On Canaan's Side Literary Analysis

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As people age, they grow wiser, equipped with an archive of memories derived from the multitudinous experiences of their lives. In his novel, On Canaan’s Side, Sebastian Barry uses 89 year-old Lily Bere, a protagonist with such wisdom, to fully examine the complexity and variety of human experience. These memories often reveal a dichotomy between the positive and negative experiences in Lily’s life, as well as the irony of the novel’s title. A person’s life never consists solely of good or bad events, an idea that is evidenced by Lily’s memories of her life throughout the novel. There is great sorrow every times she loses a loved one, such as Tadge, Cassie, Joe, or Ed. However, the pain of these losses is always tempered with the great love she felt for each. Even though recollecting these events is difficult, Lily realizes she is “dwelling on things [she] love[s], even if a measure of tragedy is stitched into everything” (Barry 28) and that in her memories there is a “special happiness offered from the hand of sorrow” because “people [she has] loved are allowed to live again” (217). Lily’s memories, despite the many tragedies of her life, are not so weighed down by pain as to overshadow a joyful remembrance of better times. This positive and negative dichotomy of Lily’s memories is layered underneath the present time conflict of the…show more content…
Lily’s reflections, while at many times tragic, are shown to bring her a degree of joy in her remembrance of happier times. This duality is also seen in the characterization of America, with Barry revealing the irony of considering it solely as a paradise, as well as recognizing its role in providing Lily with strong friendships throughout her life. On Canaan’s Side literary mastery is greatly derived from this complicated, but accurate, manner of characterizing human
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