Bernard Mac Laverty’s Cal

Bernard Mac Laverty’s Cal

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In Bernard Mac Laverty’s novel Cal, the author sheds light on the conflict in Northern Ireland through a nineteen year old Catholic named Cal. This ideological war has devastating and detrimental effects on all involved especially Cal. Cal is a victim of this war as he is thrown into it and expected to react. As this violent war is surrounding Cal, he is also facing another type of conflict: an internal one. This internal conflict is a result of Cal’s psychological well being and results in self loathing and grueling emotional torment. Cal’s guilt ridden conscience haunts him and causes grave psychological affliction. These two forces causes him to act in ways contrary to his own beliefs and desires, produces tragic and grave consequences, and causes him to be dissociated from reality.
Events occur in Cal’s life that impacts him in a harmful way. When Cal was only eight years old Cal his mother died. This single event has had a ripple effect that has changed Cal’s life. After this tragic event Cal’s personality changes and he suffers from Childhood Grief Disorder as well as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Cal displays all the symptoms such as anxiety, depression, general relentlessness, emotional detachment, and most importantly dissociation. He isolates him self from reality including his father. Cal’s relationship with his father is strained and awkward. It is very close to being non existent. Cal lacks parental guidance as well as direction. Cal also suffers from Intrusion in which he has a lot of flashbacks of his mother. This weak minded individual is easily influenced by his friends and surroundings. These events allow Cal to be easily pressured and be part of the flock. Cal’s good friend Crilly has a lot of control of Cal’s life and makes decisions for him. Crilly influences Cal to participate in the Irish Republican Army and commit heinous crimes he really does not want to do. Cal is unable to stand up to Crilly and easily succumbs to his radical friend.

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The hostile and violent environment of Northern Ireland plays a significant role in the psychological development of Cal. Being forced into a war zone environment causes Cal to react. Events such as; Bloody Sunday, unveils the injustice and deplorable circumstances of the times. Also such an event inspires many to forfeit lawfulness and order since: "The effect of violent dislike between groups has always created an indifference to the welfare and honor of the state” (Bloody Sunday). Cal is an innocent bystander who did not ask or seek to be involved in this war but is forced into it. Cal has no control of the daunting situation around him. It is a matter of being at the wrong place at the wrong time. This weak and vulnerable adolescent is the perfect candidate to take up the cause and fight in the IRA. His harsh and unfortunate childhood elicits him to find a family in the IRA. He yearns for that feeling of acceptance and being cared for and he finds in the radical group he is in.
Cal’s tender and fragile mind evokes him to participate in the most heinous crime. His part in the murder of Robert Morton, a reserve police officer, has the most effect on him. This fateful incident debilitates and destroys Cal’s life. This event aggravates Cal’s inner conflict and prompts self loathing. Cal cannot help but feel guilty of this capital offense. His guilt eats away at his conscience and basically consumes him. This event triggers his inner turmoil and he can not forgive him self of this. Cal becomes a paranoid recluse. Cal constantly feels uneasy and detaches himself from society as well as reality. This sin causes him to feel “ugly”. When Cal states that he is as ugly as “Quasimodo” he is acknowledging the awful consequences it produces. His shame and guilt are so great that “he felt he had brand stamped in blood in the middle of his forehead which would take him the rest of his life to purge” ( Mac Laverty 115).
Furthermore the psychological torment only deepens when Cal falls in love in Marcella, the widow of the man he helped murder. With her he sees redemption and forgiveness. He feels that Marcella can take away the pain and the suffering that he is feeling. Cal’s disassociation with reality causes Cal to be delusional as he whole heartedly believes that this “doomed relationship” could and would actually work. Cal naïvely thinks Marcella will rescue him from his woes, comfort him and deliver him salvation. A relationship with Marcella would never work for the obvious reasons, he murdered her husband. Cal so desperately wants to be absolved for his sin and thinks Marcella is the way. When Cal mentions “Sleeping Beauty” and “Rapunzel” is exposes the fantasy world Cal is living in. Cal can not see reality for what it really is and continues to imagine a fairy tale future with Marcella.
All of Cal’s actions and/or inactions are a result of the external as well as internal conflict within and around him. "The most dramatic conflicts are perhaps, those that take place not between men but between a man and himself -- where the arena of conflict is a solitary mind"
(Hopkins). Cal’s psychological and physical sickness, which stems from his tragic childhood, causes him disconnect from reality and not have a mind of his own. The death of his mother is the root of this sickness and has had a ripple effect. Every aspect of Cal’s life can be attributed back to that single event. Also his self loathing and guilt are so strong that he chooses not to deal with them. He rather live in a fantasy world than face reality’s ramifications. Cal’s unsuccessful quest for redemption and forgiveness through a relationship with Marcella; proves Cal still is deceived by the illusions of his senses and desires. It is Cal’s inner conflict fueled by depression, which causes in him the inability to construct a realistic future.
Work Cited

"Bloody Sunday." Wikipedia. 07 Oct. 2007

MacLaverty, Bernard. Cal. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1983, 1995.

Hopkins, Connie. "Grief: a Normal and Natural Response to Loss." Self Help Magazine 1 Dec. 2003.
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