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"


"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: 


  1. The Ivy is worn in remembrance of Parnell. All of the political parties, even if opposed to Parnell's ideals admire and share a common debt to Parnell. So what if Irish independence was thought to be impractical or unlikely? They still had Parnell. It was like Hemingway writing "We'll always have Paris."; nostalgic and dreamy. Parnell's influence was also something more, though. The dream of independence never left the hearts of the Irish people, even though pragmatic political parties had abandoned it. The proof is that Ireland gained its independence. What was it? A new sun rising in the north-west? -- something like that.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Note the similarity of the caretaker's speech with the narrator of "Cyclops" in Ulysses.

  4. Very insightful comments. I'll remember to look back at "Ivy Day in the Committee Room" when I'm reading and blogging about "Cyclops.“