In the novel, the events in the life of a ten year old boy are told through first person narrative, giving us a humorous account of life. The novel begins in a content upper working class family in Ireland in the nineteen sixties. Paddy Clarke is a ten year old boy growing up in a world of building sites, fights and other children. The story shows his growing awareness of arguing parents and a violent father.
The relationship between Paddy and his brother grows from one of Paddy being powerful and controlling but sometimes caring to a relationship in which they are distant and Paddy’s power is now gone, and his brother older and unable to be manipulated. From the seemingly content family portrayed in the beginning, the ending of the book leaves Paddy with no friends after a fight, and an absent father. From the beginning, the structure of the novel is consistent. There are usually fairly short paragraphs and no chapters.
Direct speech is given without use of speech marks. All these factors result in the story mimicking the thought processes of a child. The absence of speech marks means the transition from Paddy’s account of events to speech which takes place is quick and flowing. The end of one paragraph, for example, “I rocked the pram the way she always did it,” often leads to a rapid change in subject in the beginning of the next paragraph-“We lit fires. We were always lighting fires. ” Roddy Doyle very accurately follows the mind of a child through first person narrative.
The darker side of Paddy’s childhood is brought into the novel mainly through the deteriorating relationship of his parents. Paddy is troubled by their fighting and is becoming more and more aware of the part his father’s violence plays in this as the novel progresses. The fighting games of Paddy and his friends and the poverty endured by two of Paddy’s friends also show a certain sinister aspect about childhood. Most issues such as these which are brought up are conveyed through humour.
The vocabulary used in the novel is not Standard English and the use of such talk creates realistic scenes. Liam and Aidan, two of Paddy’s school friends who are brothers live in a poor house compared to other children in the town. Although Paddy sees their one parented house, convenience junk food and un-matching for furniture as something of a novelty, Liam and Aidan have to live in an environment which is to the disadvantage of their health. The O’Connell’s mother is dead, and their father does not seem to show much interest in his household, or children although he loves them.
His lack of house care is shown in Paddy’s remark, “It wasn’t dirty, the way a lot of people said it was; it was just that all the chairs and things were bursting and falling apart. ” Paddy is confused by the idea of not having a mother in the house, especially when Mr O’Connell sat down where Paddy’s mum would sit at the kitchen table. “He made the breakfasts and dinners and everything,” seems a normal enough remark nowadays, but in the nineteen sixties these sort of tasks were done by women.
The first time Paddy’s parents have a significant argument, it is apparent to me that it is something new to Paddy. He says, “I didn’t know what had happened. I didn’t know what I’d done. ” The relationship of Paddy’s parents deteriorates throughout the novel, as does Paddy’s happiness and Paddy’s father is increasingly hard in his attitude towards his wife. Nearer the end of the novel, Paddy shows an awareness of the fact that his father has used violence in his fights.
His surprise is conveyed well in short sentences, and repetition of a certain idea through a few sentences. Across the face; smack. I tried to imagine it. It didn’t make sense. I’d heard it; he’d hit her. ” The skills used by Roddy Doyle to impress the feelings of this ten year old boy upon us are excellent, and through the novel paragraphs recur with these short sentences and repeated words, for example, “She’d come out of the kitchen, straight up to their bedroom. She’d said nothing. She hadn’t let me see her face. She’d started going faster… ” The use of the repeated “she” is effective in dramatising the scene.
Paddy’s sense of fun with his friends is somewhat twisted in that he shows little care towards them. At one point, a group of boys are playing and ignoring Aidan as he struggles to get out of some mud. “Can you drown in mud? ” asks one boy, and Aidan’s panic and fear are ignored. Instances like this throughout the novel give us an impression of Paddy and his friends having rather a rough life. Their playgrounds are building sites, and this gives an impression of sadness to the novel that the children involved have no proper grounds on which to play.
The scene described in the last paragraph is especially effective in showing the change in relationship between Paddy and his father after his father leaves home. A distancing has been shown by Paddy shaking hands with his dad instead of a hug, and the line, “His hand felt cold and big, dry and hard,” perfectly illustrates the closeness between the two which no longer exists. “Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha” is an emotional novel which keeps the reader engaged with humour, which is used to show the darker side of childhood.