Masculinities, History and Cultural Space: Queer Emancipative Thought in Jamie O’Neill’s At Swim, Two Boys


  • Jarosław Milewski University of Łódź



Jamie O’Neill, queer, masculinity, At Swim, Two Boys, Easter Rising


At Swim, Two Boys, a 2001 novel by Jamie O’Neill, tells a story of gay teen romance in the wake of the Easter Rising. This paper considers the ways in which the characters engage in patterns of masculine behaviour in a context that excludes queer men, and the rhetorical effect of transgressive strategies to form a coherent identity. These patterns include involvement with the masculine and heteronormative nationalist movement, as well as a regime of physical exercise, and a religious upbringing in 20th-century Ireland. The strategies of broadening the practices of masculinity include their renegotiation and redefinition, as well as attempts to (re)construct the Irish and the gay canons of history and literature. These strategies, as exemplified by character development, become a rhetorical basis for the novel’s main argument for inclusiveness. This analysis deals with the central metaphors of space and continuity in the novel in the light of a struggle between identities. It also observes the tradition of parallels drawn between the emasculated position of the gay man and the Irish man at the beginning of the 20th century, and O’Neill’s rhetorical deployment of the shared telos in construction of a coherent gay Irish revolutionary identity.


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Author Biography

Jarosław Milewski, University of Łódź

Jarosław Milewski is a PhD student affiliated with the Department of American Literature at the University of Łódź. He is mainly interested in the field of queer studies. He wrote his MA, which received an award from the Institute of English Studies at the University of Łódź, on the political dimension of emancipative gay literature. He presented papers on dual autobiographies, representation of community language in early gay novel, betrayal of witnessing practices in AIDS writing and links between Irish nationalism and homosexuality in Jamie O’Neill’s prose. His PhD project concerns the literature of AIDS epidemic understood as a practice of witnessing to and dissent from institutions of biopower.


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Mullen, Patrick R. The Poor Bugger’s Tool. New York: Oxford UP, 2012. Print.

O’Neill, Jamie. At Swim, Two Boys. New York: Scribner, 2002. Print.




How to Cite

Milewski, J. (2018). Masculinities, History and Cultural Space: Queer Emancipative Thought in Jamie O’Neill’s At Swim, Two Boys. Text Matters, (8), 55-67.