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The Legacy of Failure

Wednesday, September 2, 2009; 03:14 am Leave a comment Go to comments

Joyce’s “Ivy Day in the Committee Room” depicts several insignificant Irish politicians and bureaucrats engaged in a decidedly dismal state of affairs – namely, they’ve fallen so far from hopes of a free and prosperous Ireland as to toady to whichever candidate pays the most in money, alcohol, and lip-service to their once vaulted ideals. Contrasted with Mr. Hynes’ ending poem concerning Parnell, Ireland’s “Uncrowned King”, and the fallen champion’s vision and dreams, the Irish political future, with individual’s such as misters Crofton and Henchy piloting their “tricky” candidate to power, seems dismal.

This legacy of failure noted, my question turns back to the beginning of the story. The old man Jack decries the failings of today’s youth, specifically pointing to his son as being dissolute and degenerate, claiming all the while that he did his part in raising the lad, it’s just that the mother interfered. Later on, with regards to the boy bringing the stout in to the men, the boy is described as a lazy and disrespectful person by O’Connor and Henchy. When the boy finally brings their drinks, they grudgingly acknowledge the boy’s good character, offer him a drink, and then immediately comment on how the lad is likely to get hooked to alcohol: “That’s the way it begins.” All of the younger characters receive acrimonious judgment by their elders, from Lyons to Hynes – both of which invoked the memory and legacy of Parnell and ideals only to be ignored, misunderstood, or talked over by their elders. With the obvious conclusion that Parnell is exemplary, it seems to be that Joyce is presenting a rather sharp criticism of the older generation itself, a generation that failed to support, and then uphold, Parnell’s vision, an older generation rife with corruption and cynicism, an older generation that, from its lofty patriarchal placement, will harm the development and future prospects of Ireland and its youth. Anyone else see anything to support or detract from this interpretation?

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