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“Sister Imelda”. By Edna O'Brien. Presented by. Bella, Callum, Alison & Anne. http://homepage.eircom.net/~jas/sisters.html. Outline. The author Edna O’Brien. The summary in “Sister Imelda”. Characters in “Sister Imelda”. Symbols in “Sister Imelda” . Edna O’Brien (b. 1936).

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“Sister Imelda”

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“Sister Imelda”

By Edna O'Brien

Presented by

Bella, Callum, Alison & Anne

http://homepage.eircom.net/~jas/sisters.html


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Outline

The author Edna O’Brien

The summary in “Sister Imelda”

Characters in “Sister Imelda”

Symbols in “Sister Imelda”


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Edna O’Brien (b. 1936)

  • She was born in the

  • village of Tuamgraney,

  • Country Clare, Ireland.

  • She is an novelist,

  • short story writer,

  • playwright and

  • screenwriter.


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http://www.goireland.com/scripts/low/Area.asp?AreaType=C&AreaID=171


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The village of Tuamgraney

Source: http://www.goireland.com/scripts/low/Area.asp?AreaType=C&AreaID=171


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The summary in “Sister Imelda”

The setting of the place in “Sister Imelda” is in the convent. And, “Sister Imelda” is about the teenage narrator falls in love with her teacher, the beautiful young nun, Sister Imelda. The joys of their love are a passion never to be realized but fanned by both teacher and student through notes, whispered confidences, devotional gifts, and an occasional hug or kiss. Imelda's and the narrator's romance makes life in the cold nunnery tolerable and even enjoyable. Sister Imelda holds for Christ, so the love between the narrator and her is unrealizable. In order to develop and continue their love, Sister Imelda lures the narrator into a permanent sisterhood of sublimated passion.


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The narrator agrees with Sister Imelda’s suggestion and advice: to become a nun after accomplishing her studies in the convent. However, the narrator abandons her plan to become a nun after she leaves the convent.

The narrator gradually does not communicate with Sister Imelda; she seldom writes to Sister Imelda. Later, the narrator almost forgets the existence of Sister Imelda, and she doesn’t remember that Sister Imelda ever plays an important and influential role while she was in the convent. Then, she and Baba take up the worldly solaces of makeup and nylons to attract and draw the attention of men.


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Characters

Sister Imelda— she was a young nun and teacher in the convent. After she spent the last four years at the university in Dublin then she chose to come back to the convent. She seemed always to keep out so mysterious to her background and life.

Narrator— a teenage girl and a boarder or student in the convent.

Baba — a boarder or student in the convent, too. She was narrator’s best friend.

Mother Superior — she was rector in the convent.


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Sister Imelda

Relationship and Development

-Love? Worship?

- Only concern with each other?

-Or emotion between teacher

and student?

-Maternal love?

Like? Or Envy?

Like? Or Envy?

Narrator

Baba

Like? Or Envy?


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Sister Imelda & Narrator

What kinds of emotion between

Sister Imelda and narrator?

Worship?

Love?

Only concern with each other?

The emotion between teacher and student?

Maternal love?


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Analysis

The narrator seems to imitate Sister Imelda and take Sister Imelda an object of worship. The narrator’s curiosity makes her approach this special teacher.

Afterward, the narrator describes her inner emotions to Sister Imelda but the emotion is still hidden. Therefore, the worship seems to become emotion or even love.


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Analysis

Perhaps the emotion only was concern with each other.

Maybe that was a kind of emotion between teacher and student.

Or the narrator thought Sister Imelda could bring her special concern and made her obtain the love or concern, which her parents may never gave her. Therefore, narrator might think Sister Imelda could bring love as mother does.


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Example

“About a month later Sister Imelda…I thought how supple she … I was happy in my prison… bowed to the senile nun.” (2749 par 2 “About”)

Narrator started contact with Sister Imelda more familiar and she became happy in the convent as prison and liked to be near Sister Imelda or walk behind her etc. Sister Imelda brought her different feeling in the convent as prison.


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“I realized that I was getting nervous… I was fired by her ardour.” (2751 new par line 13 to 2752)

“Baba could say that …powder adhering to me fingers.” (2752 par 2)

Here expressed narrator and Sister Imelda that their relationship became more familiar than before and even intimate. Sister Imelda treated narrator more special than other students and concerned with narrator especially. Here Sister Imelda was like a mother to comfort and encourage narrator.


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“I missed you, ” she said…(2753 whole page)

“I could cry, or I could…but I could not tell her.” (2754 par 1)

“At Easter Sister Imelda… make the sound of a kiss” (2756 par 6 bottom)

That described the narrator’s emotion deeply for Sister Imelda. However, the narrator repressed the emotion in her heart of hearts and she could not tell Sister Imelda. Their behavior seemed still to express the different emotion from others and special. That seemed not only general emotion. It seemed to represent most special emotion as love.


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Baba & Sister Imelda

Baba liked or envied Sister Imelda?

Maybe Baba thought Sister Imelda snatched her good friend because the narrator spent much time with Sister Imelda. Or maybe Baba envied the narrator why she could get along with Sister Imelda and Sister Imelda treated the narrator with more special care than she did to other students.


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Examples

“Baba showed her jealousy by putting… with Sister Imelda and telling tales” (2751 par 9 line 6)

“From then on she treated me as less … Baba was delighted… receding in her eyes.” (2753 par 10)

Two examples expressed Baba’s reaction to narrator’s or Sister Imelda’s behavior.


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Baba & Narrator

Baba liked or envied Narrator? Maybe Baba might also like or worship Sister Imelda as the narrator did. Therefore, Baba might envy the narrator and wonder why she always gained special treatment from Sister Imelda. Or Baba liked and valued her good friend, but Sister Imelda made narrator spend less time with Baba. Therefore, Baba could not accept why narrator were always with Sister Imelda.


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Examples

“Baba showed her Jealousy by putting…with Sister Imelda and telling tales” (2751 par 9 line 6)

“From the on she treated me as less …Baba was delighted…receding in her eyes.” (2753 par 10)

The same examples maybe expressed different meaning for Baba’s reaction to the narrator or Sister Imelda.


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Symbols in “Sister Imelda”

Source: http://homepage.eircom.net/~jas/sisters.html


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The nuns' routine mortifications

  • The nuns' routine mortifications, which the schoolgirls are expected to imitate, reveal the sense that the female body is an inherently evil possession for which they must compensate.

    • “It was the month of the Suffering Souls in Purgatory, … we were asked to make acts of mortification.” (2748 L4)


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The sty of Sister Imelda

  • Sister Imelda gets a sty that suggests both her neglect of her body and her distorted view of it.

    • “She took out her handkerchief and patted the eye which was red and swollen.” (2748 par.3 L5)

    • “Suddenly she fled from the room, leaving us ten minutes free until the next class.” (2748 par.3 L8)


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Sore throats

  • The voicelessness of the girls and the nuns under the convent's regimen.

    • “Most girls had sore throats and were told to suffer this inconvenience to mortify themselves …” (2748 L2)


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Semi-starvation

  • The semi-starvation of both nuns and girls by a wealthy church forces their bodies into thin and spiritualized shapes that avoid the lush fecundity stereotypically associated with woman as sexual body. Weakened from hunger and other mortifications, the women are to look as undesirable and feel as undesiring as possible.


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The tarts

  • The tarts stand for forbidden sexuality that is tied up with the maternal.

    • “Had we been caught, she, no doubt, would have had to make a massive sacrifice.” (2750 L18)


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Imelda's gesture

  • The nuns' pleasure in prostration may come from ceasing to fight their awareness of their inferiority to the ideal wife and mother of God, the Madonna.

    • “Each nun, even the Mother Superior - flung herself in total submission, saying prayers in Latin and offering up the moment to God. … It was not difficult to imagine Sister Imelda face downward, arms outstretched, prostrate on the tile floor.” (2750 L8 from the bottom)


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The nuns' gestures

  • The nuns' gestures of willing prostration are emblematic of the suffering Irish female condition in general.

  • That the story ends with the narrator's pity for Imelda and her fellow nuns suggests the narrator's coming awareness of the commonality of women's lot.

    • “They looked so cold and lost as they hurried along the pavement that I wanted to run after them.” (2759 L6 from the bottom)


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Works Cited

Map of Clare County. 12 May 2006

<http://www.goireland.com/scripts/low/Area.asp?AreaType=C&AreaID=171>.

O’Brien, Edna. “Sister Imelda.” 2746-59. The Norton Anthology of English

Literature. Ed. M. H. Abrams. 7th ed. Vol. 2. New York: Norton, 2000.

Shumaker, Jeamette Roberts. “Studies in Short Fiction: Sacrificial Women in

Short Stories by Mary Lavin and Edna O‘brien.”  Spring, 1995. 12 May 2006

<http://www.looksmartjrhigh.com/p/articles/mi_m2455/is_n2_v32/ai_17268505>.

“Sister of Mercy in Collooney.” 12 May 2006

<http://homepage.eircom.net/~jas/sisters.html>.


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