Machismo

Machismo is shown through the children being mostly male and inhabiting a tough culture.

There seems to be a sense of survival of the fittest and not all the children can cope with this competition for status - Sinbad, for example.

However, through Doyle’s writing style and child narrator this is a realistic portrayal of a group of boys this age.

The boys have their own gang with its own set of rules and hierarchy. When combined with the violence and cruelty often present in their activities, the novel is at times reminiscent of Lord of the Flies by William Golding.

This is a novel about a group of boys stranded on a desert island after an airplane crash. It was written in 1954 - years before Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha is set - but it is interesting to note the similarities in how young boys act and react when they are in groups without adult supervision.

Much of the boys’ fun and games involves inflicting pain on each other. At times this can seem like a way of asserting dominance. In one of their frequent contests to show domination, they dare each other not to blink when smoke is pouring into their eyes.

When the boys burn Sinbad’s lips, Paddy is more concerned that he lost face in front of the boys as he could not force his brother to open his mouth. He says, "This was terrible; in front of the others, I couldn’t sort out my little brother.”

The idea of being superior to others is important to them. Kevin for example seems to have been accepted as the alpha male of the group and the others tend to bow to his authority.

Masculinity - and more specifically machismo - is an important quality in the group. Strength is therefore key. It is a sign of the boys’ immaturity that this is often asserted through violence and cruelty.

Sport is seen to be a more manly pursuit than school work and reading. Even Mr Hennessey is respected for his playground sporting prowess and the sticker in his car "Live Longer, Play Handball".

Paddy and his friends are also fascinated by the destructive power of fire, "We were always lighting fires.” This is something associated with man’s primal instinct and therefore a more uncivilised time.

It perhaps suggests that young boys - before they become socialised by society into adults - are more like uncivilised man of the past.

Paddy is named after his father, and there are some signs that they share a manly bond - unlike the more sensitive Sinbad who is closer to his mother. There is certainly more dialogue between Paddy and his father than between Mr Clarke and Sinbad.

There is also violence in this home, suggesting that perhaps young boys - with their interest in violence and destruction - copy their male role models.

For example, Mr Clarke hits Paddy with a belt for shoplifting. Also, Paddy’s account of Mr Clarke’s treatment of his wife - making “his hand open and close like a beak, the fingers stiff, right into her face” - is one of a stronger adult being violent to a more vulnerable one.

Perhaps Doyle is showing that masculinity and how we define it is something that is passed down through generations.

Violence surrounds Paddy, even on the news with the war in Vietnam and the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Another disturbing aspect of the gang’s brutality is their seemingly arbitrary cruelty to animals. Paddy and the boys do not flinch at inflicting pain on other creatures, "I killed a rat with a hurley … It was great though”.

Are Paddy’s actions the early signs of a child who will grow up to be disturbed and violent? This is possible, but we often see Paddy’s sensitive and kind side too.

And by the end of the novel, Paddy seems to have become increasingly aware of Kevin’s ability to be cruel and controlling.

This recognition perhaps shows us that Paddy knows the difference between right and wrong and is beginning to grow up.

Note how the portrayal of the women in the novel is in stark contrast to the portrayal of men.

Mrs Clarke is often emotional and maternal. She cares for the children and is often reduced to a role of female domesticity.

For example, she is very angry about Paddy’s shoplifting but it is his father who is tasked with hitting him with the belt.

Note also the rare mentions of other female characters, such as Liam and Aidan’s aunt who is a kindly woman and Mr O’Connell’s girlfriend Margaret who makes them proper dinners.