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Joyce and Irish Nationalism

Wednesday, September 2, 2009; 03:22 am Leave a comment Go to comments

I was sort of hoping to avoid talking too much about nationalism since basically every class I took last semester focused on it, but I can’t resist:

In a lot of ways, “Ivy Day in the Committee Room” seems to be an indictment of the current state of Irish politics, with politicians like Mr. Henchy claiming to support the nationalist cause while welcoming a visit from the British king because it’d generate “capital we want” even if it sacrifices basic claims to Irish sovereignty (113). The way the story comes to a close, with a reading of “The Death of Parnell” followed by totally silent drinking and Mr. Crofton’s claim that “it was a very fine piece of writing” (117) implies that a piece of writing is all it is in the current state of things, and that current Irish politicians can say nothing meaningful to match or respond to it.

But then what of “The Dead”? Gabriel totally resists Ms. Ivors’ diehard Irish nationalism, asking “Was she sincere? Had she really any life of her own behind all her propagandism?” (166) and generally seems scornful of Ireland as a whole, claiming that he’s “sick of [my] own country, sick of it!” (164). Joyce seems like he’s lamenting for a time when Irish nationalists actually stood for something (like Parnell did), but then when a character enters who actually does stand for that thing comes along, he mocks her. So what’s an Irish nationalist to do?

Unrelatedly (maybe relatedly?!), what’s the deal with food? I know that food plays a large role in Ulysses too, and the focus on drink in “Ivy Day” and platters of food presented in great detail in “The Dead” makes me wonder what Joyce is doing with it. Is the reason that Gabriel “could not eat for happiness” (183) because he doesn’t eat sweets (172)?

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