While there was little explicit discussion of reproduction in the Telemachiad, there was quite a bit about motherhood, indicating some of Joyce’s potential thoughts on the nature of Ireland and Irish character.
First, the passage where Buck Mulligan calls the sea “a great sweet mother? The snotgreen sea. The scrotumtightening sea” hints at an odd, potentially Oedipal, relationship with Ireland and the sea. The scrotum tightening could be sexual, but could also have to do with coldness or fear. The greenness of the sea is cast in a negative light, both here and slightly later when it’s called a ‘dull green mass of liquid”. It would seem that whatever ‘Mother Ireland’ in the form of the sea produced would be substandard, possibly vile.
The old milkmaid also seems to be a possible ‘Mother Ireland’ sort of figure. While she’s in a nourishing capacity, she doesn’t know the Irish language and her children pay her for her milk. She herself cast in unflattering terms, “Crouching by a patient cow at daybreak in the lush field, a witch on her toadstool, her wrinkled fingers quick at the squirting dugs” and “A wandering crone, lowly form of an immortal serving her conqueror and her gay betrayer, their common cuckquean, a messenger from the secret morning. To serve or to upbraid, whether he could not tell: but scorned to beg her favour.”
Dedalus, as a product of Ireland, is possibly corrupted or damaged by having such an insufficient mother. As the Telemachus figure, he would also likely be powerless to save her until his father returns. If Ireland is actually Penelope, however, she has already been corrupted, not managing to stave off the suitors who would take her virtue. All in all, it will be interesting to see what the offspring borne by Ireland finally proves to be in this book.
Ivy Day in the Committee Room was pretty much lost on me, but the social dynamics of ‘The Dead’ were quite interesting. It seems to have a theme of overt Irish nationalism, although knowing that Joyce himself moved away from Ireland and did most of his significant writing elsewhere complicates this for me. While the Michael Furey character seems to represent some lost ideal representation of Ireland, Joyce does not reveal exactly the extent of Gretta’s affection for it. The notion of Irish hospitality also piqued my interest, as it would seem to relate to the concept of guest friendship in the Odyssey.
To be entirely honest, I read this really quickly once I found out that I was supposed to have posted by nine and will hopefully have a closer reading for class tomorrow. On the surface the story seems like it could be a trite homage to a sense of Irish patriotism, but surely Joyce’s own politics and life experience complicate this.