MacNeill and Christy talk     Recently I was asked by a friend just why I had my fan site and just what was so fascinating about this couple. They emailed me something to the effect of what is the big deal about MacNeill and Christy and what on earth did I get out of this. In the process of answering my friend, (an old friend from my literary studies days at UWF), I discovered something that I would like to share with other MacNeill and Christy fans and see if they agree.

     This explanation requires an understanding of irony, so first I will attempt background explanations on the concept and then go forward. (For those of you who know this drill, my apologies. This part is for those who may not.) Irony in literature and in film involves the concept of the reader/audience having knowledge of something that is being subverted or hidden by what is being read, shown or heard. Simply put, it is saying or showing one thing and meaning another. There are several different types of irony; here are a few that come into play in Christy.

  1. Verbal irony is when a character speaks and says something where their implicit meaning differs greatly from the meaning that is expressed. For example, this is at play big time in RTCG when Christy tells Harriet Quimby that she and Doctor MacNeill are nothing more than friends. We know better and so does Christy and as it turns out so does Harriet.
  2. Dramatic irony is when the audience knows something about a situation of which a character is ignorant that makes their actions/words inappropriate to the actual circumstances. For example, in The Road Home, Christy believes David Grantland is frequenting the Tea House when we, the audience, know he has been going to El Pano to mail payments on an engagement ring.
  3. Situational irony is when there is a discrepancy between the expected results and the actual results, or simply put the difference in what we think will occur in a situation and what actually does occur. For example, In Return to Cutter Gap it is situational irony at play when we notice that it is the road that the mountain families believe has brought in the thieving outsiders, but it reality it is one of their own (Lundy Taylor) who is also thieving. And not only that but the road that winds along the ground isn't what stirs up the most trouble in the cove; it is a plane that falls out of the sky that really "riles up all the menfolk" and upsets all the women folk (including Christy.)

Christy is shocked when MacNeill says he loves her     What makes irony compelling to the reader/viewer is that it makes us feel that we are in on the secret and engaged in some special way in the story. It also involves to a large extent the subtext of the characters-- the unspoken thoughts and motives that lie just beneath the surface. This is what the characters really think and feel but don't express, and makes the character have depth, complexity and motivations not revealed just through dialog. It is at the heart of good acting and consists of facial expressions, gestures, intonation of speech, etc. It is what makes us watch a certain performer or character over another one. In dramatizing irony, an actor must internalize huge parts of the character and make him/her seem real.

     Now I don't know if you have ever thought about it this way before or not but the most ubiquitous use of irony in Christy is found in scenes/situations regarding MacNeill and Christy's relationship. And if this surprises you, I will show you how widespread this is. It is verbal irony when we hear Christy say that she and MacNeill are nothing more than friends or that she has no interest in MacNeill or in pathetic excuses like I came for a book or yadda yadda yadda. And sometimes MacNeill is no better. (How about his Low Gap remark followed immediately by a correction that masks his intent.) But we the audience know better, and we also know that they each know better and sometimes other people that they are talking to know better, such as Miss Alice in Eye of the Storm or Fairlight in The Road Home or Christy's mom in The Sweetest Gift.

MacNeill is upset that she is angry     Likewise, it is dramatic irony that is at the heart of the problem in Green Apples. We see Christy scheme and plan a subterfuge to get MacNeill to change his mind about Dan Scott, and so she openly flirts with MacNeill, and we see his eager reaction. We, the audience, know something that they don't know...that she is there to manipulate him and he thinks she is there for another reason. But she doesn't get why he is so upset and he doesn't understand why she doesn't understand. It is a great comic moment undercut by a pathos of sort. Another use of dramatic irony is in The Road Home when we know Margaret MacNeill is at the cabin trying to convince her husband to take her back and meanwhile Christy has just discovered she is in love with MacNeill and hurries to his cabin at the same moment to see him. We see this train wreck coming, but neither MacNeill or Christy do until the cars collide.

     It is a case of situational irony in The Road Home when we watch Christy and the women march down to the Tea House in El Pano to cause a stink and drag their menfolk home. We expect the fireworks between David & Christy and Fairlight & Jeb and the other women & their husbands. But instead the real heat comes from the discovery that Margaret MacNeill is one of the tea house girls. This blind sides everyone, especially Miss Alice, MacNeill, Christy, and us too. See the irony here...the ones who have intentionally not gotten involved in the melee at the tea house but instead have come to break it up and establish peace are the ones who get much more than they bargained for.

     In a way I believe it is through irony that we start to identify so closely with MacNeill and Christy as we feel like co-conspirators who are in on their little secret, and we identify with and suffer their indignities too. Irony is extremely effective in maintaining the tension and conflict, and this makes the story compelling. Not only that, but MacNeill and Christy's relationship is anchored on a basic irony--that Christy's obvious match up should be with the earnest young minister David Grantland but instead it is the enigmatic, complex, mature Dr. MacNeill that she finds herself inevitably drawn to. Life and love ARE ironic; your head tells you one thing and your heart another. And this truth is why I think so many of us find this couple so intriguing. Not only that, but their characters are cleverly written, laden with subtextual meaning that requires great acting to convey, and they are surrounded by tension, conflict and an extraordinary dynamic. They are fascinating to watch and because their intimate, special moments together are so hard to come by and their feelings for each other so cloaked in layers of subverted meaning, we relish every time they come in contact. Their relationship requires us to think and uncover the truth. And in this process we must also participate. In so doing, we too carry away something from our time spent with them.

Email to comment
© 2000-2004. All rights reserved.

CYber SYtes, Inc., Web SYtes by Design