Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Adorable Kitty Videos!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Chapter Three from James Joyce's "A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man"


If Stephen Dedalus finds sexual ecstasy a blessed relief in Chapter Two of James Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, by Chapter Three his fleshly desires have devolved into hedonism and lechery. Throughout the chapter, Stephen compares himself to a vulgar beast, and he grapples with guilt and shame.

For example, in the opening paragraphs, Stephen "feels his belly crave for food," and hears it counsel him to "stuff it in you." Stephen's focus on the primitive, gluttonous desires of his body demonstrate that he is neglecting his spiritual and intellectual sides. Sex, which seemed a dark and beautiful mystery at the end of the previous chapter, has also lost its luster. The young woman in a pink dress from Chapter Two, her profession left unmentioned, has given way to scenes of "whores...yawning lazily after their sleep and settling hairpins in their cluster of hair." Gone is the romance and excitement of Stephen's first experience--instead, Joyce depicts the women Stephen visits as pedestrian whores. While Stephen previously reveled in a fragment from Shelley's poem, now he imagines that his soul is "quenching its own lights and fires" and instead equating himself to a pale moon, he feels like "cold darkness filled chaos." Stephen's indifference reflects the lack of balance in his life; like many adolescents, he continually goes to extremes. In this case, his extreme focus on his bodily pleasures leaves him spiritually empty.

But Stephen does not remain in this state for long. He is initially repelled by "sickly smell of cheap hairoil" he notes in churchgoers, showing a contempt for people based on superficial physical characteristics, but his school requires its students to attend a religious retreat in honor of their patron saint, Francis Xavier.  This retreat gradually awakens Stephen's spiritual side, driving him though stages of guilt and fear until he finally makes his confession and discovers spiritual ecstasy.

The retreat opens with the return of Father Arnall, one of Stephen's masters from his childhood at Clongowes. Seeing his old teacher reminds Stephen of his lost innocence and childhood, and his soul "[becomes] again a child's soul." This begins the awakening of Stephen's soul--the return to childhood represents the first stage of his spiritual development. During Father Arnall's first speech he tells the boys that the purpose of the retreat is to help them focus on their souls without the distraction of studies or worldly influences. In particular, the priest intends to focus on the "four last things," which are "death, judgement, hell, and heaven." The priest's words have a profound effect on Stephen. His disgust with himself increases, and he imagines that "his soul was fattening and congealing into a gross grease," yet he also a dull fear. His focus on his body leaves his spiritual side deeply unsatisfied, and thus vulnerable to the fearful manipulations of religion.

Father Arnall's lecture the next day focuses on death and judgement, and in his guilt and terror Stephen empathizes so deeply with the dying and condemned that he "felt the deathchill touch the extremities and creep onward to the heart." Stephen convinces himself that "every word of [Father Arnall's lecture] is for him" and that the "whole wrath of God" aimed at his sins. If before he felt disgusted with himself, now he feels ashamed. Yet, though he agonizes about his sins, Stephen still feels helpless to seek forgiveness or ameliorate his guilt in any way. This helplessness echoes the impotence he felt while watching the adults argue as a child in Chapter One, or the frustration he felt in Chapter Two when he can't find Emma after his play.
The priest's next lecture lasts for six page, and focuses on the fall of Lucifer and the tortures of hell. It is stuffed with the most vile tortures that ever a twisted old man thought up to terrify young people into religion. The hell he describes is so merciless, so abjectly frightening, that it's hard to imagine what kind of demon God would create such a place. Father Arnall describes the damned as "so utterly bound and helpless that...they are not even able to remove from the eye a worm that gnaws it." God designed this "straitness" to punish those "who refused to be bound by his laws." The damned lie in complete darkness, and the stench of hell is "like some foul and putrid corpse that has lain rotting and decomposing in the grave, a jelly-like mass of liquid corruption." But all those other physical tortures pale beside the unending fire that "rages with incredible intensity [and] it rages forever." Hell, according to the priest, also contains the miserable company of the damned and the demons, who scream and howl at each other.

Stephen is so deeply affected by this nightmarish speech that he fears he has already died, and that at any moment God would cast him into the pit. He thinks "his brain [is] simmering and bubbling within the cracking tenement of the skull." It's only the mundane voices of his classmates that bring Stephen back to reality, and remind him that he's still very much alive. Grateful for his reprieve, Stephen vows to repent of his evil deeds. Yet, given a chance to make his confession, he does not go, to ashamed to reveal his sexual sins to the priests at his school. But the old priest has still another lecture (eight pages) with which to rouse Stephen from his reluctance to confess. This one discusses the spiritual pains of hell, namely being deprived of the divine light, the pain of conscience, the pains of extension and intensity, and worst of all, the eternity of hell. These spiritual pains somewhat contradict the previous lecture, where the priest said that the damned have no humanity or conscience in hell, but only rage against their fate and the people who lead them astray. Despite Father Arnall's insistence that God is just, and that sin is so vile he must punish it this way, it's clear that the endless tortures he imagines the damned suffer seem deeply disproportional to their actual sins.  Stephen feels intensely guilty and frightened as he listens to this lecture, believing every word is for him. Yet his actual sin, sleeping with prostitutes, is a fairly mild one, and likely a very common one for men of that time period.

At last, Stephen returns home, and still feeling the pain of conscience, imagines the hell God has in store for him. He dreams of a field of rank weeds and nasty smells coming from "stale crusted dung." He imagines himself in a "stinking, bestial, malignant...hell of lecherous goatish fiends." Stephen is so distraught over his dream that he leaps from bed and rushes to an anonymous chapel to confess. After his intense guilt and fear, the relief of confession leaves Stephen in a state of bliss. He feels pure and holy, and just as he had experienced sexual/bodily ecstasy at the end of Chapter Two, now he experiences religious/spiritual ecstasy. But the intensity of his religious fervor leaves him unbalanced again--caring only for his soul, and neglecting his intellect and his body.

Blogs for James Joyce's Dubliners:

"The Sisters" and "An Encounter"


"After the Race" and "Two Gallants"

"A Little Cloud" and "Counterparts"


"Clay" and "A Painful Case"

"Ivy Day in the Committee Room"

"A Mother"

"Grace"

"The Dead"

Blogs for A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man:

Chapter One

Chapter Two



Blogs for James Joyce's Ulysses: 

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

There is a War on Christmas

There is a War on Christmas


There is a War on Christmas
That Conservatives always fight
To rob the poor of assistance
By Christmas Night

Though Jesus may have loved the poor
The humble and the meek
His followers now prefer to call them
Lazy, stupid, and weak

No home is sacred
No low-income family safe
From vicious, mean-spirited policies
To turn them all to waifs

For millionaires need tax cuts
Republicans like to think
And if you're not a millionaire
They'll throw you down the sink

The elderly, poor, and middle class
They secretly despise
Though they try to win their votes
With cruel and ugly lies

Generosity is for suckers
Democrats and the like
And Santa Claus is just a lie
To placate little tykes

They say they value families
But only certain forms
They'll gladly destroy the lives
Of those who don't conform

So if you value freedom
Imagine those who are gay
Can't marry the one they love
On a beautiful wedding day

Republicans would deny their rights
Cause their families to shatter
Because if your family has two mommies
They think that you don't matter

All families have great beauty
When they're built on love
So don't destroy their happiness
In the name of God above

It's also single women
They're fighting in their war
They'll take away their birth control
And equal rights, no more

They're wrong on immigration
But Republicans believe
If Latinos don't like them
The GOP can make them leave

They think you're not American
If your skin's not lily-white
And if you don't believe as they do
They'll take away your rights

They'll take away our healthcare
So the uninsured will succumb
So many will be bankrupt
When the medical bills come home

The fiscal cliff will be their excuse
To raise the Medicare age
Costing seniors thousands of dollars
To placate Republican rage

So please stop this War on Christmas
Because what makes our country great
Is our freedom and our safety net
Not your politics of hate







Monday, December 10, 2012

Reading Chapter Two of James Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

In Chapter Two of Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Stephen Dedalus enters his brooding, awkward adolescence. The chapter opens with Stephen spending time with his Uncle Charles. No longer the passionate political firebrand introduced in the first chapter, Uncle Charles now indulges Stephen with treats and prays regularly in the chapel. While Uncle Charles becomes a more peaceful character, the dissipation of his political passions and ideals suggest that he, like Ireland herself, has fallen into a rut.

In his free time, Stephen devotes himself to reading The Count of Monte Cristo. He becomes especially fascinated by the character of Mercedes, who represents his pure, romantic longings. Yet even in his imagination Stephen sees himself refusing her, quoting, "Madam, I never eat muscatel grapes." Though Stephen indulges in romantic fantasies, physical reality often disgusts him. Joyce emphasizes this dichotomy by contrasting summer with autumn/winter, and Dublin with the countryside. For example, "the cattle which had seemed so beautiful in the country on sunny days revolted him" when he saw them in the filthy stockyard during autumn.   

As the chapter progresses, Stephen becomes more and more ensnared by the rough world he despises. His father's money troubles at first keep him from returning to school, then force the family to leave their country haven for the harsher world of Dublin. His Uncle Charles grows too "witless" to go on errands, reflecting the disarray and stupidity that have infected Irish politics. However, his uncle's decline leaves Stephen free, and he wanders the city. But Dublin fails to live up to Stephen's imaginary Marseilles--instead of bright skies and "sunwarmed trellises," the real world has "lowering skies." Even when the shops are decorated for Christmas, Stephen only feels embittered and angry with his circumstances. He remains gloomy even at a children's party he attends, withdrawing into a snug corner of the room to "taste the joy of his loneliness."

At this same party, however, Stephen meets an unnamed girl who infatuates him. When they ride home on a tram together, he thinks about taking her in his arms and kissing her. Once again, his fantasy proves more appealing than reality because he abstains, though whether it is fear or guilt or nerves that hold him him back he doesn't say. Still, his frustration grows and instead of seeking out the girl herself, he writes a poem about the experience of being with her, perhaps his first artistic creation. 

Soon Stephen's reveries come to an end. His father announces that Stephen and his brother will go back to school at Belvedere, another Jesuit school similar to Clongowes. In explaining how he managed to get them places at the prestigious school, Mr. Dedalus tells the family how the rector remembered Stephen because he had reported to him how the prefect, Father Dolan, punished him unfairly. The rector and Father Dolan had a good laugh at Stephen's expense, but appreciated his "manly" spirit. Though Stephen never says a word, or gives the reader any hint of his emotions, it's hard to think that his triumph from Chapter One was nothing but a joke to the priests around him. At the time Stephen took it very seriously indeed, and the callous laughter of the Jesuits must only increase Stephen's bitterness and alienation.

Belvedere College, Dublin

The next scene in the book shows the backstage preparations for a play at Belvedere. Stephen has been there a couple of years, and will perform the part of a "farcical pedagogue," perhaps an ironic commentary on Stephen's excessive obedience and uptight, pedantic manners.  He is excited to learn that the beautiful girl he met at the children's party will attend the play, perhaps specifically to see him. His friends, including his rival, Heron, tease him about the girl, but Stephen brushes them off.  He remembers how Heron had taunted him years before for liking Lord Byron's poetry. After the play, Stephen finds his family waiting for him, but the elusive girl is gone. Frustrated, Stephen runs a ways down a hill, until the pungent order of "horse piss and matted straw" robs him of his fantasies and calms his raging heart. Once again, the real world abruptly brings Stephen out of his romantic fantasies.

Stephen's frustration only grows during a trip to Cork with his father. Bored by his father's reminisces, annoyed by his father's competition with him, Stephen watches humiliated as his father drinks too much. His mind wanders to a poem by Shelley, and he takes comfort in its artistic power. Yet if Stephen blames his father's improvidence for his troubles, the next scene proves him wrong. Stephen collects some money for writing an award-winning essay and exhibition. At first thrilled with his new wealth, he quickly spends all his money on a useless attempt to "build a breakwater of order and elegance against the sordid tide of life" and "dam up...the powerful recurrence of tides within him." His money was a brief distraction, and now Stephen is as isolated and frustrated as before.

Wandering the streets, Stephen finds himself drawn to the red-light district. A woman in a long pink gown takes him to her room, where a "huge doll sat with her legs apart in the copious easy chair beside the bed."(Subtle, James Joyce). Stephen kisses her, then he "[surrenders] himself to her, body and mind, conscious of nothing in the world but the dark pressure of her softly parting lips." (Even more subtlety, of course). Finally, Stephen finds some release for his pent-up frustration.

Blogs for James Joyce's Dubliners:

"The Sisters" and "An Encounter"


"After the Race" and "Two Gallants"

"A Little Cloud" and "Counterparts"


"Clay" and "A Painful Case"

"Ivy Day in the Committee Room"

"A Mother"

"Grace"

"The Dead"

Blogs for A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man:

Chapter One

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Blogs for James Joyce's Ulysses: 


Monday, December 3, 2012

Christmas Kitty


My kitty certainly loves sleeping under our Christmas Tree!


He loves hiding under our tree skirt, too!




No one can see me!



Ruffling the tree skirt is one of the joys of Christmas.


Other Cat Pictures Posts:

Cat Like Box

Bringing Home Our Kitties

Adorable Kitty Videos

Moby Kitty

Christmas Kitty

Cat Burrito!

Lynx Snuggling my Socks

The Lord of Shoes

Our Sweet Kitties

Monday, November 26, 2012

My Favorite Fantasy Book Series

1. A Song of Ice and Fire, by George R. R. Martin

I picked up A Game of Thrones because my then-fiance bought a copy. He loved the book and encouraged me to read it. I found it so gripping that I stayed up all night reading it, unable to put it down.  It's epic and emotionally intense, and the world Martin creates is rich and fascinating. Still, what I love most is the deep complexity of the characters. Too many writers create one-note villains, people just born evil with no valid point-of-view.  While some of Martin's secondary characters, like Gregor Clegane, are pure savages, his main villains have a depth of character and a point of view that is almost as compelling as the heroes'.  A reader might hate Cersei Lannister, and with good reason--but Martin shows that she fights to protect her children and save her loved ones. Even Ned Stark feels some sympathy for her; he knows that Robert treats her horribly, and that Robert would murder her and her children if he discovers her secrets. Excellent fantasy books need more than a fascinating world; they also need complex characters with gripping stories readers can't put down.


2. His Dark Materials, by Phillip Pullman 

In his books, Pullman creates a rich fabric of worlds and characters, and he drives his plot with powerful moral philosophy.  I love this series because it is one of the most original and compelling I've ever read. Lyra's strength and bravery make her journey from innocence to experience both beautiful and heartbreaking. Even her parents, Lord Asriel and the vicious Mrs. Coulter, undergo a profound transformation. Very few books inspire you to re-examine your life and your ideas about the universe, but this series inspired me to think about the nature of good and evil, and examine my understanding of morality.  Yet, Pullman never lectures--it's the wonder of his story that drives its philosophy, instead of the other way around. Everyone should read these books.

3. Harry Potter, by J.K. Rowling 


This series may have saved children's publishing single-handed. Beloved by millions for a good reason, Rowling creates a wonderful fantasy world full of awe, but also danger and pain.  Harry, Ron, and Hermione are complicated but lovable characters, and Rowling beautifully depicts their deep friendship through many trials. If you have only seen the movies, try reading the books. I enjoyed the movies, especially the last two, but the books give a richer portrait of the world and relationships of the characters.

4. Kushiel's Legacy, by Jacqueline Carey 

While Harry Potter and His Dark Materials are written for children or young adults, Carey's excellent series is very adult.  She creates a beautiful, complicated world of fallen angels, where prostitution is a sacred calling.  Yet, although the books contain erotica, the bulk of the stories are exciting adventures, more of a spy novels than romance. Her heroine, Phedre, uses any means at her disposal to protect her country and the people she loves. Gifted, or perhaps cursed, with the ability to feel pain and pleasure as one, Phedre journeys to hell and back, only surviving because of her unique abilities.  Far more well-written and engaging than the irritating Fifty Shades of Grey, this series deserves serious attention from any fantasy readers.

5. The Wheel of Time, by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson 

The Wheel of Time is an enormous epic fantasy series of 13 books (the last book is due to be released in January 2013).  Reading it is an ambitious undertaking, and not for the faint of heart.  Still, these books have a lot to offer: an epic plot, a huge cast of characters, and a highly developed fantasy world.  True, sometimes the plot seems to go off on a tangent, and some of the main characters get very whiny, but overall I have truly enjoyed reading this series, and I'm excited to finally read the last book.


Updated: I can't believe I forgot to mention Ursula Le Guin's wonderful Earthsea series. The deep philosophy of these books and the development of that philosophy throughout the series is an incredible joy to discover. Furthermore, the world Le Guin creates is as fascinating and fully developed as any other fantasy world I've discovered. Her characters feel like real people, and remain lovable and engaging despite their many flaws.

As someone who loves fantasy books, I know it can be frustrating trying to find an excellent series to sink your teeth into. I'm always interested in learning about excellent fantasy books, so if there are any you feel should be included on this list, let me know.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

James Joyce's "A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man" (Chapter 1)


The first chapter of Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man depicts Stephen Dedalus as a young child. The chapter begins with a sing-song story and a collection of Stephen's earliest impressions of his parents and their friends, including Dante and Uncle Charles. At first, everything in this youthful world seems peaceful, but already the seeds of discord have been sown--Dante's two hairbrushes, red for Michael Davitt and green for Parnell, represent the impending Irish political crisis.

Clongowes Wood College

In the next scene, Stephen attends Clongowes, a highly respected Jesuit school for boys.  Although he succeeds in his studies, Stephen finds Clongowes a confusing, harsh place.  A bully, Wells, pushes him into a ditch and mocks him for kissing his mother. Stephen gets sick from the cold, slimy ditch water, but because his father told him to never "peach on a fellow," he keeps the name of his bully secret.  While he's in the infirmary, Stephen hears one of the Brothers sorrowfully announcing that Parnell is dead.

Charles Stewart Parnell

Stephen goes home for Christmas, but instead of the peaceful house he remembers, he discovers that the Irish political conflict deeply divides his family.  This conflict establishes many of the themes of the book such as the contrast between unity and conflict as well as innocence and experience. The fight pits Dante, a strongly Catholic woman outraged by Parnell's scandal, against Stephen's father and his Uncle Charles, who vigorously support Parnell. Dante insists that the priests and bishops who condemned Parnell for his adultery "behaved rightly" because "God and morality and religion come first." But the men argue that the church and its henchmen betrayed Parnell to the British, and they mourn him as their "dead king." Only Stephen remembers how once they were on the same side, because Dante had struck a man with her umbrella for taking off his hat during "God Save the Queen." By the end the fight devolves into screaming and sobbing.


The irony of this intense conflict is that it is most destructive to the cause that all the participants support: Irish independence.  The savage squabbles and mistrust in the aftermath of Parnell's death prevented the country from uniting or finding a way to move forward, thus ensuring the paralysis Joyce depicts in Dubliners.

Just as a scandal rocked the adult world, on his return to Clongowes Stephen discovers that another vague "scandal" divides his school.  A group of older boys committed some terrible crime, perhaps a sacrilegious one like stealing and drinking the altar wine, or perhaps a sexual one, like "smugging" two of the younger boys. The boys face either expulsion or flogging, and the priests are so incensed that they strictly punish many of the younger boys for small infractions.  When the prefect of studies visits Stephen's Latin class, he notices that Stephen is not working like the other boys.  The teacher tells him that Stephen broke his glasses, and he can't study until his father sends a new pair.  But the angry prefect insists that Stephen broke his glasses on purpose and punishes him by beating his hands.

Though Stephen's punishment is mild compared to the church's destruction of Parnell, it reflects the harsh and unfair practices of the church.  Just as the political scandal divided Irish Nationalists and devout Catholics, Stephen's punishment sets the students of Clongowes against their prefect.  The other boys encourage Stephen to take his case to the rector, to ensure that the prefect does not punish him again the next day.  Ironically, though Stephen refused to implicate Wells in his sickness, and his father told him not to "peach on a fellow," Stephen now finds himself tempted to tell on his prefect.  After careful consideration, Stephen visits the rector, who brusquely assures him that the prefect only made a mistake and it won't happen again.

The other boys greet Stephen with cheers when they realize what he's done, briefly displaying the unity that alludes adults in their country.  Once he's alone again, Stephen feels "happy and free," and vows to remain humble despite his triumph.

Blogs for James Joyce's Dubliners:

"The Sisters" and "An Encounter"


"After the Race" and "Two Gallants"

"A Little Cloud" and "Counterparts"


"Clay" and "A Painful Case"

"Ivy Day in the Committee Room"

"A Mother"

"Grace"

"The Dead"

Other blogs for A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man:

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five


Sunday, November 11, 2012

My Favorite Science Fiction Books

1. Hyperion, by Dan Simmons. 

A good friend of mine recommended this book to me when I was in college, and I was immediately hooked.  I eventually read the entire series, which was one of the most powerful, engaging series that I've ever read.  The first book, Hyperion, is like a science-fiction version of the Canterbury Tales. An unusual group of seven pilgrims gather aboard a tree-ship (a gigantic tree that also functions as a spaceship) to try to avert a terrible galactic war.  They don't know why they have been chosen for this mission, to travel to a planet called Hyperion and confront a mysterious creature called the Shrike. On their journey, they decide to tell each other their stories, so they can discover their connections and learn why they have been chosen. Each story is beautifully written, and I found myself fascinated by all the characters.

2. The Dispossessed, by Ursula Le Guin

I loved Ursula Le Guin ever since I first read the Earthsea books in middle school.  But while the Earthsea series is more fantasy, The Dispossessed is a science-fiction tale about a realistic anarchist society.  Anarres is a moon of the main planet, Urras.  It has few resources and is a difficult place for people to live. Nonetheless, it has been settled by the followers of an Anarchist philosopher named Odo, and they have developed a society based around complete equality, where people are valued based on what they can do, not what they own.  Yet Anarres is not without its faults.  The main character, Shevek, soon realizes that Anarres's revolution is stagnating, and he finds intense resistance to his new ideas in physics.  He vows to travel to Urras in order to spread his ideas and learn about the society his people left.  The powerful story of Shevek's journey and his eventual return to Anarres raises profound philosophical and moral questions--how much are we willing to sacrifice for a genuinely free and equal society?

3. Oryx and Crake, by Margaret Atwood 

I read Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale in high school, and have loved her work ever since.  Oryx and Crake might be her best book yet.  Set sometime in the future, when the upper class lives in elite gated communities fiercely controlled by corporations, and the masses live in desperately poor slums, the technologies that Atwood depicts in her pre-Apocalyptic fable are already in development.  The story revolves around the complicated rivalry between two disillusioned young men, and their relationship with the elusive and mysterious woman they call Oryx.  Atwood is a master of ambiguity, hinting at the deep motivations that might possibly drive Crake to completely destroy the world as they know it.  But both he and Oryx keep their secrets deep, and Snowman's questions remain unanswered. Did Crake want to destroy the world so that a new one could be born, like Shiva? Or was he punishing the world for its cruelty, like the angry Old Testament God? Painfully alone, Snowman searches his past for answers.



4. Rendezvous with Rama, by Arthur C. Clarke  

This book is one of the first hard sci-fi books I ever read, and I still think it's one of the best.  Rama is a mysterious spaceship, seemingly abandoned by its makers, which is heading towards Earth's orbit.  A team of scientists lands on the ship to investigate it.  As they explore the strange craft, it becomes clear that the Ramans' technology is so advanced, that the scientists can barely comprehend it. The whole story is brimming with the mystery, awe, and fascination that a reader finds in only the best sci-fi.  Some critics have noted that Clarke's characters are simply drawn, notable more for their professionalism and scientific specialties than their personalities.  However, I think the lack of personal conflicts lets the focus of the story stay on the ship and the scientific puzzles that it contains.

5. Speaker for the Dead, by Orson Scott Card 

I debated whether to include any Orson Scott Card on this list.  It truly bothers me that this author who books I admire and enjoy is so viciously homophobic. I have decided that however terrible I find Card's personal beliefs and politics, I can still appreciate his books for their deep compassion and beauty. In Speaker for the Dead, we see Ender Wiggan become a man, working quietly to encourage compassion and honesty throughout the universe, and hoping to find a home for the last hive queen.  When he finally lands on Lusitania, he faces his greatest challenge yet: he must ensure peace between humanity and a newly discovered species, Pequeninos, and help Novinha's damaged family heal their rifts. Finally, Ender has a chance to redeem himself.



Wednesday, October 31, 2012

James Joyce's Dubliners: The Dead


In the final story of Dubliners, Joyce captures some of the beauty, romance, and hospitality of Ireland.  While previous stories, including "Eveline," "The Boarding House," have been very critical of Ireland's society, "The Dead" depicts some of the best of Ireland's culture. In an ironic contrast to its title, "The Dead" ends with a powerful moment of understanding and hope.

The story opens with the Misses Morkan's annual dance. The Misses Morkan are musicians and music teachers, two elderly maidens, Kate and Julia, and their younger niece, Mary Jane. The older ladies are eagerly awaiting the arrival of their nephew, Gabriel.  When Gabriel arrives, he tries to chat with their servant, but when he gently teases her about getting married, she replies bitterly, discomforting him.  This brief scene establishes one of the key themes of the story--that Gabriel has difficulty understanding women and perhaps seeing them fully.  When the women he meets refuse to conform to his expectations, Gabriel becomes awkward. Still, the party bustles, as women take turns performing at the piano and people begin dancing.  While Mary Jane is performing a complicated piece of music that Gabriel can't follow (another oblique reference to his lack of understanding?), he idly examines the pictures on the wall, including one of his mother and him when he was a child.  He reflects that he is successful because of his mother, but at the same time he resents her for disparaging his wife, Gretta.

The party divides into partners for country dances, and Gabriel finds himself partnered with Miss Ivors, a "frank-mannered talkative young lady" who wears an "Irish device and motto," indicating her strong patriotic views.  She immediately confronts Gabriel for writing a column for The Daily Express, a British newspaper, calling him a "West Briton" and implying he isn't a true Irishman.  Gabriel is confused--he does not understand why she objects to his column, which he loves writing.  But he is unable to find the right words to say to her; instead, she pities his confusion and tells him she's joking. Still, Gabriel continues to make mistakes with Miss Ivors--when she asks him to go on a trip with her and a group of friends to the Aran Isles, he confesses he's instead arranged a cycling trip in France or Germany.  Miss Ivors continues to press Gabriel, accusing him of knowing nothing of his own language, Irish, or his own country.  Finally, he bursts out that he's sick of Ireland, although he's unable to tell her why when she asks.  She whispers "West Briton" at him as they part ways.

Just as Gabriel is confused and uncomfortable around women, because he doesn't really understand them, it's clear he is uncomfortable in Ireland.  He learns languages like French but does not know Irish.  Is he ashamed of being Irish? Or is it that he just does not understand or fit in Ireland?

When his wife Gretta asks the argument with Miss Ivors, he denies the strife between them, but admits he refused to go on a trip to West Ireland with her.  Gretta, who had lived in Galway, excitedly encourages him to go on the trip, explaining that she'd love to see Galway again.  Gabriel instead tells her she may go alone.

As the party sits down to dinner, Gabriel carves the goose amid a lively conversation, and gives a toast to his aunts for organizing the dance.  He compliments Ireland (a rarity in Joyce), saying that the "country has no tradition which does it so much honor...as its hospitality," and praises his aunts and cousin as "the three Graces of the Dublin musical world." His speech gets a round of applause, and the guests sing "for they are jolly gay fellows" in honor of his aunts.

After the supper, guests gradually begin leaving.  As Gabriel waits for Gretta to gather her things, a tenor sings an old Irish song, The Lass of Aughrim. Gretta seems captivated by the music, and Gabriel finds himself more drawn to her, feeling "a wave of...tender joy [escape] from his heart." Back in their hotel room, he finds himself lusting passionately for her. When she comes to him, he asks her what she was thinking. Again, Gabriel finds himself startled by a woman--his wife had not been thinking of him, as he supposed, but about the song they had heard earlier.  She tearfully confesses that a boy she once knew used to sing it for her.  At first, Gabriel is jealous, but he calmly asks Gretta for the rest of her story.  She reveals that the boy had loved her so passionately, that when she went away to a convent for school, he had died for her.  This news leaves Gabriel ashamed and taken aback.  He knows his own love is not powerful enough to make him die for Gretta, and his lust feels pitiful beside the great sacrifice her previous lover made.  But to his credit, Gabriel does not descend into bitterness or jealousy.  Instead, as Gretta sleeps, he realizes that she had kept a image of her other lover locked away in her heart.  He thinks about the inevitable mystery of death.  At the beginning of the story, Gabriel was constantly confused, by finally, he begins to think deeply, and possibly grow as a human being.  His heartfelt compassion for his wife and her dead lover gives the reader hope that their love will grow and deepen from the night's revelations.

"The Dead" ends Dubliners on a powerful note of potential.  Although Joyce depicted paralysis in his previous stories, Gabriel's compassion and growth reflect the hope and beauty that Joyce still sees in Ireland.

Blog posts for James Joyce's Dubliners:

"The Sisters" and "An Encounter"



"After the Race" and "Two Gallants"

"A Little Cloud" and "Counterparts"



"Clay" and "A Painful Case"

"Ivy Day in the Committee Room"

"A Mother"

"Grace"


Blog Posts for James Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man:

Chapter One


Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five


Blogs for James Joyce's Ulysses: