to return to the land, and pursue some sort of ancient authentic, she is experiencing the True Ireland. But this experience is entirely individual to her, and vanishes after the idealism of her choice has faded. And so there is no objective space in which nationalism exists- true Ireland lies neither ahead nor behind, but in the choices of an individual. It exists in that moment, and as such can be inspired, but not preserved.

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