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: 

Monday, October 29, 2012

Potstickers and Boba Tea: Best Potstickers in Dallas


I discovered this excellent restaurant while I was working in Frisco as a violin teacher.  It's very unassuming from the outside--just a restaurant in a strip mall.  But the potstickers are the best I've ever had.  They are crispy on the outside (unless you prefer them steamed), and stuffed with juicy, flavorful ground pork, or chicken, or other meat.  They are the potstickers of my dreams, and even my husband agrees that they are the best in Dallas.  They come with a delicious chili sauce that beautifully compliments the rich, delicious potstickers.

In addition to the potstickers, I love the tomato egg drop soup--the tomato adds a wonderful sweetness and acidity to the egg drop soup. It's a very comforting meal.  The onion pancake is delicious as well--it's crispy and flavorful.  My husband enjoyed his stir-fry plate, and he was glad that the restaurant allowed him to order extra vegetables instead of rice, which is helpful if you're on a low-carb diet.

Of course, Potstickers and Boba Tea also has boba tea.  I prefer the almond milk tea, which I really enjoyed.

If you are in Frisco, there's really only one authentic Chinese food place, and that's this one.  But consider yourself lucky, because I never had such delicious potstickers anywhere in San Francisco.   

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

James Joyce's Dubliners: "Grace" and the failures of religion


After his critique of Irish politics in "Ivy Day in the Committee Room," and the Irish arts scene in "A Mother," Joyce takes on the failures of the Irish church in "Grace." Continuing his theme of paralysis, Joyce first depicts the central character of "Grace" passed out at the bottom of a set of stairs.  This character, later revealed to be Mr. Kernan, evidently drank himself into a stupor at a nearby bar, then stumbled and fell down the stairs.  His young friend, Mr. Power, is the only person at the bar who recognizes Mr. Kernan, a once successful businessman who's fallen on hard times, perhaps because of his alcoholism.  Mr. Power helps Mr. Kernan into a cab, where he discovers that Mr. Kernan had bitten off a piece of his tongue in the fall.

When they arrive at Kernan's home, his wife seems unsurprised by her husband's condition, and she tells Mr. Power that her husband has been drinking all weekend and has not brought home any money for his family.  Mr. Power tells her that he intends to help Mr. Kernan turn over a new leaf, and he's going to gather some of Mr. Kernan's friends to convince him to change his ways.  The practical Mrs. Kernan doubts her husband will ever change, but she's willing to support Mr. Power's plan.  

A few days later, a group of Mr. Kernan's friends arrive at his home to visit him.  The leader of this intervention is Martin Cunningham, a man respected for being influential, intelligent, and well-informed.  But Joyce notes that all his religion has not save him from his own domestic misery--his wife is an alcoholic and although he "had set up house for her six times; [] each time she had pawned the furniture on him." However well-intentioned Mr. Cunningham may be, his own personal life reveals that he is often ineffectual at best.  



Nonetheless, Mr. Kernan's friends set about convincing him to come with them to a religious retreat for businessmen sponsored by the Catholic Church.  They broach the subject indirectly by first talking about why they themselves intend to go on the retreat, then by praising the Jesuits, who are giving the retreat, and the preacher who is going to give the sermon.  Mr. Kernan seems hesitant, but he's gradually coming around.  But Joyce soon interrupts the conversation with the arrival of Mr. Fogarty, a grocer who's brought Mr. Kernan a gift of whiskey.  Although the men continue to praise the Catholic church, in particular Pope Leo XIII, the presence of the whiskey feels disturbing--after all, Mr. Kernan fell largely because he drank too much.  It's as though the men are ignoring or misunderstanding the real cause of their friend's decline, and focusing instead on superficial "spiritual" arguments.  

Only Mr. Kernan offers the slightest criticism of Catholism when he remarks that some of the popes were "not exactly...up to the knocker." But Mr. Cunningham blithely dismisses this argument, insisting that the popes were all holy when they delivered proclamations ex cathedra. He offers no logic or reason to defend his spiritual claims, thus emphasizing the misguided and illogical way they are trying to reform Mr. Kernan.  

At the end of the conversation, Mr. Kernan has at last agreed to attend the religious retreat, to the satisfaction of his wife and friends.  The next scene takes place at the retreat, where the men are all well-dressed, and Mr. Kernan notices that many of the men he knows from Dublin are there.  The priest reads a text from the bible, and tells the men that he intends to "speak to them in a businesslike way" and that he would act as their "spiritual accountant" so that they could "set right [their] accounts" with God. The priest's speech feels completely inadequate.  It's not inspiring, nor does it demand the kind of self-examination necessary for moral growth.  In effect, it offers surprisingly little true moral guidance.  It offers nothing to a man like Mr. Kernan, who perhaps desperately needs guidance and seems willing to accept it from his friends.  

Not once in the entire story is Mr. Kernan ever confronted with the fact that he drinks to much, and that his drinking is ruining his life, his health, and his family. Instead of confronting his moral failings, instead his friends discuss religion and his priest talks of "accounts." By neglecting to offer true guidance, the church failed Mr. Kernan, as it likely failed Mr. Cunningham's alcoholic wife, who no doubt sat through many retreats as well.

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"

"The Dead"


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



Monday, October 22, 2012

Kakapo: because they really love people.


If you have never read Douglas Adams and Mark Carwardine's excellent book, Last Chance to See, you should.  It's a wonderful, charming book on conservation that perfectly captures the beauty and wonder of the natural world, and the terrible loss that we all suffer when a species disappears. The above clip is from the TV show that grew out of the work, and features a kakapo, a terribly endangered species of parrot I write about here.





Sunday, October 21, 2012

James Joyce's Dubliners: "A Mother"


Throughout Dubliners, James Joyce expresses a theme of paralysis; residents of the city seem trapped in destructive patterns that they are unable to escape.  Thus, the priest from "The Sisters" is literally paralyzed by a stroke; Eveline is trapped on the docks by her fear, unable to run away from her wretched life with her lover; Mr. Doran cannot escape his relationship with Polly; and Mr. Farrington inflicts his own misery and humiliation on his son. In "A Mother," Mrs. Kearney's stubbornness and pride ruin her daughter's musical career, stifling a promising performer before she even has a chance to prove herself in public.  Yet, the rejection and mistreatment of a young performer also reflects the insularity of the Dublin musical scene during the turn of the century.

Mrs. Kearney was an accomplished young woman who "sat amid the chilly circle of her accomplishments waiting for some suitor to brave it and offer her a brilliant life." But when no man does, she settles for Mr. Kearney, an older man who's stable.  But despite her thoroughly practical marriage, she remains romantic at heart, and thus projects her desires onto her eldest daughter, Kathleen.  Eventually, a man named Mr. Holoran approaches Mrs. Kearney about having Kathleen accompany singers at a series of four concerts that his society is giving, and Mrs. Kearney throws herself into preparing for the concerts.  She buys expensive cloth to make Kathleen's dress beautiful, and sends tickets to all her friends.  

But despite her struggles, the first concert has very poor attendance.  She discovers that the society has decided to cancel the Friday concert, and is desperately hoping to have a good crowd on Saturday.  Mrs. Kearney insists that the committee pay her daughter for four concerts, but Mr. Fitzpatrick, the secretary, puts her off.  By Saturday, Mrs. Kearney is angry enough that she demands Kathleen's pay before her daughter will go on stage.  There is enormous tension, but Mr. Fitzpatrick brings Kathleen half of her wages, and she goes on stage for the first half of the concert.  But at intermission, when Mrs. Kearney angrily demands the rest of her daughter's pay, Mr. Fitzpatrick refuses, saying they will pay her only after the committee meeting on Tuesday.  They get in a heated argument, and another woman volunteers to take Kathleen's place at the piano.  Enraged, Mrs. Kearney and her family leave.



It's clear that no one is this situation acts well--obviously, it's unjust for the committee to avoid paying their musicians.  Thus, Mrs. Kearney's anger is understandable, and perhaps justified.  But however justified it is, her anger is also foolish, and in the end she destroys her daughter's career.  It seems that Mrs. Kearney is once again reliving the arrogance of her youth; as a young woman, she thought so highly of her accomplishments that she offered no encouragement to the men around her.  Likewise, she has so inflated her daughter's importance that she reacts with disproportionate rage when she isn't paid immediately.  

As a musician, I know first hand how frustrating it can be getting paid for gigs; I frequently received money for performances months after they took place, and I often had to call and complain before I was paid.  But I also understood that music is a business where it's important to have connections--you must remain friendly even when you're frustrated, or no one will hire you.  Furthermore, Kathleen did not have top billing--as an accompanist, her role in the concert was important, but the audience was clearly attending for the artistes, or singers.  This was clearly the type of small scale gig that a musician is offered to try them out before offering them anything more substantial.  Thus, Kathleen's position was low-status, but perhaps a good starting point.  It's clear that this enrages Mrs. Kearney, who is arrogant enough to believe her daughter to be more important than she is.

However, the shady committee members also behave badly.  Instead of being honest with Mrs. Kearney, they avoid her and refuse to fulfill the contract they made with her.  They ruin a young musician's career simply because they don't like her mother.  This bitterness and backbiting show the paralysis of the musical scene in Dublin, which Joyce further emphasizes by the empty concert halls, and singers like Madam Glynn, who's old fashioned singing and mannerism are laughed at.  The vengeful music reviewer, O'Madden Burke, tells the committee to pay Kathleen nothing--he is old-fashioned, and clearly has little sympathy for the musicians he's paid to judge.  Why is a music reviewer so concerned with small financial details when it's his place to write about the music?It's this narrow-minded infighting that takes away from the point of the concert, which is music and artistic expression.    

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Why Do Parents in Movies Never Discipline Their Children?


I recently watched the movie Friends with Kids (don't blame me, I was on a plane).  It's a romantic comedy based on the premise that two best friends decide to have a child together, since they believe that having a child kills romance, so why have one with the one you love?  Instead you can get all the mess of child rearing out of the way with a friend, and find your soul-mate without worrying about your ticking biological clock.  Of course, that's not how things actually work out.  But while the main couple of the movie has a great child who never acts like a spoiled brat, most of their Married with Children friends have brat packs of unruly, filthy nightmare kids.  After I thought about it later, I realized that nightmare children inhabit many TV shows and movies--and I'm not talking about The Bad Seed or Orphan.

I'm talking about spoiled, dirty brats that look like every daycare's worst nightmare.  But, having worked at a daycare, I can tell you that kids like that are few and far between. I had students as young as eighteen months in our twos class--and the class had about six to eight children on a regular basis. I had about nine to ten children in my threes class.  Yet, even with so many children at such young ages, I managed to keep my room clean and well-ordered and for the most part the children behaved quite well.  I'm not going to say there were never moments of chaos, but those were few and short.  In fact, even two year olds were often capable of helping me put away musical instruments, like drums.  At lunch time and snack, children regularly threw away their own trash, and put away books and toys as soon as a teacher started singing the clean-up song.  So why then, is TV and movies filled with children who behave abominably, and parents who are incapable of disciplining them?

In another example, on one of the first episodes of Big Love, the third wife, Margene, is depicted as completely overwhelmed by her childcare responsibilities--one of the boys she's watching actually pulls down his pants and deliberately pees on her kitchen floor.  In my time as a teacher, I have had a child pee on the floor only once, and that was clearly an accident by a kid who had only recently been potty trained.  Most of the boys I knew would have been endlessly embarrassed to act that way--they would have thought it was babyish.  I understand that all children are different and some might be more difficult than others, but I think that TV and movies often seriously exaggerate how awful kids are.  The question is, why? And what effect is this having on popular culture?

 I think the why might be complicated.  Everyone knows it's hard to be a parent, but what makes parenting hard for most people is difficult to depict on TV.  For example, children are very expensive; many people struggle to earn enough money for school trips, clothes, dentist appointments, braces, and all the other enormous expenses that come from raising children.  However, by some weird Hollywood trope, movies and TV shows rarely show people struggling financially.  In TV land, the middle class can easily afford children--and truly poor people are pretty much only shown in cop dramas when they're being arrested.  I think Hollywood is frightened of showing too much inequality on TV--maybe they think it will make people resentful of the ridiculously high salaries some Hollywood types earn.

It's also hard to capture realistically the emotional difficulties of dealing with children.  When your show always needs a conclusive ending, it's hard to have a long arc of emotional development.  But in reality, the emotional drama of parenting is often in the long haul--feeling overwhelmed by kids' constant need for attention, subtle cracks in a relationship that slowly fester into intense conflicts.

Hollywood is also limited by the need the create fairly simple characters.  The goofy dad, the snarky daughter, the bratty son, and the angel in the house mother who holds things together. In reality, the child who's hilariously funny one moment can drive you nuts the next, and dissolve into tears after that. Children are especially changeable, but that kind of complexity isn't usually shown on TV.

Because of all these things, when Hollywood wants to depict the difficulties of parenting, instead of showing a complex challenge, it's simplified into "these kids are monsters! Look at them do horrible things!" And parents, instead of disciplining their children in any way, as normal responsible parents do, just roll their eyes at their repulsive off-spring and talk about how hard it is to be a parent.

But what are the effects of all this anti-child propaganda that Hollywood makes? For one thing, I think it actively discourages people from wanting children.  It's hard to watch a movie like "Friends with Kids" without concluding that children are misery-makers who ruin your life and relationships (sorry, the ending did not make up for the previous hour and a half of the movie).  For another thing, it gives people extremely low expectations for their children's behavior.

Children tend to live up or down to their parents' expectations.  In other words, if you think it's normal/acceptable that your four-year-old screams and kicks his mother in the face when she tries to put his shoes on, guess what?  He'll continue to behave that way, because you haven't created an expectation that he behaves decently.  But anyone can tell you that it is not normal or acceptable behavior, and it should stop immediately.  I saw this all the time at the preschool where I worked. As I mentioned before, most children are well-behaved, so it's immediately obvious which kids are being spoiled at home.

Movies almost never show parents actually disciplining children.  There's no attempt to re-direct a child's destructive behavior, no stern warnings, no time-out.  To go back to my earlier examples, in "Friends with Kids" Maya Rudolph's character, Leslie, is clearly stressed out and frustrated with her children not behaving as they should.  But she never actually talks to the children about their behavior--instead, she simply bickers with her husband over who should be responsible for cleaning up the kids' mess.  Why not talk to her children how they should behave when guests are over?  Why not put them in time-out, or use another positive discipline technique?  The film makes it look as though fighting with your spouse is the only thing you can do when children misbehave.




Wednesday, October 17, 2012

James Joyce's Dubliners--Ivy Day in the Committee Room


If the trajectory of Dubliners follows people's lives through childhood, adolescence, marriage, parenthood, and finally middle age, "Ivy Day in the Committee Room" occupies the strange no-man's land of politics. Unlike Joyce's previous stories, "Ivy Day" has little plot or drama--it's mostly a backbiting discussion of local politics.

It was hard for me to grasp Joyce's meaning behind this story, because while I have studied some Irish politics, I can't say I completely understand turn of the century Irish politics.  So here is my best analysis of the story: Joyce depicts Irish politics as stuck in a quagmire.  The canvassers in the story work for Mr. Tierney, a Nationalist candidate.  But instead of actually canvassing, they all gradually gather in the committee room drinking, supposedly because of the weather.  They criticize each other, and instead of showing passion or interest in their candidate, they consider him a "Tricky Dick" who's likely to sell out their country at his first opportunity.  In a fascinating image that perhaps reflects the simmering violence brewing in Irish politics, the men open bottles of beer by heating them in the fire until the pressure in the bottle blows out its top.  Is this intended to indicate that the men's political frustrations are gradually building, and that violence is likely to break out in the future? It's hard to say, but the Easter Uprising of 1916 did take place a few years after the story had been written.

Only at the end of the story, when Mr Hynes reads a nostalgic poem he's written, do any of the men feel common purpose or hope.  However, although the poem inspires the men, it's subject matter, Charles Stewart Parnell's death, happened at least fifteen years before. Why are these men still obsessed with Parnell? Why has no other leader emerged to unite Ireland? Parnell kept his political party well organized and disciplined, but Joyce depicts the canvassers as chaotic and backbiting in the wake of his death.  The men all wear an ivy leaf in their lapels as a remembrance of Parnell, but it's clear that they have forgotten the most important lessons he taught them.



Dubliners blogs:

"The Sisters" and "An Encounter"



"After the Race" and "Two Gallants"

"A Little Cloud" and "Counterparts"



"Clay" and "A Painful Case"

"A Mother"

"Grace" 

"The Dead" 


Blogs 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: 



Texas Renaissance Festival


This past Saturday my husband and I visited the Texas Renaissance Festival for their 1001 Dreams themed weekend.  We visited the festival last year for their Celtic Christmas, right after our wedding (we called it our mini-moon).  

I love Renaissance and Medieval fairs.  I've been going to them since college when I went to the Norman Medieval Fair, and I'm happy that my husband enjoys them as much as I do.

Texas Renaissance Festival is one of the largest festivals in the country--it's huge, and has tons of booths and shows, as well as delicious food.  This year we saw Tartanic, a very enjoyable Celtic/Scottish band that I had heard about from one of my friends in the San Angelo Symphony.  The food was also delicious--I had pierogis from the Polish section of the fair, and a scotch egg.  The only problem was the weather; the festival is close to Houston, TX and it ended up being very warm, especially if you happened to be wearing a velvet Medieval dress.  Despite the weather, we had a great time and hope to go back next month (when it should be cooler).

Last year, I thought the Celtic Christmas weekend was quite beautiful, and I loved buying some wonderful Celtic-themed ornaments for our tree.


Other Renaissance Fair Posts:









Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Valerie Martin's Property and Southern White culture

In a recent article on Slate, Ron Rosenbaum discussed the "structural" racism of the Republican party. The states of the old Confederacy, like Alabama or Mississippi, are practically guaranteed to vote Republican, and without their racist votes, Republicans could never win National elections. Rosenbaum refers to Thomas Schaller's Whistling Past Dixie, which shows abundant evidence that white, Southern conservatives simply refuse to vote for Democrats, far more than equally conservative voters in the North.  I thought about this article quite a bit, since I had also just read Property by Valerie Martin, a vivid account of the life of a slave owner in Louisiana in 1828.



The main character of Property, Manon Gaudet, hates her life on the plantation her husband owns, and despises her crude husband.  Her husband repeatedly rapes her personal slave, Sarah, who is pretty, intelligent, and far more miserable than Manon.  But instead of sympathizing with Sarah, Manon is so self-absorbed that she considers only her own difficulties, particularly the humiliation that her husband prefers a woman who is, to her mind, little more than an animal.  I see echoes of Manon's self-absorption in the pathetic insistence of some white people that they are sooo oppressed, presumably because they are now expected to treat people of other races as equals.

As the story continues, Martin reveals the deep paranoia at the heart of plantation life.  The white slave owners are a small minority who are outnumbered by their slaves.  While some slave owners trick themselves into believing that their slaves care about them or feel some loyalty, deep down they recognize that their brutality inspires the deep hatred of their slaves.  Manon's husband is obsessed with tracking down run away slaves, believing that they intend to start a slave revolt and kill them all.  His worst fears are confirmed when an armed group of escaped slaves invade their plantation.  Manon is terrified, although she is not sure if the rebels intend to kill her.  But in the chaos of the insurrection, she and Sarah will finally confront one another.

What is so fascinating to me is the culture of paranoia that contaminated the plantations--it seems obvious to me now that slave owners must have lived in fear of their slaves.  After all, slaves were a constant presence; they cooked and served the food, and often shared their master's bedrooms. Yet, the slaves were treated so abominably that they could not possibly have any love or loyalty for their owners. Although Manon's husband seems in love with Sarah, she had begged him to marry another slave, but instead he brutally raped her and had her suitor whipped.  He is obsessed with his guns.

I think that this paranoia infects Southern white conservatives to this day.  They seem to constantly feel threatened or attacked. While most non-conservatives see gay people as human beings just trying to live their lives openly, Southern conservatives see gays "attacking" marriage.  Likewise, Southern conservatives seem to think that anyone who questions their actions is attacking them, from feminists to civil rights activists.  What's clear in Property is that Manon does consider it an attack whenever a slave refuses to pander to her every whim; she is so entitled that to question her even slightly is to insult her.  People with this attitude do not want to question their beliefs or examine their conscience--their entire system is built on hypocrisy and constant lies, as Manon herself realizes bitterly.

Today's conservatives do not put forth any new ideas.  They do not admire or advocate for scientific research.  They reject scientific ideas or evidence about climate change, birth control, sexual orientation, and a rash of other subjects.  The Republicans in Congress violently reject any compromise or reasonable debate, but only scream ever more shrilly about their desperate need to dominate the private lives of other people by denying health services like access to birth control. Like the slave owners of Manon's society, they live in constant paranoia and conspiracy theories.  It's time we call out Southern conservatives; their rhetoric is racist and domineering, and I am tired of pretending that there is any sense of value in anything that the party of Todd AkinJon Hubbard, and Charlie Fuqua.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Joyce's Dubliners--The Specter of Death in "Clay" and "A Painful Case"


While Little Chandler and Farrington (from "A Little Cloud" and "Counterparts") show no appreciation for the love and companionship that their families provide, in both "Clay" and "A Painful Case" the main characters seem terribly lonely, denied the warmth and love that a family can give. Maria (from "Clay") and Mr. Duffy (from "A Painful Case") are middle aged and single, and they are both haunted by the foreboding of death.  

Maria is a plain woman who works at a laundry (possibly a Magdalene laundry, although that's not made explicitly clear). She likes her job and thinks everyone is fond of her there.  She tries to hide her disappointment that she has never married or had children, comforting herself that she was a mother to her younger brothers.  But even those brothers are a disappointment.  They fight with each other and will not make peace, and the brother she visits, Joe, is "so different when he took any drink." Although Joe has asked her to live with him and his wife, Maria refused because she was afraid of being in the way (and possibly afraid of Joe's drunken temper).  On Halloween, Maria takes a tram to visit Joe and his family, buying them sweets and a special plum cake.  But when Maria arrives at Joe's, she's distraught to realize that she left her expensive cake on the tram--putting a damper on her holiday.  She has literally bought her cake, but she cannot eat it. She cheers up when her brother treats her nicely and the children begin to dance and be merry.

The older girls at the party decide to play a divination game--they set out plates of a prayer book, water, a ring, and clay.  They blindfold each participant, and lead them up the table, and whatever object they touch signifies their future (prayer book means joining the church, water means emigration or travel, the ring means marriage).  They insist that Maria plays as well, and when she reaches over the table, she touches "a soft wet substance"--the clay, which signifies death.  To keep from hurting Maria's feelings, her sister-in-law insists that the clay be thrown away, and Maria plays the game again, this time getting a prayer book. Her family treats her nicer than they ever have, now that they fear for her death, and Maria sings a song so moving that her brother must hide his tears.

Although her family's loving treatment seems comforting, it also indicates that they take the game's predictions seriously--they think that Maria is going to die soon.  Maria's pathos is deepened by the fact that she has so many disappointments, and her meekness and humility have had so little reward. Indeed, although she may not physically die, her hopes and dreams for her life are dying.  The song she sings--I Dreamed that I Dwelt--is about dreaming of wealth and power, but most of all, love.  It's clear that Maria knows that she has become a maiden aunt, with no real hope of marriage or love. Joe's tears at the end of the song might be more for his sister than the music.       

In "A Painful Case," Mr. Duffy is a man who prides himself on his orderly, philosophical habits.  But as he reminisces about his life, he remembers a married woman, Mrs. Sinico, who he considers his "soul's companion." They had an affair of the mind only; after they met at several concerts they had many deep conversations at her home until he felt that their minds were entangled.  But when Mrs. Sinico revealed her more passionate attractions to him by clasping his hand to her cheek, he became upset.  After carefully considering the situation, he decides to break things off with her, which she finds so distressing that on their way back to the tram, "she trembled so violently that, fearing another collapse on her part, he bade her goodbye quickly and left her." His actions, while perhaps intended to be driven by logic, reveal his emotional cowardice and callousness.


For four years he avoids contacting or seeing Mrs. Sinico, refusing to even attend concerts since he knows she enjoys them.  But by chance, he reads a newspaper article about her death.  The article reveals that she had been drinking heavily and "accidentally" walked in front of a train.  At first, Mr. Duffy reacts harshly and angrily to her sordid death--he feels soiled by her weakness, regretting his connection to her.  But as the night progresses, he can feel her beside him, and his mind takes a different track.  He goes out to drink in a pub, perhaps trying to understand her need for drink.  He wonders what else he should have done, since he found the idea of an affair impossible.  As her death sinks in, he realizes that his rejection condemned her to a life of dreary loneliness, "night after night alone in that room,"and feels that he denied her life.  As he wanders through Dublin at night, he sees other couples meeting secretly in the park, and he feels as though he has been "outcast from life's feast," and that he sentenced the one person who'd seemed to love him to "ignominy, a death of shame." When he sees a train, it is "like a worm with a fiery head" that seems to be calling out her name.  Joyce depicts the train as a Satanic presence--the fire suggesting hell fire, and the worm reflecting Satan's form as a great dragon or serpent. It's as though the train is tempting him to share her fate. In his mental anguish, he realizes that he is completely alone.  The title of the story "A Painful Case," refers not only to the tragic Mrs. Sinico, but to the lonely, emotional crippled Mr. Duffy, who realizes too late that he has sacrificed his one chance at love and happiness.

Mr. Duffy's fate mirrors the earlier tragedy of Eveline, who was too crippled by doubt and fear to elope with her lover.  Both characters reflect Joyce's theme of the paralysis of Dublin, a city that seemed during Joyce's time to be unable to move forward or develop itself.  Indeed, even the priest from "The Sisters" suffered from literal paralysis.  Without change, the same miserable patterns will continue to haunt the characters.

Dubliners blogs:

"The Sisters" and "An Encounter"



"After the Race" and "Two Gallants"

"A Little Cloud" and "Counterparts"



"Ivy Day in the Committee Room"

"A Mother"

"Grace" 

"The Dead"


Blogs 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: 


Chapter Four, Calypso

Chapter Five, Lotus Eaters

Chapter Six, Hades