One could write Trinity's success off as the inevitable effects of a novel riding the waves made by previously lucrative books. But Trinity's predecessors (Exodus especially) are merely one of the reasons the "novel of Ireland" sold so well and stayed so long on the bestsellers list. Leon Uris created a story that appealed to the political ideologies of 1970's America, while maintaining a focus on the historical particularities of late 19th/early 20th century Northern Ireland, thereby linking the present and the past in one broad stroke. The largeness of scope, coupled with the obvious yoking of present and past, was problematic for critics but essential for making this novel a bestseller. Trinity was a blockbuster, coming out in the decade that defined what that concept really meant in film and literature in terms of how the epic proportions of the story equaled the enormous financial expectations.
The blockbuster has been criticized as a result of the "big-company, big book trend in publishing" and critics certainly tend to place Uris in the group of novelists ridiculed for the structural aspects of writing: "When editors at hardcover houses are looked upon more as acquirers than as editors, the sheer demands of the acquiring process have obliged many of them to devote far less time than ever before to the actual literary, or even the grammatical, details of the authors' manuscripts" (Whiteside 99-100). Whatever Uris might lack in language and cohesive transitions, he did create what people wanted to read in the 1970's ( and, given the number of reprints, what people still want to read in 2006).
One of the main questions for novels like Trinity is whether the ideology manipulates the economic intake or if that goal for money shapes the ideology to fit its own purposes. This question is fueled by John Sutherland's book, Bestsellers: Popular Fiction of the 1970's, in which he notes the two functions of the bestseller: "The first is economic. It exists to sell the best and make money for its producers and merchandisers. The second, more flexible function is ideological. The bestseller expresses and feeds certain needs in the reading public. It consolidates prejudice, provides comfort, is therapy, offers vicarious rewards or stimulus" (34). There is no speculation over whether Trinity made money or fed a certain need to the public, it certainly did. The question is which ideology did Uris feed to the public?
Uris makes a clear argument for liberty and personal freedom throughout Trinity. He uses the Irish as a prime example of the oppressed and the British as those who attempt to deny their rights as human beings. Uris is quoted as saying: "The Irish Catholic?is the guy who came to Britain and said ?I want justice.' The British said ?You cant have it.' Well, Britain owns the rules. How does the oppressed people fight against the rule-makers? The revolutionaries make their own rules because they have been put outside of polite society by society. Politically, the Northern Irish are less than zero. They can't play by the British rules" (Kane). Uris's personal politics and perspective are as unapologetic as the grandiose epic he sets them in. His leftist ideology matches the form and, even more importantly, lines up with what it means to be a blockbuster.
In order to be a blockbuster, there must be a wide appeal to a mass audience. The mass audience, the audience that remains marketable, is predominantly American. Uris writes an American epic, using Ireland to promote American ideals. Uris writes good guys and bad guys with no apologies and little gray area. He makes his heroines beautiful and his protagonist handsome and strong, but allows for flaws and human weaknesses, so that his readers both revere and relate to the characters. Ultimately, Uris writes an Irish western, an international glorification of an American icon: "?Trinity take[s] the familiar ?making of a nation' theme. It is mainly an American subject matter, America being the country which has been most spectacularly made in recent history. But the mode is transferable. As Uris puts it: ?You can write westerns in any part of the world' " (Sutherland 203).
John Moeller demonstrates that, despite many critics desire to dispel the stereotypes of the genre, the western is often labeled by three characteristics: "(1)locale?from Texas to Canada between Missouri and the Rockies, (2) time?from 1865 to around the turn of the century and (3) the use of the West as not merely a backdrop but in fact a ?generating force' (Yanarella 20). Trinity holds that third item close to its pages, the essence of the western rides through Uris's Irish countryside and streams through the souls of the characters. James K. Folsom sheds light on how the western finds itself within many other genres, such as science fiction, but loses currency when not combined as a hybrid, largely due to its politically incorrectness and formulaic nature: "Most other genres of popular fiction are assumed to be more profound, at least in implication, than their writers are in performance" (Folsom 15). By mixing genres, Uris ties up the loose ends of the western genre, those that are "unreal" or too "escapist," by drawing on the historical facts to balance the romance and emotions of the western with the politics of historical hindsight (Folsom 16).
One of the first aspects of the novel that strikes a western chord, finds itself in how the author over-explains the meaning of the book. Just as a western follows a certain formula, so does Trinity follow the guidelines set by Uris. Trinity maintains one clear mantra from the beginning of his novel to the last line of the epilogue: Eugene O'Neil's phrase, "There is no present or future?only the past happening over and over again?now." Uris provides structural variations on this line throughout the chapters, most obviously at the end of the novel ("For, you see, in Ireland there is no future, only the past happening over and over") but never enough to suggest a change in the meaning (751). For instance, in an emotional tirade on the troubles of Ireland, Conor Larkin alludes to O'Neil's line: "There's a curse on me as there's a curse on the Larkin name. The curse comes back, again, and again, to taunt me! Ronan! Kilty! Tomas! And now me! What are the Irish among men?...Will there ever be an end to our tears? (375). The cyclical nature of Ireland's problems is made more obvious by situating it within the binaries of family and the individual, religion and politics, and, of course, the Irish and the British. The novel's theme is spelled out for the reader, underlined throughout the chapters as to make no mistake on the links between the events of the novel and the present troubles in Northern Ireland.
Uris depends largely on historical facts to structure the novel's fictional path in tandem with the actual timeline of events between the 1840's and 1916. The characters are swept within the confines of the times they live in, the country they inhabit, the religions they practice, and the families to whom they are bound. The contemporary readers, of course, know that Northern Ireland still bursts with issues in the 1970's. Uris speaks to the ongoing disputes in an interview with The Washington Post: "The British are willing to give up their rights to govern. Ulster is a financial liability to them. They have created a mongoloid baby. Once it was cute. Now it is an embarrassment. But there will never be peace there. The Protestant mind will never accept that anything be given to the Catholics" (Kane). Uris's strong prejudices against Protestants and the British has been said to bleed into the text itself. Though the Protestants in the novel are often depicted as villains, Uris does manage to cover his bases by creating characters who are sympathetic while being Protestant, and, inversely creating Catholics who are anything but heroic.
One of the more unfair complaints from the reviews of Trinity, revolves around the way Uris depicts the Catholics as "poor but saintly" (Hudson). Most of the Catholics are far from being saints. Conor's father, Tomas, carries many interesting and contradicting qualities that make him quite dynamic. His attitudes are often exasperating because his intentions are so good though his sensitivity is so lacking. The guilt he places on Conor to work the land, rather than go to school, is not rooted in Catholicism but in a desire to pass on all that he has to his favorite son. There is also a sense of self-preservation surfacing in Tomas's understanding of his relationship with Conor; Conor symbolizes Tomas's immortality.
If Conor lives, then Tomas cannot truly die. But when Tomas realizes, on his deathbed, that Conor will never work the land, he seeks absolution from the Church, saying he owes it to his neighbors and friends: "If I can show them that I've seen God, then I'll leave them a legacy, something to hang onto?I cant leave them all alone without hope?"(Uris 346). Tomas recognizes the need for hope despite going from "despair to despair" in the never-ending fight of life (Uris 346). Catholicism acts as a social need for Tomas, rather than a spiritual one. Because he detaches from the Church, he ruins his relationship with his wife and cuts himself off from his children. Even though it might seem easier for him to simply attend mass and go through the motions of being a good Catholic, he cannot fake a belief or a respect for the corrupt Father Lynch: "Ah, Father, you are a blister" (Uris 45). He cant live with being Catholic but he can die as one, so his friends and family's memory of him wont be tainted with thoughts of his soul burning in Hell.
The key model for the multi-dimensional Protestant character is clearly Caroline Hubble. Caroline is introduced as a spoiled, beautiful, worldly, rich, shrew of a woman, to whom her soon-to-be-husband, Roger, has no desire to tame: "I don't fancy playing Baptista to your Katherine" (Uris 192). Though she locks herself into a marriage that seals her position on the political board game, Caroline acquires sympathy for the Catholics; first, towards Conor, and then to Molly O'Rafferty. Caroline respects Conor as an artist and admires him as a man: "He was a finely put together man?yet his brawn was modified by the stack of drawings under his arm. He was so utterly Irish with his cocked cap and sweet talk but so terrifyingly knowledgeable" (Uris 361). Likewise, Conor cannot help but like Caroline, even though she stands for everything he detests about imperialism: "As his own prejudices of Larkin for Hubble tempered, he admitted to himself he liked the way Lady Caroline held her arms out wide to her family as well as her relationship with her husband" (Uris 369).
The glimpses of Caroline's humanity are fully realized when she fights her husband for her son, Jeremy, to marry the woman he loves, a Catholic girl, Molly O'Rafferty, (who also happens to be pregnant with his baby): "And Molly! That precious girl! She'll be condemned like a common whore, all but burned at the stake as a witch"(660). Ironically, the moment of Caroline's greatest sympathy is also the moment Jeremy decides to take his fortune and title over a life of poverty with Molly: "Any notion of running off with her became totally squashed by visions of muddy alleys and peeling rooms. With all his tugging and hauling with his father, he liked being Jeremy Hubble, Viscount Coleraine" (Uris 668). The theme of the past repeating into the present finds itself in the Hubble family just as much as in the Larkin's. The Protestants and the Catholics are both victims to the traditions and customs they adhere to.
Despite the preordained sentencing on the characters' various fates, many of them project a great amount of agency. The agency, however, is an act in futility, since just as a hero will undoubtedly die in the tragedy, Conor is attached to Ireland, knowing he will eventually die for his country. The narrator, on the other hand, gives the reader a certain amount of hope; after all, how can Seamus tell the story if he hasn't lived through it? Later in this essay, we will find that Uris does not adhere to that notion, in fact, he grants no hope for Ireland, only a constant resurgence of the country's miseries.
The relationship between the narrator, Seamus, and Conor clearly suggests an American subtext beneath the Irish veneer. Seamus begins his narration recalling the eleven-year old admiration of Conor, his "idol," and his tendency to follow Conor and ape his mannerisms: I'm going to the bog with Conor,' I said, bolting behind him"(Uris 7). Seamus dies for Ireland, because he "drew the short straw...as usual" and must protect the wire to blow up the castle, but he also dies for following Conor, for needing to be the commentary, the journalistic voice through all Conor's adventures (735). The hero needs a sidekick, and just as the Lone Ranger relies on Tonto to "go to town" so does Conor have Seamus, the "runt," man the castle (Uris 747). Conor envies Seamus's cultivated education as much as Seamus admires Conor's raw intellect. Conor needs Seamus to teach all that he knows, until the eventual tutelage by Mr. Ingram: "He waited for me everyday at the crossroad and while things were still fresh in my mind we would?go over the day's work" (Uris 233). Even though Conor is the obvious leader, he still depends on Seamus for affirmation, guidance, and strength. The two men would be equals but for the name Larkin.
Though Conor and Seamus want to stay together and attend the national school, Tomas cuts the bond, making it clear that while Seamus may need school to get ahead in life, all Conor needs is to work Larkin land. When Conor points out how the Larkins and the "O'Neills always do things together," Tomas responds with: "It's not like cooring up a pair of horses to make a plow team?The O'Neills are in a different situation. Your hands are needed by me" (Uris 228). Conor's heritage makes him the hero. Seamus is arguably as brave and heroic as his friend, but his family tree does not compare to the men that proceeded Conor.
Uris makes Conor a predestined hero, following in the wake of Rowan, Kilty, and Tomas. The novel begins with the death of Kilty and ends with the death of Conor. Even though Seamus was the primary narrator, he does not narrate his own death in the castle. Critics have cited the narrator as one of the major flaws with the novel; sometimes Seamus narrates, sometimes not, and the other narrator that takes over for Seamus comes in like an understudy, taking away an essential voice, and a certain realism that Seamus gives the novel. Through Seamus's eyes we can believe that Conor is larger than life, it's simple hero-worship.
With the shift to the other narrator, in scenes Seamus could not possibly have witnessed, the reader must wonder who is giving the information. The second narrator is not omniscient (though, he may seem so, since he knows an incredible amount of history) but looks over Conor's shoulder, and over the shoulders of other characters as well, allowing the reader to know more than the characters. The narrator jumps from one perspective to another, never knowing more than the person he is following, and as soon as he leaves that character to join another, he provides new information but does not connect the past to what is presently at hand. This second narrator, then, is not unlike Seamus in how he follows the characters, as Seamus follows Conor, seeing what they do in private but not necessarily knowing their innermost thoughts. The second narrator serves an even greater metaphysical purpose in illustrating how the Irish people live interwoven lives never noticing their own similarities, making the same mistakes over and over but not finding the connections that might remedy so many of their problems.
Published in 1976, Trinity will forever remain shelved between two other major blockbuster hits, and though films, they seem the best compliments to the novel in their shared affiliation with the western genre. 1975's Jaws and 1977's Star Wars would be nothing without the escapist, romantic, and American nature of their western roots. Jaws tells the story of three different men, (a trinity of men if you will) coming together to fight a common enemy while Star Wars creates the same good vs. evil dichotomy that Uris's novel depends on. All these stories are larger than life, unbelievable, but close to America's heart. It might appear strange to later generations that Jaws united such a wide audience, just as it may seem odd that so many people went out to buy a book about the tragedies of Northern Ireland. But it's not such a strange trend when one examines the ideologies of the American public. Fear runs rampant throughout America and people would rather have a shared enemy than an unknown terrorist: "The devil you know is better than the devil you don't" (Uris 278) Americans want their cowboys to go out and take care of business because, as long as the cowboys keep fighting the bad guys, the townspeople can keep their hopes for a better world as they nestle into their houses, and cozy up with a good book.
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