By the Bog of Cats by Marina Carr for Leaving Cert English (Single Text and Comparative)

“By the Bog of Cats” is a tragic play about a woman who suffered abandonment and rejection and became imprisoned by her past resulting in the death of her brother and child. The play is a wild merciless mix of Irish folklore and Greek mythology.

Below are some highlights from the notes.

Theme of motherhood

This is probably the most tragic aspect of the play. 

Big Josie failed in her maternal duty to look after Hester, leaving her chained to a caravan in a dirty nappy and having her sleep in a swan’s nest, ultimately abandoning her. She also left Joseph. 

There is no doubt that Hester suffered tremendous abuse as a child. Unfortunately, it enabled certain self-destructive tendencies of her own. When we meet her, she is no longer the helpless, abandoned seven year old; she is a fully-fledged forty year old woman who could defy the most intimidating of men, like Xavier. Yet she clings to the idea that she’s somehow not complete without her mother’s love causing tragedy for her brother and daughter. 

What can be said of a mother that slits her own child’s throat? Her motivation was to alleviate the child’s suffering of not having a mother and, to a lesser extent, withhold Josie from Carthage. It’s not quite as selfish as Medea’s motivation, but it shows that Hester was tragically unable to deal with her own emotions.

Symbolism

The bog symbolises a connection with nature and ancient times, mystery and danger. 
The black swan symbolises Hester’s uniqueness, wildness and darkness. It's emphasises the idea that she doesn't belong with the rest of the characters and they won't accept her because she's different.
The caravan/house dichotomy symbolises Hester’s inner struggle. 
The fishing knife symbolises her evil side. 
Hester’s wedding dress symbolises her broken dreams.

What question could come up for single text on the Leaving Cert?

1. “Hester’s attitudes and qualities show that she is a conflicted character.” 

Do you agree with the above view? Support your answer by reference to the play, By the Bog of Cats.

2. By the Bog of Cats has been described as a feminist adaptation of a Greek myth.

To what extent do you agree or disagree with this description of the play? In your response you should deal with all aspects of the statement, supporting your answer with reference to the text. (This is a tough one. Something this specific is unlikely to come up. But if it does!...)

3. “Carr makes effective use of both Xavier and Carthage to fulfil a variety of dramatic functions in his play, By the Bog of Cats.” 

Discuss this statement, supporting your answer with reference to the text.

4. “Xavier and Hester share a variety of character traits that contribute to the dramatic and tragic aspects of the story.” 

To what extent do you agree or disagree with this statement? Support your answer with reference to the play, By the Bog of Cats.

5. “Carr’s effective use of a range of contrasts helps to create a darkly fascinating world in the course of her play, By the Bog of Cats.” 

Discuss this statement, supporting your answer with reference to the play.

6. “Carr explores the theme of identity in a variety of ways throughout the play, By the Bog of Cats.” 

Discuss this statement, supporting your answer with reference to the play.

7. “Hester Swane is an admirable character in the play, By the Bog of Cats.” 

Discuss this statement, supporting your answer with reference to the text.

8. “Throughout the play, By the Bog of Cats, Carr uses a variety of techniques to engage her readers and provide critical commentary on the society of the play.” 

Discuss this view of the play, supporting your answer with suitable reference to the text. (This is answered in the notes.)

9. “Hester’s relationships with other characters can be seen primarily as power struggles which prove crucial to the outcome of the play.” 

Discuss the above statement in relation to at least two of Hester’s relationships with other characters. Support your answer with suitable reference to the play, By the Bog of Cats.

10. “Throughout the play, By the Bog of Cats, Carr makes effective use of a variety of dramatic techniques that evoke a wide range of responses from the audience.” 

Discuss this view with reference to at least two dramatic techniques used by Carr in the play. Support your answer with suitable reference to the text.

By the Bog of Cats by Marina Carr for Leaving Cert English
A black swan. Many thanks to Jennifer Tunny for the original image taken in Queensland, Australia, where black swans are native.

Martina has written detailed notes on By the Bog of Cats (10,000 words, 31 A4 pages). Please see full details below:

Contents

Your Own Approach to Literary Criticism
Plot
  “Medea”
  Plot summary
Setting
Characters
  Hester
    Marina Carr on Hester
    Characterisation
    Hester and Carthage
    Hester’s relationship with her mother
    Hester as a villain
    Hester killing Josie
    Carthage, “faithless as an acorn on a high wind”
    Josie, the daughter: “I drank biled socks instead of tay”
    The Catwoman: “Curses only have the power ya allow them.”
    Monica
    Xavier: “I’ll run you too like a frightened hare”
    Mrs Kilbride “didn’t frig it away on crame buns and blouses”
    Caroline: “only I feel like I’m walkin’ on somewan’s grave”
Imagery / Literary Genre
  Animal imagery
  Foreboding, mystery and magic
  Accent
  Mine, mine, mine
  Humour
  Symbolism
  Allusions to Shakespeare
Themes
  Discrimination and societal hypocrisy
  Gender roles: "ya can’t control a mere woman”
  Land: “There’s nothin’ besides land, boy, nothin’!”
  Social status: “the whole neighbourhood makin’ a laughin’ stock of me?”
  Religion
  Motherhood
  Betrayal
  Victim or villain?
  Fate
  Relationships
General Vision and Viewpoint
  Opening scene and setting
  Closing scene
  Evolution of the GVV throughout the text
  Foreboding, mystery and magic
What could be on the paper?
The essay: “Throughout the play, By the Bog of Cats, Carr uses a variety of techniques to engage her readers and provide critical commentary on society.”

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