Butcher Boy by Patrick McCabe [...] descent into madness of the main character, Francie; including the potential reasons (i.e., his family background, his relation with Mrs. Nugent, his friend, and any other relevant reasons). Francie Brady lives a difficult life, and it is not surprising that he would descend into madness. His family is more than dysfunctional; it is hostile and anything but nurturing. Francie learns not by bettering himself, but by lashing out at others, and he has no ability to learn or grow from his mistakes. His inner anger and his growing paranoia turn him from a young boy into a fearful monster, and his life is a wreck because his parents' lives were wrecks, too.
Francie is a compelling young boy from a broken and difficult home who cannot cope with the real world of duplicity, hatred, and growth. As his dysfunctional family descends further and further into hell, his own life degenerates, and he finds himself withdrawing from reality and into delusion and madness. Francie's father is a well-known local drunk, who cannot keep a job. His mother loves him but is ineffectual and depressed - she is fighting her own demons. Francie's surroundings conspire against him from the first, and his unnatural fixation on Mrs. Nugent as his archenemy and chief tormenter conspires against him as the novel continues. Francie really does not have a chance against these influences on his life he simply reacts to them. At the boarding school he thinks, "After that the days were all the same, they just drizzled past, days without Joe without da without anything" (McCabe 95), and this is a simile for his life, which all just "drizzles past." However, the author is illustrating just what can happen when the outside influences on a child build up until they can no longer cope, and they have no one to turn to when they need it most. Francie has no father figure - no one to look up to and teach him. He learns on his feet, and he does not cope well with growth, he remains stuck in youth, while those around him move on toward manhood and adulthood.
In the beginning of the novel, Francie seems like any other normal young boy. He plays with his friend Joe, he loves his mother, and he enjoys after school treats like "Flash Bars." However, his troubles quickly overcome his happy youth. It begins with Mrs. Nugent's visit to the family home after Francie and Joe "trade" comic books with little Philip Nugent. They take all his best issues, and leave his with trash, which prompts an angry visit from his mother, who reveals what she really thinks about the Brady family. She calls them "pigs," and this has a profound effect on young Francie. "Pigs - sure the whole town knows that!" (McCabe 4). After this, Francie begins to fixate on Mrs. Nugent as the source of all his other woes. His mother is sent off to a mental hospital, (which his father calls "the garage"), and his father disappears on one last, everlasting drinking binge - he drinks himself to death. His favorite friend Joe forsakes him for the dreaded Philip, and finally he is sent to a boarding school, where a priest abuses him. Poor Francie does not stand a chance, for everything in the novel conspires against him, and he cannot get past the idea that it is Mrs. Nugent at the core of all his woes. He fixates on the woman as the source of his problems, and this is the very beginning of his descent into madness and unreality.
As Francie's descent continues, he continually shifts his identity to other, make believe characters. He lacks self-worth, and so he must create alternate roles for himself because his own identity is so desperate and so sad. When he steals money on his trip to Dublin, he sees himself as a fugitive "All the way down the street, I kept thinking: Hunted from town to town for a crime he didn't commit - Francie Brady - The Fugitive! - Except for one thing, I did commit it" (McCabe 38). Throughout the novel he also sees himself as "Algernon Carruthers," "The Boy Who Could Walk Forever," and "Adam Eterno." Clearly, Francie cannot discover just who he is, and because of this lack of identity, he allows his character to be formed by his experiences, which are mostly horrible. With no role model to build on, Francie's only identity is that of "pig," and as such, he must fight this identity at all costs, which he eventually does.
Violence is at the heart of Francie's descent into madness. He does not understand any other way to solve his problems, and without a father to guide him, he finds no other solutions to his despair. In addition, Francie is the victim of violence throughout the novel, and it colors his outlook and adds to his misery. His mother commits suicide and his father even blames him for it. In addition, when Francie is shuffled off to the boarding school, he experiences abuse at the hands of a cast-off priest.
His apprenticeship in the butcher shop is filled with violence and gory death. McCabe writes about the butcher brutally slaying a piglet, "[A]nd what does he do only stick [the bolt gun] into the baby pig's head and bid-dunk!, right into his skull goes the bolt and such a squeal. Then down on the concrete plop and not a squeak out of him all you could see was him saying you said you'd mind me and you didn't" (McCabe 123). When Francie brutally kills his own pig, the novel takes another turn, but the reader is no longer surprised. It is clear Francie's descent into madness is nearly complete, and there will be more violence to follow.
Adding to Francie's growing despair is the loss of his good friend Joe, who turns on Francie and takes up with Philip Nugent. The worst thing he could ever say to Francie is "I'm not hanging around with him. I used to hang around with him!" (McCabe 111). Throughout the novel, Joe continues to distance himself from Francie, and in this, he mirrors the entire community, who turn their backs on a young boy in trouble. McCabe writes, "When they seen me coming they all stopped talking. One of them moved back and bumped against the display case. There you are ladies I said and they all went right back on their heels at the same time" (McCabe 14). The women fear him, because he is different, while Joe represents normal childhood, and is fully accepted in the community. He is able to grow, adapt, and learn from his experiences, while Francie's development is forever arrested because of his family and his lack of any kind of role model or father figure.
At the very heart of this novel, and Francie's descent into madness is his family. Clearly, Francie grows up without a decent role model, and this helps contribute to his stunted emotional growth and his growing sense of unreality. Without a father figure, Francie has no one to emulate and learn from. He only has a mad mother and a growing sense of alienation in his community. His mother even looks to him for care and support, placing him in the role of adult and caregiver when he desperately needs the same support himself. McCabe writes, "It wasn't always like this for your father and me she said. Then she looked into my eyes and said: Francie - you would never let me down would you?" (McCabe 4). Author McCabe seems to be using Francie as a lesson to dysfunctional families - saying, "see what will happen if you neglect your children?" Sadly, this assumption seems to be all too true. Francie's descent from normal young man to crazed murderer does not seem all that far-fetched, partly because McCabe makes the descent so gradual throughout the novel, and partly because it is difficult to expect much else from a family background such as the Brady's. The family contributes to his madness in many ways, and it seems to even have run genetically in the family. McCabe shows just how much family values can mean to children who need them, and this lack of values in the Brady family is a precursor to what may happen when children are left to their own sometimes demented devices. If anyone is at fault for Francie's behavior, it is his mother and father, who failed him just when he needed them most.
Francie's descent is gradual, but it is complete. It begins with Mrs. Nugent calling the family "pigs," and it continues as Francie relies more and more on the voices in his head and his dreams to create his own vision of reality, which deteriorates even further when they take him to the hospital after his father dies. They place him…