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Roddy Doyle’s novel ‘Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha’, set in 1960’s Dublin, in the fictional suburb of Barrytown, is narrated in first person by Paddy, a 10 year old boy. Doyle effectively crafts the text to reassemble Paddy’s thoughts by manipulating the novel’s non-linear structure and making it reassemble spoken language, whilst commenting on issues such as Paddy’s family disintegration, religion and the cruelty of children, giving the reader a child’s perspective of these matters.
In this extract where Paddy is narrating a race with his friends, Doyle constructs Paddy’s ten-year-old voice by using various linguistic techniques and devices to simulate spontaneous speech and to recreate Paddy’s childish idiolect. The impression that is constantly given to the reader throughout the extract is that it’s happening in the present. Firstly, because of the strong use of active verbs in the present tense, “Jump up on the wall, grip the hedge, stand up straight”, which also help Doyle create tension in the extract and a sense of immediacy. However, though it may not be noticed by the reader at first glance, Paddy is narrating something which happened in the past. The reader is reminded of this when the description of the race ends, “Once, Mister McLoughlin had been cutting the grass when we all came over the hedge”. This is a feature typical of spontaneous speech, and it vividly portrays Paddy’s 10 year old excitement when recalling the race.
This sense of excitement and speed is further evoked by other features. Doyle uses short sentences to build Paddy’s narrative voice, “Land on the hedge, roll. Our house”. This gives the text the effect of having a continuous rhythm which parallels the children’s running. It also enhances the impression of Paddy acting like a sports commentator. This is supported with deictic language, “McEvoy’s wall into Byrne’s”, and through the ellipsis of pronouns, “Jump the hedge, roll, up and out their gate”. This makes the narration faster and tense, like a race. The final sentence, “Winner”, is written on a separate line, which conveys both his satisfaction at having won the race and his exhaustion from all the running.
Doyle’s manipulation of language to capture Paddy’s ten-year-old voice can also be seen elsewhere in the novel. An example of this is the extract where the gang is having a kind of “ceremony” where Kevin again stands out as the leader by playing the role of “high priest”. Here, the sense of enthusiasm is also present in Paddy’s narration. It is indicated with linguistic strategies such as the juxtaposition of contrasting verbs, “It was great and terrible”, when describing the ceremony, and the repetition of the onomatopoeic word “swish” to illustrate the action of Kevin hitting them with a stick. The graphology in this part of the novel also reflects the atmosphere of tension that Paddy feels during the game. Minor sentences prevail throughout the extract, and often each of them is set on a different line on the page, “Swish. / Close. / Ian McEvoy”. This crafted structure slows down the rhythm of the text and makes each word stand out as a new important event. Short exclamations with taboo language, “Shite!”, “Tits!”, show the children’s fascination with forbidden words, again something typical of a 10 year old, and amuses the reader as he reminisces how he too used to think this way in his youth.
As the novel reaches its ending, Doyle alters Paddy’s voice to reflect the transformation in his personality caused by the traumatic event of his parents’ break-up. The narrative voice in the last pages of the novel has changed to be more reflective and introspective than in earlier parts of the book, “I was supposed to cry; I thought I was”. Now, the narration is more focused on Paddy’s feelings than at the beginning of the novel. In contrast to the simple lexis and the structure typical of spontaneous speech used at the start of the book, Doyle now uses compound sentences and formal language to narrate the events, “Something; I just knew: he wasn’t coming back”. When he earlier described events such as the Grand National race, Paddy seemed childish and lively. Now, however, his voice seems more mature and controlled. This contrast is effectively displayed where Doyle juxtapositions Paddy’s voice and the other children’s song, “Paddy Clarke – Paddy Clarke – Has no da. Ha Ha ha! / I didn’t listen to them. They were only kids”. Paddy’s derogatory use of the word “kids” shows he has finally grown up, and gives the reader a sympathetic portrayal of him as we are shown how cruel the children who once were his friends have become.
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