AbstractsLanguage, Literature & Linguistics

Shifting Sympathies. The Representation of the IRA in Borstal Boy

by Heiða Lind Sigurbjörnsdóttir 1990

Institution: University of Iceland
Year: 2015
Keywords: Enska; Borstal boy (ævisaga); Behan, Brendan, 1923-1963; Aðlaganir; Kvikmyndir; Írski lýðveldisherinn
Record ID: 1222187
Full text PDF: http://hdl.handle.net/1946/20385


Brendan Behan’s autobiographical novel, Borstal Boy, was published in 1958 and it inspired Peter Sheridan to make a film of the same name in 2000. Although they share the same title, the novel and the film adaptation differ in some fundamental ways. The novel is an Irish Republican Army themed story which focuses on Brendan’s experience as a teenager in three prisons and his interactions with other inmates and prison officials. The film tones down the IRA’s influence on the story and transitions the theme to a bisexual love triangle. The purpose of the essay is to investigate some of the differences between the novel and the film and to examine the reasons behind these changes, especially with regards to the theme shift from the main character’s nationalistic ideology in the novel to his sexual orientation in the movie. There are other shifts that occur as the story progresses, Brendan’s idealised view of the IRA and by extension his perception of all Englishmen as the enemy is gradually eroded as his friendship develops with other boys at Borstal. To support my thesis, I look at how the IRA is presented in both works and how it influences the story and I compare some facts about Behan with the works to try to explain where the bisexuality theme comes from. The result is that the IRA’s influence on the story is more significant in the novel than in the film, which instead foregrounds Brendan’s sexuality. In both works, Brendan’s naïve nationalism and the influence that the IRA has on his young impressionable character can be sympathised with despite his being cast as an atypical hero. Furthermore, the IRA and the English are not presented as either good or bad in the story, indeed the portrayal of each shifts as the narrative progresses. Finally, the bisexual aspect of the film is inspired by facts about Brendan Behan’s own sexuality which came to light after the novel was published. This essay attempts to examine the shifts in sympathy from an ideological coming of age story in the novel to a sexual awakening theme in the film, as well as addressing some of the shifts in Brendan’s character in both works.