Study of a Major Irish Author James Joyce Essay

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Joyce

Gender plays a prominent role in the fiction of James Joyce, especially with regards to the protagonists' identity construction and deconstruction. As Sheldon puts it, "the action of Joycean narrative shows masculinity being overwhelmed by femininity to open up alternative possibilities," (457). These alternative possibilities are not gender bending nor are they transsexual. However, the alternative possibilities are related to the subversion of social norms related to sexuality and gender. Central characters in Joycean narratives are not necessarily androgynous and yet they fuse elements of male and female identity and sexuality. In fact, gender ambiguity parallels Joyce's unconventional plot structures and narrative formats. "The equivocality of Joyce's plots participates in the same bifurcation that permeates his genders," (Sheldon 457). Genders and plots are more complex than bifurcation, as they are multiplexes. In both A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and in Ulysses, Joyce unself-consciously imbues the narrative structures with feminist discourse, subverting patriarchal norms while simultaneously working cleverly within the restrictions of a dominant society.Get full Download Microsoft Word File access
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Essay on Study of a Major Irish Author James Joyce Assignment

One of the methods by which Joyce capitalizes on feminist discourse is by allowing male characters to identify fully with their female counterparts. In some of Joyce's work, this identification is taken to such lengths as to suggest mind melding and a thorough disintegration of consciousness. In Ulysses, for example, "the puzzling connection between Stephen and Bloom can only be resolved at the end by going into Molly's mind," (458). By shifting back and forth between genders, or merging them altogether, Joyce commits a powerful act of literary subversion. The author portrays ideas of gendered reality as being particularly problematic, restrictive to spiritual and psychological identity formation and to the formation of meaningful human relationships. "It is important," Sheldon notes, "to see our ideas of both genders as pathological formations" and "unhealthy social constructions," (458). For example, Dedalus in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man rebels against the confining identity imposed upon him by a Catholic upbringing in part by exploring the meaning of both male and female sexuality. Catholicism and conventional conservative Irish society are problems that need resolving if the protagonist is to become whole. In Ulysees, Milly serves as the counterpoint to otherwise repressed male characters. In both novels, female characters aid the liberation of the male. Subversion of Catholicism, and especially of the Catholic vision of the female body and sexuality, are key themes in Joyce narratives like A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. "Joyce's insistence on a suggestive overlap between Catholic and social purist ideologies of 'true manliness' is deeply subversive, since A Portrait pointedly observes how diligently two ostensibly polarized discourses mutually reinforce each other to intensify Stephen's experience of paralysis," (Mullin 83).

Power and patriarchy are central to feminist discourse, as they are to Joyce's novels. The "perpetual male conflict" in Joyce's work "renders the power system that supports masculinity unbearable, yet femininity is also untenable for the protagonist who starts as a male," (458). What Joyce suggests is a reworking of traditional social structures: a concept seeded prematurely. After all, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and Ulysses do not take place in some idealized society but in a fairly realistic one in which patriarchy is alive and well. Several sections of both novels appear to be upholding patriarchal systems, structures, and stereotypes. Yet Joyce exposes these systems in order to subvert them with satire. For example, when Stephen Dedalus in Ulysses remarks, "Fear not them that sell the body but have not power to buy the soul. She is a bad merchant. She buys dear and sells cheap," he is making a powerful comment about the dynamics of prostitution (Book 3).

The feminism embedded in Joycean narrative is subtle and subversive, rather than overt and obvious. Johnson asks, "Where in his work is there a single example of an independent, successful, happily fulfilled woman character?" (1). The non-existence of a successful, independent, happily fulfilled woman character may indeed be the hallmark of Joyce's feminism, as the author comments on the lack of healthy roles for either gender in the conventional patriarchal structure. Women characters are suppressed and oppressed, as they are in the historical context in which Joyce writes. Joyce's female characters would be fanciful and false if they were placed in artificial positions of power. Instead of treading down unrealistic waters, Joyce opts for a more realistic portrayal of the role of women in modern society. Women were perceived as ancillary, supportive characters and they fulfill that role in Joyce's narratives. Molly in Ulysses does, however, play a central role in promoting character and theme development.

The Catholic Church epitomizes and symbolizes patriarchy in Joyce's work, especially in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Moreover, the Catholic Church literally perpetuates outmoded gender roles and norms that restrict both men and women. Stephen Dedalus is as much a product of patriarchal society as any female character in a Joyce novel. "Joyce presents the young Stephen as an intimidated and overwhelmed victim of contemporary attempts to promote 'true manliness', attempts reinforcing and often elaborating upon the injunctions of the Catholic Church," (Mullin 85). True manliness is an emerging but covert theme in Joyce narratives. In fact, Joyce's lack of formal definition for masculinity or manliness underscores the futility of gender categories.

Sexual self-restraint and artificial notions of sexual purity are also hallmarks of Catholic doctrine, which Joyce expands upon in both A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and in Ulysses. The Church's admonishments against sexuality seem uniquely directed at the female body, especially given Biblical portrayals of women since Eve in the Garden of Eden. Nuns in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man are going crazy, likely due to their sexual repression: such as the "mad nun screeching in the nuns' madhouse beyond the wall," (Chapter 5). In Ulysses, Molly liberates herself sexually and her introspective monologue at the close of the novel is filled with sexual imagery that indicates female empowerment. Finishing with the episode of Molly's sexual awakening allows Joyce to cement feminist themes in Ulysses.

Stephen Dedalus in A Portrait of the Artist of a Young Man learns first by becoming a priest and later by rejecting that calling that healthy sexual identity and Catholicism cannot go hand-in-hand. It is actually through the spiritual love for a female that Dedalus comes to the realization that the Church can never encompass the whole of reality by shunning the body. Unlike the Biblical story of Genesis in which woman proves to be the spiritual downfall of man, in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, woman proves to be the spiritual liberation of a man. After Dedalus's realization of the truth of his own sexual identity, his journey of personal and creative fulfillment can begin in earnest. Yet sexual repression is not solely the domain of the female body. Joyce also pierces through repressed puritan notions related to the male body including masturbation. Masturbation symbolizes control over the body, wresting it from the Church and a repressed society. As Mullin points out, excessive surveillance of the school children in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man reveals the ways in which both masculinity and femininity are domains of social control. It is not just female sexuality that is stigmatized and repressed but also male sexuality. As a poignant form of personal power, sexuality is the key to subversion in Joyce's fiction -- social and sexual as well as political subversion.

According to Brivic, "Joyce saw imperialism as a powerful fundamental model for many systems of control," (460). Gendered identity and sexual identity are psychological forms of imperialism, the psychic counterparts of imperial dominion such as which is imposed by the British. The British colonization of Ireland parallels the male colonization of the female, and Joyce rebels against both. Pride in the motherland emerges in Ulysses, for example, in section 3: "His advice to every Irishman was: stay in the land of your birth and work for Ireland and live for Ireland. Ireland, Parnell said, could not spare a single one of her sons." Likewise, Bloom discusses having "a certain kind of admiration for a man who had actually brandished a knife, cold steel, with the courage of his political convictions," (Book 3). Political equality as an aspect of feminism in Joyce's work is evident also in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. In Chapter 5, a man on the street talks politics and states, "I'm a democrat and I 'Il work and act for social liberty and equality among all classes and sexes in the United States of the Europe of the future."

Issues related to social control and political power are central to feminist discourse, and also to Joyce fiction. The personal is the political, and the political is the personal. Most of the time, themes of power are subtly crafted: the ways the Church controls… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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