Jack Clitheroe

Much insight into O’Casey’s characters can be gleaned from the stage directions with which O’Casey introduces a character. With Jack Clitheroe, our impression is of a weak individual unlikely to be an heroic figure in the play "His face has none of the strength of Nora’s. It is a face in which there is the desire for authority but without the power to attain it". Jack’s role in the play is a reactive rather than a proactive one. Early in the play we learn that Jack’s dedication to the Republican cause is not totally committed. His role in the Citizen’s Army is at best conditional on him gaining promotion. When we meet him in Act 1, he has severed his connections with the Citizens Army, supposingly out of loyalty to Nora, but in reality due to a fit of pique at not having gained promotion. When he learns that Nora has destroyed his letter of promotion and is informed by Brennan that Connolly has promoted him to the Commandant and given him charge of a battalion, he has a paradoxical reaction. He no longer seems preoccupied by his marriage - the love scenes with Nora are ended abruptly and he purchases a Sam Brown belt to enhance his image as an important military figure. The purchase of the belt and his disappointment at not having gained promotion indicate that Jack’s involvement in the Citizen’s Army and therefore the Republican movement is to satisfy his own vanity. His comments on Brennan when he learns of Brennans promotion to captain are as Mrs. Gogan suggests more indicative of his own character than of Brennans. Saying that it was Brennan’s "First chance to show himself off since they made a captain of him". The image of Brennan swanking it at the head of a Citizen’s Army parade is an image that Jack would dearly like to have of himself.

By casting Jack Clitheroe in the role of a CA Commandant and therefore an important figure in the 1916 Rising, O’Casey is voicing his disapproval of both the rising itself and more specifically from his own point of view of the direction the CA had taken since its inception in 1913. The army was originally created by Connolly to protect the locked out workers of Dublin from employers, police and the army. It was established as a selfless organisation, not one to foster the vanity of people such as Jack Clitheroe, nor to involve itself in an uprising that was of little consequence to the working class people. By allowing a partially committed, self-seeking individual to rise to the rank of Commandant, O’Casey shows that the CA had lost touch with its roots.

Having established these facts about the Rising and the men that were involved, O’Casey tries to explain and identify the reasons why the Rising had achieved an heroic and glorious image in the eyes of the people. He does this through dealing with the death of Jack Clitheroe. While we are not sympathetic to the character of Jack as portrayed in the opening part of the play, he does, despite his questionable commitment and his obvious vanity, take his place at the barricades , involve himself in the fighting and meets his death in action. Brennan’s account of Jack’s death describes a glorious sacrifice in keeping with the rhetoric of the speaker in Act 2 and while Brennan’s account must be questioned, O’Casey cleverly interprets the great emotional wave of support that those who died in 1916 received in the aftermath of the Rising. What O’Casey is doing here is commenting on the irony of the Rising - that men such as Clitheroe , whose motivation and courage we doubt do at the end of the day fully give themselves and pay the ultimate price. There is also irony in Brennan’s comment to Bessie that "Mrs. Clitheroe’s grief will be joy when she realises that she had a hero for a husband". This heroism of which Brennan speaks has destroyed Nora, has damaged her psychologically and has led to the loss of her unborn child therefore Brennan’s words are embarrassing.

Jack’s role in the play is two fold, he represents the brand of Nationalism inculcated (taught ) by the speaker and he is also cast as the husband of Nora, both roles are in stark contrast with each other. At all points he must make a choice between them. In the early part of the play we see him as Nora’s husband desperately trying to rekindle the love of their early courtship against a background of disappointment in his military career. His declaration in the second Act "Ireland is greater that a wife" is prophetic as he chooses the Republican cause over his marriage and lays down his life despite the protestations of Nora. In the end he is as much a victim of his own delusions as is Nora, as his death for the cause of Ireland strips him of everything.

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