Owing to the tardiness of my post, Pok!, I’d like to comment on our in-class discussion of ‘paralysis’ in ‘The Dead’. For me, Gabriel is the most apt metaphor for this paralysis because of his ties to systems of re-presentation, and temporal displacement. First, Gabriel’s job as book reviewer immediately establishes him as a mediator or relayer of information rather than ‘originator’. Moreover, the examples we are given of Gabriel’s writing style (i.e. “One feels that one is listening to a thought-tormented music”) and oratory prowess (Irish hospitality) both ring incredibly hollow–rather vague commentaries on a time period and place he really ought to know more about (Ireland, the present). Second, and in a similar vein, Gabriel’s retelling of the Johnny horse story alludes to his passive and regurgitant relationship to the past. Here, Gabriel mimics, as well as embodies, his Grandfather’s malfunctioning beast of burden in a stultifying and multi-layered portrayal of the absurdity of ceremonial repetition. Through his reenactment, Gabriel becomes the psychologically abused horse, an image of subordination to both paternal past (“Out from the mansion of this forefathers” 179) and present senility (it is Aunt Julia who invokes the story of Johnny to begin with).
Given Gabriel’s implied cosmopolitanism (he bikes in France, Germany, etc.), Joyce seems to question the relation between place, time, and dymanic identity. Gabriel is mobile and yet stagnant. For me this raises questions that I’m sure will reappear as the course goes on: What is the importance of historical and contextual understanding in Joyce’s view? Considering Joyce’s own emmigration, is it possible to map a productive envisioning of transnational identity in Ulysses?
I am super embarrassed that I didn’t post last night. It literally 😉 slipped my mind completely. Anyway, here’s my retrospective analysis of “The Dead”:
As shown by the cigarette, among other things, in “Ivy Day,” and the idea of death and rebirth in “The Dead,” Joyce appears to be fond of framing. The image of snow both opens and closes “The Dead, both times closely associated with Gabriel. At the opening of the story, Gabriel and Gretta arrive at the Morkan’s, they quickly take off the galoshes they wore to the aunts’ house. Gretta jettisons her galoshes quickly, but Gabriel remains on the threshold, not yet entering the house which has a multiplicity of meaning that I won’t go into. Instead, he remains outside carefully, “vigorously” scraping the snow off his boots (153). Joyce goes into detail describing how the snow lit on Gabriel’s clothes and shoes, which he works diligently to remove.
Cold and winter weather appear again towards the end of the story, this time the weather, in the form of D’Arcy’s cold, is instrumental in shaping the unfolding of the story’s conclusion. In this case, D’Arcy’s cold prevents him from singing to the full dinner group, which means that he sings later, as Gabriel and Gretta are leaving, prompting Gretta’s poignant reflection and Gabriel’s lustful interest. In this case winter weather operates as a plot moving element.
Finally, paralleling Gabriel’s attention to the snow in his first scene, the story ends with imagery of snow, tapping on the window like Gretta’s long dead lover. The flakes are described as “silver and dark” rather than the traditional white, making them seem not sinister, but still connoting death. The movement of falling, the word being repeated six times in the last paragraph alone, also implies death. The final image of the story is snow falling on Michael Furey’s grave, falling “upon all the living and the dead,” touching everyone, just like the universal experience of death.
The specific scene to which I would like to point, which is actually more of a still-shot, is the picture near the end of “The Dead” of Gabriel looking up at his wife, who is “standing on the stairs in the shadow, listening to distant music.” What attracted me to this passage in particular was the clarity with which I was able to imagine this scene above all others in either “The Dead” or “Ivy Day,” as well as Joyce’s seemingly playful acknowledgment of the scene as a specific symbol. I suppose then the most pressing issue would be to answer Gabriel’s question, which is what the scene is “a symbol of.” Not having read any criticism pertaining to this particular scene, my guess is as good as any at this point, but I do have one on offer.
The beautiful music in the distance that Gabriel’s wife is listening to is representative of her youthful love of Michael Furey; it is something she yearns to hear in full again (I believe she knew the song prior to this particular rendition of it), but at the same time something that she cannot fully grasp at such a distance. The shadow cast over Gretta and her marked distance from Gabriel in the scene represent, respectively, the parts of Gretta’s past that are hidden from Gabriel, and the subtle distance in their relationship (they are relatively close, but Gretta is held back by the distance music or Michael Furey). Finally it may be important to note that it is Gabriel, not Joyce who “would call the picture” Distant Music “if he were a painter.” This potentially points to Gabriel’s inability to grasp that the scene should ideally be about him overcoming the distance between him and his wife, rather than being about his wife’s relationship to the music. Despite this scene’s place before the Michael Furey-reveal, this interpretation about the title would reflect the sentiment at the end of the story that Gabriel fears his inability to compete with the memory of Furey, or again the music in the picture.
Apologies for being a few hours late with this.
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.
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)?
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?
As I read through “Ivy Day in the Committee Room,” I was struck by the two instances in which the canvassers talk about young people: in which Old Jack speaks of his 19-year-old son and the part where we see the shoeboy bringing them alcohol. In both instances, the boys’ ages are specifically stated (19 and 17), maybe to emphasize their youth, and they both have some connection with alcohol. Old Jack’s son is “worse whenever he gets a job; he drinks it all” (104) and, after the shoeboy drinks a bottle of stout, Old Jack comments, “That’s the way it begins” (111). In the latter instance, I am taking “it” to be alcoholism, but I can also see Jack’s statement as a comment on growing up–drinking perhaps being a sign of coming-of-age (or something).
What I’m curious about in these two instances is how, if at all, the portrayal of youth and its relationship with alcohol is representative of the narrator’s perspective on the contemporary political climate and Ireland’s prospects for the future. Does the alcoholism foretell future failures and shortcomings in Ireland’s political arena? And if the notion of alcoholism in youth does symbolize problems for the future, then what are we to make of the older men’s penchant for drink? Could this be more representative of continuing problems (in a more broad sense than just drinking) in Irish society and politics, being handed down from generation to generation?