Origins of the Theme of Betrayal in
James Joyce's Dubliners
Throughout his early years, certain people and events heightened Joyce's awareness of the hopelessly corrupt environment of Ireland that had betrayed so many of its own. The more profound of these enlightening inspirations were the betrayal and downfall of Charles Stewart Parnell, the indifference of Henrik Ibsen towards literary protests, the neglected native artistry of James Clarence Mangan, and Joyce's own role as Prefect. These occurrences provoked Joyce's bitter resentment towards Ireland, initiating the gradual alienation towards his church and homeland. The issue of betrayal is prevalent throughout Dubliners, for Joyce imagined it, hated it, and feared it.
James Joyce was born into a country dominated by England, and the cause of Irish freedom captured his imagination at an early age. The spokesman for this cause was Charles Stewart Parnell, who became a heroic figure to Joyce. It was the early period of Joyce's life that saw Parnell greatest influence and tragic betrayal.
By 1889 the attempt to implicate Parnell in the Phoenix Park murders of 1882 had failed, but in the same year he was accused of adultery in the divorce suit of captain O' Shea. At first it appeared that Parnell might weather this scandal, but a coalition of political enemies and devout Catholics ousted him from leadership of the Irish Parliamentary Party, and the rural population of Ireland turned against their leader with savage hatred. Even Parnell's Lieutenant Tim Healy, who had vowed never to betray his leader, finally turned against Parnell. After a year of campaigning against his enemies, Parnell died on October 6th, 1891—this day marks the beginning of James Joyce's resentful feelings towards Ireland, which were eventually revealed in Dubliners.
When Parnell's body was brought to Dublin for burial, thousands were waiting for a glimpse of the coffin. Among the spectators was St. John Irvine, who mournfully recalled:
It was taken from a deal case—'which was thrown aside, but, as it fell, crowds seized it and tore it into fragments that they might have even that as a relic of him'—and carried to City Hall. It lay there under O'Connell's statue through a wet and stormy morning and noon, while t...
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...s Clarence Mangan evoked in Joyce the fear of restriction and limitation, leading to his departure from Ireland. From Henrik Ibsen, Joyce learned to ignore protest and controversy, heightening his bitter resentment towards Ireland after nine years of frustration in finding a publisher for Dubliners. And it was Joyce's failed role as Prefect of the Sodality that led to his abandonment of Irish Catholicism. His early life proved to Joyce that Ireland was corrupt, both morally and spiritually. Therefore, Joyce's alienation from, and resentment toward, Ireland were inevitable, as was the theme of betrayal in Dubliners.
1) Goldberg, S.L. James Joyce. New York: Grove Press, 1962.
2) Kershner. R.B. Joyce, Bakhtin, and Popular Literature: Chronicles of Disorder. North Carolina: North Carolina U.P., 1989
3) Mangalaner, Marvin, and Richard Kain. Joyce: The Man, the Work, the Reputation. New York: New York U.P., 1956.
4) Sullivan, Kevin. Joyce among the Jesuits. New York: Columbia U.P., 1958.
5) Ellman, Richard. The Conscience of Joyce. Toronto and New York: Oxford U.P., 1977.
6) Garrett, Peter K. Twentieth Century Interpretations of Dubliners. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1968.
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