Compare and contrast the treatment of emigration and rural life in “The Country Boy” by John Murphy and “Philadelphia, Here I Come” by Brian Freill
A. Emigration has been, and still is, a major factor in Ireland. It has been ever since the famine of 1845. Over one million people left Ireland to go to The United States Of America, and Irish people have been leaving ever since. It used to be that everyone who left, were leaving due to unemployment or lack of opportunities, but these days, even though there are a lot more jobs available and the economy is at its best ever, people are still leaving. It seems they are leaving to find adventure. They think Ireland is too small and too boring a place to spend the rest of your life in. I will be looking at two plays which deal with emigration. The first is “The Country Boy” and the second is “Philadelphia, Here I Come”.
In both plays, the writer shows that boys haven’t got a very good relationship with their fathers. There is a lack of communication between the father and son, and although they seem to get on with each other, they aren’t very close. Although, Curly seems to have a better relationship with his father than Gar has with his father. The reason for this is, although Curly and his father can’t really agree on anything, they seem to talk more and communicate on some sort of level, whereas S.B and Gar have the exact same routine every single night. S.B comes in and says exactly the says and does the exact same thing and at one point, Private Gar is mocking him and predicting everything that he is about to say and do. Gar says;
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“OK, time for our nightly lesson of the English language.”
And after that, he proceeds to pre-empt everything that S.B says and does, and again mocks how S.B follows the same routine.
“The most obedient father I ever had.”
There is also the fact that the fathers basically control their son’s lives and don’t give them much independence. The fathers seem to treat them like children and not give them any important jobs to do. They can never seem to do anything good enough for their fathers. We see this as Gar says to S.B;
“Because I’m twenty five and you treat me as if I were five.”
“I can’t even order a dozen loaves without your say so.”
And we also see Curly saying;
“What good is this to me? Workin’ like a horse…..me father grumblin’ and grousin’ at me?”
For both boys, there is also the promise of the family business, but it doesn’t look like either of the two fathers are ready to hand over to their sons, and while Curly and Gar are both still working for their fathers, they will never have their independence. They will never have their own lives. They will never be free. We see the boy’s desperate need for freedom as Curly says;
“The place…the place? By the time I get the place, I’ll be getting a pension.”
“I want to work for myself.”
Another reason why the fathers don’t want to hand over the business may be because of mistrust. They may think that their sons would be incapable of carrying on the business. We see some mistrust in Gar’s earlier comment about the loaves. We also see Tom describing his son as having;
“Daft ideas in his head…and everything has to be done the opposite way to yours.”
Both Gar and Curly have people sympathetic to their situation. For Curly, it’s his mum, Mary and for Gar, it’s Madge, the family housekeeper. They understand the relationship between father and son and know that the boys, at heart, don’t really want to leave.
“It’s very little you’ve ever done except contradicting him and ridiculing any ideas he ever had.”
The women are more in touch with the boys’ needs and try to get the fathers to see them as well.
“The youth of today are entitled to some freedom.”
We also know that Curly has doubts about leaving and Mary also claims that Curly’s father is driving him away and that he doesn’t really want to leave.
“He’s not going because he wants to, he’s going because he has to.”
“Even though I’ll be on that plane tomorrow, I’ll have my doubts.”
Both father and son do love each other but are unable to show it. Gar wants to talk to his father badly, but is unable to express himself.
“Keep at it, the silence is the enemy.”
The fathers also seem to want their sons to stay, but again, they either are unable or too stubborn to say it. We see this as Eddie says;
“They’re too proud to get down on their knees and ask you to stay.”
Madge says (referring to S.B);
“Just because he doesn’t say much doesn’t mean he hasn’t got feelings like the rest of us.”
There are a number of reasons why both boys want to go to America. For Gar, it is the fact that Ballybeg is a small town with not much going for him. It has a snobbish, small-minded attitude and it is boring. Nothing exciting ever happens. He can’t fulfil, what he believes, to be his full potential. Another reason would be his failed relationship with Katy Doogan. He was going to marry her, but hadn’t got the backbone to stand up to Katie’s father. She is now married to Dr. Francis King in Ballybeg. I think, he thinks, he wouldn’t be able to handle seeing his one true love all the time, with another man. Also, his relationship with S.B, which we have already looked at, would be a big factor. He says;
“We embarrass each other.”
And, the one good memory, of Lough Nah Cloc Cor, which Gar has with his father, S.B can’t remember. This is the final straw for Gar. It is the one thing that finally convinces him to go, because there’s nothing keeping him in Ireland. There’s nothing worth staying for.
“Suddenly you sang – for no reason at all, except, that we – you were happy. D’you remember.”
Gar is desperate for his father to remember. He wants something the two can share. But when S.B says he doesn’t remember, this makes Gar consider the possibility that he just imagined the whole thing. The sad truth is that S.B really does have feelings for Gar, but can’t show it, thus he denies the incident at Lough Na Cloc Cor, and we see this going back to madge’s quote, about because he doesn’t talk, doesn’t mean he doesn’t feel. But we see that he has feelings when he’s talking to Madge and recalls fondly when Gar wore a sailor suit when he was younger.
“And he had this wee sailor suit on him.”
With Curly, again most of the reasons are the same. He feels unfulfilled in the small town and doesn’t really have a good relationship with his father. Although, he had a good relationship with a local girl, Eileen Tierney.
Both boys have relatives who have emigrated from Ireland to America but have both very different lives in America. Gar has his Aunt Lizzy and Uncle Con. They went out to America and met a man called Ben Burton and they have had a good life there. The one thing that makes them unhappy is that they never had any children, which is why they want Gar to come out. They have set him up with a job in a hotel and are going to give him a place to live. This makes America appealing to Gar.
Curly’s relatives, his brother Eddie and his wife Julia, on the other hand, have had a very different experience of America. They pretend to be rich and well off, but really, they aren’t. They bought empty suitcases to make it look as though they had lots of luggage and they hired a camera for the holiday, and tried to pretend they owned it. Eddie also seems to have developed a drinking problem and tells Curly, life in America isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
“But someday, maybe, when you’re shovelling coal in a stinking boiler room or up to your knees in muck, twenty feet under the clean sidewalks of Park Avenue, you’ll wipe more than just sweat and dust out of your eyes.”
The outcomes of the plays are very different though. Basically, Gar leaves and Curly stays. Gar’s love has failed, he can’t talk to his father and life in America appeals to him. So he leaves Ireland. Whereas, Curly is going to get married, his father hands over the business and he has seen that America isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Although, ultimately, Gar doesn’t really wasn’t to go, he feels he has no real choice.
“Good boy! Why do you have to leave? Why?”
“I don’t know.”
Curly on the other hand, stays and seems to gain his independence, with his father handing over the farm to him. This and the fact he is in love with Eilleen and is going to marry her, is the reason he stays. He had a lot to stay for, whereas Gar, who desperately wanted to stay, has to leave.
“But its no good shouting anymore, you’ve got to hand over sometime.”
I enjoyed both plays and enjoyed reading them but I think that “Philadelphia, Here I Come” shows a more accurate portrayal than “The Country Boy” because I think it shows a more realistic side of what it would be like for a young boy emigrating. Mostly they would’ve went and the way Gar has nothing to stay for is more real life, whereas “The Country Boy” shows more of a “…and they lived happily ever after” fairytale style ending, where Curly stays, marries his true love, gets the farm and gains his independence. It all just seems to good to be true. So, in conclusion, I think both plays were very good, but I think “Philadelphia, Here I Come” is a more accurate portrayal