Author (Your Name)

Mary Carty, Colby College

Date of Award


Document Type

Honors Thesis (Open Access)


Colby College. American Studies Program


Charles W. Bassett


As the largest immigrant group in the history of the United States, the Irish have had a tremendous impact on American society. Politically, the Irish flooded city government offices, eventually working up to the nation's highest office. Economically, they swelled the ranks of the labor market that was so crucial to America's growing industry. Religiously, they took over the leadership and strengthened the establishment of the Roman Catholic church in America, bringing to it their own parochial brand of Irish Catholicism. The Irish also influenced American culture with their successes in literature and the arts, and with their widespread emphasis on education, manifested in an abundance of parochial schools and Catholic colleges. The central question to deal with in this paper is the shaping of the ethnic identity of the American-Irish. Why, after nearly a century-long process of acculturation in America, did a body of literature emerge which was still quarreling and reconciling itself with the social status and identity of this immigrant group? It is evident from the Irish-American fiction under consideration that well into the twentieth centu ry, writers of Irish descent had a common experience that needed to be expressed and resolved. What is it that made the individual and collective Irish experience so powerful and problematic that it survived through generations to be resurrected in the fiction of American-born authors of Irish stock who had not suffered in the way that the earlier immigrant generations had? The first section of this paper will look at the historical interpretation of the Irish in America. Beginning by examining the Irish in lreland on the eve of emigration and following the acculturation process in America through the almost total assimilation and elimination of conscious ethnicity in the mid-twentieth century, I hope to create a realistic picture of the Irish-American experience, exploring the origins of commonly accepted stereotypes and, hopefully, deconstructing some of the false interpretations.


American fiction -- Irish-American authors -- History and criticism, Irish Americans in literature, Irish Americans -- Fiction, Irish Americans -- Ethnic identity, Irish Americans -- Cultural assimilation