Roddy Doyle’s bildungsroman, A Star Called Henry, follows the development of Henry Smart Jr. into the near image of his father, Henry Smart Sr. Henry unconsciously embraces his namesake despite comparisons from others, with the adoption of his father’s physical characteristics and in his role as a pawn in the Irish Rebellion. He acquires the identity of Henry Smart Sr. , all until his epiphany, when he finally realizes his expendability and his fulfillment of his assassin father’s identity.
For much of his journey, it appears that Henry will become his father; however, by desperately abandoning all remnants of his father’s identity, he avoids his harrowing fate. Henry nearly becomes his father from his adoption of his father’s leg. Born as a miracle robust baby, Henry’s bright future is squashed following his father’s disappearance. He settles into a life of poverty in the slums of Dublin where he is first exposed to the art of stealing and violence.
The rough slum life along with Henry Smart Sr. ‘s parting gift of his wooden leg influence Henry’s development into his father’s potent image: since he is on his own, “[he] learn [s] to swing [his] daddy’s leg” for the sake of survival. As Henry’s life progresses, he utilizes the leg in increasingly hostile applications: “[he] lifted the leg and whacked her at the nose. ” As a result from his aggression with the leg, others “shrivel from his glare” and he willingly adopts the fearful reputation of his father.
In addition to using the leg as a weapon like his father, Henry physically transforms into his father when he puts on the leg: “And then, for the first time, I donned my daddy’s wooden leg. It fit. It hummed. ” The harmonious fit Henry feels in wearing the leg proves that it was destined for him and he is therefore alike his father. Whereas Henry embraces his father’s identity associated with his leg, Henry also assumes his father’s identity in his work as a hit man and a pawn in the Irish Rebellion.
In addition to being a formidable bouncer, Henry Smart Sr. worked as a paid assassin for Alfie Gandon by striking the ‘names’assigned to him with his wooden leg. Soon enough, Henry’s tasks for the rebellion evolve to “taking a running swing at a Castle rozzer with [his] father’s leg”. The influx of names to kill that Dalton and Collins burden Henry with mirrors the dirty work that his father did for Alfie Gandon.
All the while troubling Granny Nash for more information about Alfie and his father, Henry becomes adept at his father’s trade of disposing the bodies he kills. Albeit short, Henry’s memories of his father in the sewers of Dublin induce his cunning for his crimes by unknowingly “inhaling years of violence and murder”, It is in the underground rivers where Henry “feels most at peace”; here he evades the police and navigates to his killing, just like his father did.
Furthermore, Henry embraces his father’s hostility in his killing: “I put the gun to the back of his head and shot him. And another one for good luck. The name on Jack’s piece of paper. ” He is more insistent on getting the job done than caring about his victim, and disregards the dispensability of his work and that he has nearly become his assassin father. However, despite not realizing the culmination of his father’s identity, Henry undergoes a reversal in the end of the novel.
Henry’s accordance to his father does not resonate with him until his epiphany: “I’d been given the names of men on pieces of paper and I’d sought them out and killed them. Just like my father, except he’d been paid for it. ” For the first time, Henry explicitly recognizes that he has evolved into his father, the only difference being that he had been used completely as a pawn in the rebellion while his father was paid for his efforts.
Henry retaliates by killing Alfie Gandon with the leg, the man who had trapped his father into his dirty work and thus trapped Henry as well. Consistent with his resemblance to his father, Henry kills Alfie in a similar manner to how Alfie killed his father, by murdering him in the doorway of Dolly Oblong’s. By killing Alfie with a piece of his father, Henry abolishes his role as a pawn that was akin to his father’s and begins disposing of his father’s identity.
After killing innocent people and the ‘names on a list disillusioned him with the rebellion, Henry decides that “his war is over” and subsequently seeks to destroy the remnants of his father. Upon his arrival at Kilmainham after killing Alfie with the leg, Henry intentionally leaves the leg in the water underground to drift away as a way to leave his father behind. He also removes his coat, stained with the old blood of his victims and memories of his father, to deter his daughter, Saoirse, from becoming alike his father.
Henry severs the ties to his father’s identity in order to protect his daughter from the relationship between himself and his father. Henry, symbolic of the fight for Trish freedom, recognizes the need to differentiate his daughter, the first generation of the Irish Free State, from his father’s identity, symbolic of Old Ireland. The surprisingly similarities between Henry as an infant and Saoirse, such as searching for his nipple and spitting up on the coat, reiterate Henry’s desire to free himself and his daughter from his father’s identity.
By insisting his daughter not be named Melody after his weakened mother, Henry is adamant about protecting future generations from the previous struggles. At the end Henry manages to escape his father’s fate, being killed for his dispensability, with his life for self-preservation purposes. Ultimately, his decision to leave his family behind, comparable to his father’s action, was entirely his decision out of repudiation of his father’s identity.