Date of Award


Degree Type




First Advisor

Karem, Frederick

Subject Headings

Irish literature -- History and criticism, Famines -- Ireland -- History -- 19th century, Great Famine Irish Literature


The critical debate surrounding the Great Famine in Irish Literature centers on the notion of a perceived silence. While some scholars claim that there is a literary void in Irish Literature following this cataclysmic event, others wonder whether language is even capable of describing the extreme physical, emotional, and psychological suffering that is inflicted upon the victims when such tragedies occur. Centuries of imperialism and colonialism had created a class divide so wide and an Irish economy so fragile that when a calamity such as famine occurred, it was the poverty-stricken, predominately Irish-Catholic peasantry that suffered most. Poor and illiterate, powerless and voiceless, they also lacked the ability -- and oftentimes, the willingness -- to articulate the horrors that they experienced, witnessed, and sometimes even committed in order to survive. Trauma, too, would add to their muteness as feelings of guilt, shame, blame, and immeasurable grief followed in its wake. Anguished by the question of why the Famine had occurred and feeling somehow responsible for it, the Irish peasantry were at a loss as to how to cope with it, how to address it, and how to articulate it to those who had not experienced it first-hand. What must also be kept in mind when discussing the Great Famine is that there were two stories to be told in regards to location: those who remained behind in Ireland and those who departed to other shores. Each had their own experiences to share and their own trauma with which to cope. While the horrific images and memories brought on by the Famine still plagued this sector of the Irish population, they also experienced a haunting sense of melancholy and nostalgia for the homeland that they had left behind oftentimes as a last resort in order to survive. While there was a silence of sorts immediately following the Famine that echoed the silence that reverberated across the decimated land, a torrent of imagery would emerge to express the inexpressible and describe the indescribab