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1 James Shapiro December 2010

The Identity and Anxiety of Colonial Dublin in Joyces Dubliners


Every night as I gazed up at the window I said softly to myself the word paralysis. It had always sounded strangely in my ears This line from The Sisters, the first story in James Joyces Dubliners, establishes from the outset a central theme of the collection. The young narrator is fixated on the condition of the dying Father Flynn, whose paralysis foreshadows the tales of social, moral, and mental paralyses that will follow. This last varietyparalysis of the mindis of particular concern to Joyce, much as it was to many other modernists. This paper will demonstrate that we are here calling paralysismanifested in the crippling anxieties, neuroses and feelings of displacement in the characters inhabiting Joyces Dublinis presented as a particularly modern malady, intensified by industrialization and the encroachment of English imperialism. Furthermore, the city of Dublin itself, it will be argued, serves as a constant symbolic oppressor throughout the collection, reminding Irish male characters of their powerlessness in the face of the British, which is repeatedly reinforced through tropes of emasculationa term understood here to encompass both instances of characters being overtly feminized and being presented as powerless. Social interactions between Joyces Dubliners are often dictated by overwhelming selfconsciousness. This is perhaps most apparent at the beginning of Two Gallants, when the narration provides us a glimpse into Lenehans motives for praising his friend after a story of sexual conquest is relayed: A shade of mockery relieved the servility of his manner. To save himself he had the habit of leaving his flattery open to the interpretation of raillery (Dubliners, 46). Lenehans responses are not genuine reactions, but deliberately calculated efforts to win Corleys approval: When he was quite sure that the narrative had ended he laughed noiselessly

2 for fully half a minute (43). Unsure of how exactly to endear himself to his friend, Lenehan attempts to answer in a manner that could be interpreted in one of two ways, thus increasing his odds of success. Following this exchange, the two part ways when Corley rendezvous with the slavey, or servant girl, who was the subject of the tale he had just told Lenehan. Left with what we quickly see are his lonely and bitter thoughts, Lenehan is relieved to have them interrupted when he encounters a few acquaintances on the street. The narration, however, reveals his boredom and frustration at the banal trivialities of which they speak. Joyce does not give us the dialogue of this exchange word for word, but instead dryly recounts the conversation in summary, signifying its lack of importance or meaning: His friends asked him had he seen Corley and what was the latest. He replied that he had spent the day with Corley. His friends talked very little. They looked vacantly after some figures in the crowd and sometimes made a critical remark. One said that he had seen Mac an hour before in Westmoreland Street. At this Lenehan said that he had been with Mac the night before in Egans. The young man who had seen Mac in Westmoreland Street asked was it true that Mac had won a bit over a billiard match. Lenehan did not know: he said that Holohan had stood them drinks in Egans (52). Another sign of self-consciousness and existential anxiety in the collection is that characters repeatedly compare themselves to an ideal, questioning the value of their own lives and longing for the seemingly unattainable. Lenehan laments the path he is taking in life, as the narration tells that he wonders would he never get a good job? Would he never have a home of his own? He might yet be able to settle down in some snug corner and live happily if he could only come across some good simple-minded girl with a little of the ready (52). It is not insignificant that even his fantasies involve not his personal success, but taking advantage of and living off of a woman, as the ready refers to money. He imagines jealously Corleys adventure with the girl:

3 In his imagination he beheld the pair of lovers walking along some dark road; he heard Corleys voice in deep energetic gallantries and saw again the leer of the young womans mouth. This vision made him feel keenly his own poverty of purse and spirit (51). Lenehan idealizes this interaction which in reality is at the very least a somewhat seedy affair. The exact nature of Corleys relationship with the slavey is ambiguous, but we do know that he extracts money and gifts from her in some way. Lenehan is not alone in his sexual frustration and longing for companionship (or better companionship). In A Little Cloud, Little Chandler wonders why he married his plain wife, fantasizing about an exotic, fiery beauty instead. This comes in response to his friend Ignatius Gallahers boasting of wine, women and an uninhibited life in London and on the Continent. Gallahers success and his confident air awaken a fierce jealousy and shame in Chandler similar to that of Lenehan: He felt acutely the contrast between his own life and his friends, and it seemed to him unjust. Gallaher was his inferior in birth and education. He was sure that he could do something better than his friend had ever done, or could ever do, something higher than mere tawdry journalism if he only got the chance. What was it that stood in his way? His unfortunate timidity! He wished to vindicate himself in some way, to assert his manhood. He saw behind Gallahers refusal of his invitation. Gallaher was only patronising him just as he was patronising Ireland by his visit (75-76). The recurring themes of anxiety and mental paralysis seem to point to the general social malaise and disconnect that Joyce saw in the Ireland of his day, which, in my view, he attributed largely to English colonialism and oppression. In Two Gallants, Joyce uses the iconic symbol of the harp for Ireland in a multifaceted metaphor that portrays the nation as being adrift; twisting in the wind and not really knowing where its going; not in control of its own destiny: Not far from the porch of the club a harpist stood in the roadway, playing to a little ring of listeners. He plucked at the wires heedlessly, glancing quickly from time to time at the face of each new-comer and from time to time, wearily also, at the sky. His harp too, heedless that her coverings had fallen about her knees, seemed weary alike of the eyes of strangers and of her masters hands (48).

4 The fact that the harp is personified as a woman is telling. It is not uncommon for countries to be feminized in nationalistic discourse, but in the case of Ireland, it has been done so consistently that the metaphors have reached clich status, and have been criticized as such by many artists and critics alike (i.e. Michael Hartnett in I am Language). Whereas the United States is often personified as Uncle Sam, Britain as John Bull, and Germany referred to as the Fatherland, the image used for Ireland seems invariably to be the old woman, i.e. Cathleen ni Houlihan in the eponymous W.B. Yeats play. The ambivalent harpist can therefore be seen as symbolic of Englands rule over Ireland, controlling the nation with no real regard for it, simply plucking away at the strings without any great concern for the harp or the music thats being produced. Soon after this passage, Lenehans movements are described as being controlled by the harps music. Lenehans path in life, like his literal path through Dublin, really leads nowherehe is just going around in circles to pass the time. The fact that his movements are controlled by the air which the harpist played (50) suggests that he was in some ways living out his life the only way he couldthat his path was determined both by the forces of English colonialism and of general Irish social malaise. In the context of this metaphor, Englands exploitation of Ireland becomes a defilement of her chastity and womanhood. Like the harpists mishandling of is instrument, Corleys treatment of the slavey could be read allegorically as Englands treatment of Ireland as well. He degrades her and uses her for his own personal gain. Accordingly, the image of the nation as an exploited woman further contributes to the emasculation of Irish men in these stories. Counterparts also deals with metaphors relating to gender roles. Farrington, the main character of this story, struggles with feelings of powerlessness and worthlessness. Though his name is not explicitly Irish-Catholic, Terrence Brown, in the notes to the Penguin Classics

5 edition, asserts that Farrington is representative of all Irishmen: the first syllable of Farringtons name is pronounced like the Irish word fear, a man. Farrington is referred to as the man in the text (Dubliners, 275). His superiors in the solicitors office are given clearly Anglo namesAlleyne, Bodley and Shelleyand the abuse and humiliation he suffers at their hands are another colonial metaphor. After absorbing a tirade of insults from Mr. Alleyne early on in the story, Farrington runs out for a glass of porter, as if he would die without it. The narration notes that he was now safe in the dark snug of ONeills shop (84), underlining the emasculated nature of Farringtons character, as the snug, a small enclosed private space, is strongly associated with women, who would take their drinks in it because at the time it was considered unladylike to be seen at the pub. The gendered metaphor for English colonization and exploitation is present again in the ending, though now turned on its head; after having blown all his money on alcohol without even managing to get drunk, Farrington comes home. He has lost his reputation as a strongman, and is frustrated about not talking to a girl in the pub. He takes out his anger on his son, whom Brown points out is clearly Catholic, (275) as evidenced by the boys claim that his mother was out at the chapel (93). Farrington beats his son not only to vent his frustrations, but seemingly in an attempt to reassert his manhood by dominating another person, while the boy pleads that he will perform Hail Marys if he is left alone. In A Little Cloud, Little Chandler is ascribed particularly feminine characteristics His hands were white and small, his frame was fragile, his voice was quiet and his manners were refined (65). He is contrasted with his friend Ignatius Gallaher, a garrulous and charismatic mans man,a man of action who has gone out and seized success for himself. It is no coincidence that he left Dublin to find it, not unlike Joyces own exile. Little Chandler, however, is timid and rather pathetic. Joyce uses him to mock poets who played on the Brits

6 stereotypical view of the Irish as mystical Celts. Little Chandler imagines the English critics praising him for possessing the Celtic note, and even considers making himself sound more Irish by assuming his mothers maiden name, Malone. He essentially wants to become a caricature of an Irishman in order to appease the British. This idea reflects how very deep the psychology of colonialism had permeated the Irish mind of this period. Every step brought him closer to London, says the narration, farther from his own sober inartistic life. A light began to tremble on the horizon of his mind. He was not so oldthirty-two (68). As Brown instructs, he actually is going towards London both figuratively and literally because he is walking southeast. East is the direction associated with escape from Dublins oppressive life in many of the stories in the book, writes Brown (270). (In fact, it is interesting these characters are drawn east rather than west, the direction which so many Irish took to come to America. Joyces characters, it seems, are drawn to their very oppressors in a Stockholm-like phenomenon of sorts). Little Chandlers desire to turn his life around is almost a mirror image of Lenehans. In fact Little Chandler is only one year older than Lenehan, who is said to be turning thirty-one in November (and A Little Cloud takes place in late autumn). At the end of Two Gallants, we are left to presume that Lenehan does not turn his life around, but rather continues walking around in circles. Similarly, Little Chandlers fantasies of a new woman and a new life as a poet are dashed as he is brought back to reality by his crying son. The guilt he feels over those fantasies as he watches his wife soothe the child brings tears to his own eyes. Lenehan, Dublin, and Ireland as a whole were twisting in the wind, as I put it previously, perhaps because in a very real sense Dubliners of the period were living lives not truly their own. Declan Kiberd, in his highly acclaimed work Inventing Ireland, asserts that in Dubliners Joyce described an Ireland filled with echoes and shadows, a place of copied and

7 derived gestures, whose denizens were turned outward to serve a distant source of authority in London (Kiberd, Inventing Ireland, 330). Without question, the most culturally and psychologically significant sense in which the Irish copied and derived from the English is in the use of the English language. This was a point of deep-rooted anxiety not only for Joyce, but for Ireland as a whole. There was a serious concern around the turn of the twentieth century about the loss of the Irish language and of Gaelic culture. Out of this sentiment organizations like the Conradh na Gaeilge (the Gaelic League) and the Gaelic Athletic Association were born, and would play a large part in the movement for independence. While Joyce never attempted to write in Irish, his constant struggle with writing in the language of his peoples oppressors is evident in much of his work as well as his private writings. In A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Stephen Dedalus laments this fact in his head as he talks to the Dean of Studies of his College, who is an Englishman: The language in which we are speaking is his before it is mine. How different are the words home, Christ, ale, master, on his lips and on mine! I cannot speak or writes these words without unrest of spirits his language, so familiar and so foreign, will always be for me an acquired speech. I have not made or accepted its words. My voice holds them at bay. My soul frets in the shadow of his language (A Portrait, 205). Declan Kiberd comments that: it is obvious from A Portrait that [Joyce was not] fully happy with the Englishspeaking Ireland of the present. Though the old peasant might struggle to recall a few phrases of Irish for the Gaelic Leaguers notebook, the truth (as Joyce saw it) was that English did not provide a comprehensive medium for Irish people either. That is part of the tragicomedy of non-communication pondered by Stephen Dedalus (Kiberd, 331-2) The mechanized technology which followed from the industrial revolution, too, was a foreign and inherited product of England. Even the spatial form of the city of Dublin itself is an echo of London in many ways. In Two Gallants, Corley goes out of his way as the two were passing along the railings of Trinity College skip[ping] out into the road to look at the clock

8 (47). As Brown instructs in the notes, Trinity was heavily identified in this period with AngloProtestant elitism, Anglicization and Unionist politics (257). Later on, Lenehan looks at a clock by the Royal College of Surgeons; both mentions of clocks are associated with places that are highly symbolic of British rule (an earlier mention of Waterhouses clock is so less overtlyit refers to a jewelry store with an English name). In the context of this story, England governs even the Dubliners personal experience of time. For many reasons, the mechanical clock is a symbol of modern industrial capitalism. Through the industrial revolution and development of factories in England and much of the Western world, time was commodified and forever on associated with work. Ireland, isolated and subject to England as it was, did not experience nearly the same level of industrial growth, and thus the encroachment of English technology and architecture is particularly distressing. One powerful symbol of anxiety towards modernity is found in A Painful Case, in which the main character James Duffys brief love interesthis one brief escape from a life of lonelinessis killed by a train (and the real tragedy lies in Mr. Duffys convincing himself to be almost happy about her death). The fact that railings are emphasized in the descriptions of Trinity and the Dukes Lawn in Two Gallants indicates the separation of the average Catholic Dubliner from education and the intelligentsia, which, for all intents and purposes, isolated them from the rest of the world. Later in the story Lenehan runs his hand along the railings of the Dukes Lawnwhich, Brown tells us, was a grassed area in front of Leinster House on Merrion Square, (264)as he passes by. At this time a statue of Queen Victoria, first unveiled by King Edward VII in 1904, stood in front of Leinster House, which was then the headquarters of the Royal Dublin Society, an intellectual society for the improvement of arts in Dublin. This complex also contained the National Library and museum, again highlighting the poor mans exclusion from all things

9 intellectual and worldly, which here are literally out of Lenehans reach. The railings might as well be prison bars, reminding him that he will never leave Dublin and never improve his station. In his article Colonial Spaces in Joyces Dublin, David Spurr writes that architectural elements such as railings and parapets add to the feeling of confinement (Spurr, 25). Dubliners of this period faced a constant symbolic defeat in walking their own streets, forced to pass by the icons of their own oppression on a daily basis. Spurrs comment refers specifically to a passage from The Dead, when Gabriel and Gretta finally emerge from Gabriels aunts house onto Ushers Island Quay in the wee hours of the morning: The morning was still dark. A dull yellow light brooded over the houses and the river; and the sky seemed to be descending. It was snowy underfoot; and only streaks and patches of snow lay on the roofs, on the parapets of the quay and on the area railings. The lamps were still burning redly in the murky air and, across the river, the palace of the Four Courts stood out menacingly against the heavy sky (214). One might be surprised at the characterization of the Four Courts building here; a courthouse is conventionally thought of as a symbol of justice and progress, a symbol that would only be threatening to a criminal. Yet here the Four Courts building is described as menacing because it represents British power. Spurr asserts that the paragraph resonates with [Gabriels] subjective experience (Spurr, 25), arguing that the heaviness of the landscape and sky which Gabriel perceives is a response to the exchange he had at the party with Miss Ivors, who calls him a West Briton, for, as Spurr writes, his indifference to the Nationalist cause and to the Irish cultural revival, which for her involves learning the Irish language and taking trips to the West of Ireland, home of an ostensibly more primitive and indigenous Irish people (Spurr, 25). Gabriel is very troubled at this accusation, and he blurts out as if uncontrollably, O, to tell you the truth, Im sick of my own country, sick of it! (190). The presence of this exchange alone is

10 evidence enough for the type of fragmented identity crisistorn between Irish and English or something in betweenthat I am proposing is part of the themes of anxiety and mental paralysis in Dubliners. Themes of anxiety and mental paralysis are central to Dubliners, and Joyces representation of these themes reflect a condition he considered epidemic in his native land. While he certainly did not give his countrymen a free pass, so to speak, by blaming all of their problems on their mistreatment at the hands of the English, he did present British imperial abuses as a major cause of the afflictions. Perhaps the paramount way that Joyce communicated Irelands pre-1916 powerlessness in the face of British colonial rule was through the use of gendered metaphors and the presentation of Irish male characters as being emasculated. There are instances in Dubliners in which this technique is overtsuch as the physical description of Little Chandler, and the evocation of Irelands feminine imageand times when it is more subtly implied. In my reading, the emasculation of male characters is tacitly present in every instance of a mans powerlessness or inability to act in the collection.

Works Cited (in order of appearance) Joyce, James; Brown, Terence (ed.). Dubliners. London: Penguin Classics, 2000. Joyce, James. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. New York: Vintage International, 1993. Kiberd, Declan. Inventing Ireland: the Literature of the Modern Nation. London: Vintage Books, 1996. Colonial Spaces in Joyce's Dublin David Spurr James Joyce Quarterly Vol. 37, No. 1/2, Dublin and the Dubliners (Fall, 1999 - Winter, 2000), pp. 23-42 Published by: University of Tulsa Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/25474116

11 Additional Bibliography Ellman, Richard. James Joyce: the First Revision of the 1959 Classic. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1983. Spaces of Time through Times of Space: Joyce, Ireland and Colonial Modernity Luke Gibbons Field Day Review Vol. 1, (2005), pp. 71-86 Published by: Field Day Publications Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/30078604