Discuss James Joyce ‘ political views and how they were represented in his works
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James Joyce’s Political Views
In this essay, we shall discuss the political views of James Joyce, and how they were presented in his books. However, before entering into the subject, we shall discuss briefly the writer’s biography; historical background, and circumstances surrounding him at the time he was actively writing. We would love to do a complete picture of Joyce’s political thought on his books, but since we do not have much space, we shall show the writer’s political views in two books, Ulysses; Dubliners, and Finnegan’s Wake.
James Joyce Biography. James Joyce was born in 1882 in Dublin, Ireland. If we look closely at Joyce’s writing, we shall see that Dublin is predominantly featured in his writing. The writer considered that by placing his works in an urban setting, he might be able to transpose his experiences to a universal audience. When James was a child, his father became a tax collector, which allowed his family to live more comfortably. Sadly, he lost his job a few years later, and the family became impoverished (European Graduate School 1). Since he was a child, Joyce studied French, Italian, and English. His first piece of writing was a poem called “Et Tu Healy” which he wrote at the age of 9. The poem represented his father’s anger over the failure to obtain the Irish Home Rule. In his youth, Joyce lived in Dublin, where he developed his literary talent. It is said that it was his years in Dublin, what gave him the material to write his histories. In 1904, he met Nora Barnacle, with whom he would move from Dublin to Zurich, and then to Trieste where he spent a decade teaching English. In 1914, he published Dubliners, a set of fifteen stories that did not gather much attention at the time. In the same way, it was in 1914 when Joyce started to write Ulysses, which obtained accolades and acclaim from the critics. Nevertheless, some excerpts of the book were considered obscene by the American censors, who forbade him from publishing that book in the United States, until 1932. In 1920, Ezra Pound convinced Joyce to go to Paris, but after the start of the World War II he moved to Zurich, where he stayed until 1940 when he died of surgical complications.
Historical Background of the Imperial Ireland
At the dawn of the 20th century, Ireland was passing through a myriad of political changes that menaced the existence of the United Kingdom. This changes might have contributed to the development of Joyce’s political thought. In the previous section, we established that the first poem written by Joyce was about his father’s anger over the failure to obtain the Irish Home Rule. The Home Rule was an initiative proposed by the Irish independence movement to provide Ireland with autonomy and sovereignty over the land, staying inside the United Kingdom. The purpose was to gain a political situation close to that of Scotland and Wales. However, in Ireland, to major powers coexisted. The Northern part of the island is inhabited by Protestants and the Southern one by Catholics. These religious differences have sparked many conflicts in the history, and created many frictions that ended in fights, and riots. It was not until the 1940s where Ireland got its independence, seceding from the northern part of the Island that stayed under the British rule. To artists such as Joyce, this issue became an important part of their narrations, and despite not being openly political, there existed some overtones that can be seen among his works. To the Irish, their relations with the British have always been sour, and it has been only in the modern times where both countries have started the way to mutual understanding.
James Joyce Political Views. In the many debates concerning the political future of Ireland, the name of James Joyce surfaced many times. However, despite the modern approach the writer had in his literature, he was quite reticent to speak about politics in both his private life, and his writing. In his public life, he endorsed no political party, nor doctrine. In his writing, there is not a political theory, nor political platform where the writer stands and delivers a political thought. Joyce was highly reluctant to speak about his political thought, or to sign in a political party (Bongiovanni 3). Also, Joyce has been associated with other modern writers, which granted him many praise and scorn. It is hard to assert the true extent of Joyce’s political thought, but there is not an exact corollary to Joyce’s thought. Nevertheless, the investigations done by Dominic Mangianello documented Joyce’s political thinking and studied the inconsistency, evasiveness and superficiality in Joyce political manners (Segall 27). The writer had been interested in socialism and anarchy, but those thoughts never permeated his works. We can see the contours of a political thought, but it is never enunciated. What we can assess, from the research done is that Joyce has a sympathy for progressive ideas and social improvement. In the same way, if we use his works as a compass, we found that Joyce can be seen as a political liberal, a man whose democratic and pacific ideas set him apart from the political thought of his time. According to Manganiello, Joyce can be labeled as a libertarian, a vision of socialism without Marx, and anarchism without violence (Manganiello 232). That is what separates James Joyce from his contemporaries. However, despite Manganiello being o.ne of the most important scholars of Joyce’s political thought, we deem necessary to do a semblance of Joyce’s political ideas, to at least show how the man thought the world, and everything that surrounded him. However, it might be hard to reconcile the two different Joyces, the social-oriented man, with the passionate, and poetic loner he was as a writer.
Political Thought in Ulysses. Ulysses is a political novel. Despite never showing it clearly, it displays a nationalist epic in a figurative form. Joyce himself considered Ulysses as an epic of two races, Israel, and Ireland. If we analyzed the novel’s protagonist Leopold Bloom, we would see his uncertain political position, as an Irishman, who is also a Hungarian Jew. The multifaceted identity of Bloom puts him in a rough spot throughout the novel, as his friends are not capable to assert the value of Bloom’s thoughts since they are not certain of his political allegiances because of his ethnic origin. In the minds of his fellows, he his not even Irish, and if he is not even Irish, how could he be a nationalist? Ulysses centers in that conflict, and by showing us an identity conflict, Joyce is also capable of showing us a political reality. In the same way, if we dig deeper, we can see a psychological base on Joyce’s decisions. To his contemporaries, he was a moderate man, whose views were mostly about peaceful understanding. That clashed with the Ireland of his time, where independence was a subject highly discussed, and all the citizens were highly political. In that way, Leopold could have been Joyce himself, a man trapped in two fronts, a man that never felt home, in a place where his ideas were not appreciated. There are many possible interpretations of the book. For some scholars, Bloom is a nationalist, to others, he is not. However, if we are to take Joyce’s words, he was looking beyond Ireland, he was looking to Europe. This views might have something to be with the belief that many nationalists held that only people of Irish descent could be nationalists, and only people who descended from ancient Celts, were Irish. (Kent 1). As we understand now, that idea is incredibly retrograde and almost dumb since many of the most important Irish nationalists were not of Celtic stock.
Political Thought in Finnegan’s Wake. As Ulysses did, Finnegan’s Wake intends to challenge the reader and the critics to find pieces of politics in his writings, as he never used his books as a political platform. Many critics consider that his work was starting to become trivial as a result of his unwillingness to engage in the political debate, but we personally consider that it was not necessary. For those willing to read the fine print, Joyce always masked some of his ideas within the text. In Finnegan’s Wake, we found a complex vision of history, and the future that had more to be with Freud, and Vico, than it did to Marx (Segall 28). In Finnegan’s Wake we could not find a political thought or political ideas per se. Instead, we found a vision of history, and the problem of the individual and collective behavior.
Political Thought in Dubliners. On the other hand, in Dubliners Joyce attempts to provide a sense of collective agency, and change. But since he depends on the people of Ireland to ignite that change, he has little faith in the possibilities of that change. In the same way, the prudery of the time he lived clashed with the realistic depictions found in the book, where the stories were depicted with a realism that could be perceived as grotesque for many readers. In Dubliners, the writer intended to do a clear depiction of people in Dublin, a depiction faithful to the real nature of people in Ireland without having to cull some parts to prevent hurting people’s sensibilities. Also, it is possible that Joyce’s background as a petit bourgeois could have changed some of his depictions of the lower classes of the city. In his histories, Dubliners were real Dubliners, people with poor education; people that can be easily manipulated by illusions or prejudices. In a strict sense, we can say that Dubliners is a set of stories where Joyce intends to show the true face of people.
Educated Irish such as Joyce realized that something was happening within their borders. They wanted to do something different and be part of Europe, but England did not let them take part of that perceived illustration. They had already freed their minds, now they had to free their bodies from a government they felt oppressed them. To the Irish, the continent was a utopic place where they could reignite their interest in the world. On the other hand, Ireland was a stagnant place where nothing can be done and transformed individuals into mechanized parasites (Moran 1). That is why Joyce intended to show a picture that could be perceived as crude, and rude. It was his way to contribute to the awakening that eventually turned into the wake of a new nation.
Bongiovanni, L. James Joyce and the Consumption of Empire. Journal of Empire Studies (2012). Web.
Kent, K. James. Joyce’s “Ulysses” and Bloom’s Utopian Vision of Ireland. Student Pulse 5.10 (2013): 1-3. Web.
Rodriguez, M. Nationalism in James Joyce. University of Valencia, 2000. Web.
Segall, J. Joyce in America: Cultural Politics and the Trials of Ulysses. Berkeley: University of California Press, (1993). Web. http://ark.cdlib.org/ark:/13030/ft896nb5qw/
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