“With my brief sojourn in America I had caught a new glimpse of life; a different perspective and I had no intention of losing it.”Pat O’Mara. p187
Pat had a fascination with boats from a young age. Throughout his teenage years, he works a variety of jobs before he decides ‘not to fool with any cheap land jobs’ (O’Mara 104). His decision to work on the ships at first was impacted by the dock workers and sailormen he’d watch from afar instead of attending school. He lands his first job at sea working as an ‘ordinary seaman at six pounds per month’ (O’Mara 109). But for fourteen-year-old Pat, it meant lying about his age for such an incredible opportunity.
Whilst working on the ship, Pat’s mother gets fired from her job at the Emigrant House. She shows how alienating labour could be by moving frequently from jobs. He implies that capitalism benefited from similar workers like his mother, as she is neither important in her role in society or useful as people like her are ‘promptly’ forgotten ‘all about’ (O’Mara 4). The labour in Britain seems isolating, in a sense that a worker’s presence is neither required nor long-lasting as they can easily be replaced by other workers due to the high demand of job seekers. Pat seems to suggest how work could separate someone from their own sense of identity, especially because of his background, as ‘Irish working-class emigrants are subject to a condensation of “othering” not entirely unfamiliar to the English working class, they are also on occasion capable of evading the markers of class –their accents less easily categorised in accurately class-conscious England’ (Pierse 2017). Despite the blurred lines of class during this time in Pat’s life, his father frequently reminds his mother of her identity by calling her a ‘slummy’ (O’Mara 39).
But for Pat, working out at sea seemed to be the perfect opportunity for him to prove he was a man rather than a ‘mammy’s lad’ (O’Mara 109) and sees his first job at sea as a way to show his courage and bravery during the war. What we see through Pat’s desire to work, is his own sense of belonging as an Irish settler in Liverpool. He shows a hardworking attitude during his job as an ordinary seaman, which highlights the desperation he had for a career that would provide privilege and opportunity despite being raised in the slums.
At one point in Pat’s career working onboard the ship, the Captain recognises him as his father’s son and tells Pat: ‘only don’t grow up to be the bloke he is’ (O’Mara 123) and Pat becomes anxious the Captain knows ‘everything distasteful pertaining to me and my early life’ (O’Mara 123). Pat’s past follows him throughout his life and work. His desire to join a career as a seaman was for an escape from his old life in Liverpool, and this leads me to believe that, for Pat, work was an important representation of his dream to better himself. His autobiography shows his journey across the sea which becomes a metaphor of the voyage he undergoes to discover the possibilities of a better life. It’s during Pat’s career as a seaman that he starts to uncover the opportunities that can provide him a purpose and identity.
His job takes him to America or as Pat calls it – the land of opportunity. His short visit there gives him a ‘new glimpse of life’ and a ‘different perspective’ (O’Mara 187) of the work that is available. It becomes a significant moment in Pat’s life when he makes the decision to live over there, where he finds a sense of belonging. He recalls how everybody over there looks professional, which suggests to him how the identification of different classes was more difficult to gauge. It’s important for Pat that he isn’t judged on his abilities as a slummy, and life in America meant that he would not be defined by his Irish working-class roots.
By the end of Pat’s story, he is making a comfortable living for himself by working as a taxi driver in New York and is for once, ‘freed of bosses’ (O’Mara, 220). His decision to move to America and live the American Dream makes his story inspiring to the many other working-class people. It shows Pat’s determination and work ethic, as he makes an incredible journey through the slums of Liverpool to the city of New York where anything is possible. Pat’s writing provides an account of his social class and what that meant for him whilst looking for work. The variety of jobs Pat has throughout his life show the progression he makes from a slummy to a successful man living in America.
O’Mara, Pat. The Autobiography of a Liverpool Slummy. The Bluecoat Press. 1997.
Pierse, Michael. A History of Irish Working-Class Writing. Cambridge University Press, 2017. p28
Vincent, David. ‘Love and Death and the Nineteenth-Century Working Class.’ Social History, 5.2 (1980): 223-247 http://www.jstor.org/stable/4284976
Image 1 and 2: Bellew, Jim & Young, Phil. Whitbread Book of Scouseology. ‘Exley Street, Low Hill’. Volume Two. Merseyside Life 1900-1987.
Image 3: New York in the 1920’s