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Marxist themes in James Joyce s A Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man

A Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man is a reflection of the Irish Society in a Marxist point of view. Here, James Joyce gives his readers a clear picture of the final years of 19th century Ireland and the factors of which he thinks is the reason for the decay of his people and country: religion and death of the proletariat. In his book, James Joyce presents the picture of Ireland through the eyes of his protagonist, Stephen Daedalus. Stephen is first shown as a nine year old child and as he grows, we also see the development of the Irish society governing him along with its complexities. However, readers can sense a foil between Stephen Daedalus growth and Ireland s development as there is an inverse relationship between the protagonist and the country s maturation: As Stephen discovers more of himself; Ireland seems to lose its nationalistic identity. Putting this novel in a Marxist perspective, readers will have an idea of why Ireland had devolved into such.

Religion as the Opiate of the Masses


Catholicism, as portrayed in James Joyce s novel, has a strong hold on the Irish government and society. And as seen in the novel, part of Stephen Daedalus development is his awakening to the influence of religion- personally and socially. Being raised in a devout Catholic family, Stephen immediately follows the moral teachings of the church. However, as he enters adulthood, he realizes the strict conformity of the church that binds his free and idealistic spirit. Each of his senses is brought under a rigorous discipline It surprised him

however to find that at the end of his course of intricate piety and self restraint he was so easily at the mercy of childish and unworthy imperfections.

Also, Stephen finds that the political power of the church rather harmful than helping. In a Christmas dinner with his family, he realizes the influence of the Catholic Church over the death of the Irish king Parnell.

-Let him remember too, cried Mr. Casey to her from across the table, the language with which the priests and the priests pawns broke Parnell s heart and hounded him into his grave. Let him remember that too when he grows up.

The novel presents a great debate about the power of the Catholic Church over Ireland. At one side, the non-conformist argues that the church only attends to the spiritual need of a person and not to hear election addresses. However at the other side of the spectrum, those who favor the Catholic influence rebut that the church only does its duty of warning the people. The argument seems to last throughout the book with no apparent conclusion until the fifth chapter. Here, Stephen takes the side of the former: He agrees that nobody is a true moral- that the priest is not as innocent as his speech. Therefore, everyone must have an equal right in forming his/her own political opinions- and must not be hindered by social constraints. -This race and this country and this life produced me, he said. I shall express myself as I am.

Individually, he also concluded that the soul of a man should also not be externally constrained. To develop oneself, one should discover himself past beyond the society s restrictions. -The soul is born, he said vaguely, first in those moments I told you of. It has a slow and dark mirth, more mysterious than the birth of the body. When the soul of a man is born in this country there are nets flung at it to hold it back from flight. You talk to me of nationality, language and religion. I shall try to fly by those nets. Stephen s answers in the last chapter is almost if not the same to Marxist principle of Religion as Opium of the People. In A Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man, Catholicism is viewed as constraining form that impedes the protagonist from being himself. Similarly, Marxist views religion as an impediment for the growth of society. Marquis de Sade in his work, Juliette, gives a parallel statement of Stephen s opinion about the religious constraint of the society. this general paralysis has its source in your policy which, from maintaining the people in dependence, shuts them out from wealth; their ills are thus rendered

beyond remedy, and the political state is in a situation no less grave than the civil government, since it must seek its strength in its very weakness. And because of this, Stephen calls Ireland as a sow that eats her farrow. He sees that as long as religious constraints are present in his country, he can never develop himself more as an artist. That is why in the end, he decides to leave. -I will not serve that in which I no longer believe whether it call itself my home, my fatherland or my church: and I will try to express myself in some mode of life or art as freely as I can and as wholly as I can, using for my defence the only arms I allow myself to use silence, exile and cunning.

Parnell and the Death of the Proletariat


Another reason which James Joyce presents in his novel for the decay of Ireland is the death of a political leader named Charles Stewart Parnell. Parnell is a protestant nationalist and referred in the novel as the true Irish king. However, with his death, James Joyce claims that Ireland has lost its identity and therefore is like a sow that eats her farrow. Parnell is considered as a proletariat leader. Though of wealthy origins, his life has been exposed to labor and difficulties. In the novel, he is symbolized as the earth while his bourgeois counterpart is portrayed as the heavens. There was a picture of the earth on the first page of his geography: a big ball in the middle of the clouds. Fleming had a box of crayons and one night during his free study he had coloured the earth green and the clouds maroon. That was like the two brushes in Dante s press, the brush with the green velvet back for Parnell and the brush with the maroon velvet back for Michael Davitt. But he had not told Fleming to colour them those colours. Fleming had done it himself.

Notice that the earth is drawn in the middle of the clouds. This is very similar to the Marxist principle that the proletariat is the core of the society- because they work for all and they feed for all. However, the clouds still surround the earth- indicating that the bourgeois class still dominates the Irish society.

Marxist principle tells of the dictatorship of the proletariat and with the rise of Parnell in the parliament, it is promising that the Irish work force will also be heard. But the novel takes a turn upon the mention of Davitt s betrayal of Parnell. Suddenly, tables are turned and Parnell is cut off from his country. because Dante had ripped the green velvet back off the brush that was for Parnell one day with her scissors and had told him that Parnell was a bad man.

Parnell being ripped off is also a symbol of the proletariat being stripped down of their rights. And with that, James Joyce writes a clear picture of mourning for the death of his country. He reasons that since the leader of the proletariat has died, Ireland will have a bleak future ahead. He saw the dark entrance hall of the castle. Old servants in old dress were in the ironingroom above the staircase. It was long ago. The old servants were quiet. There was a fire there but the hall was still dark. A figure came up the staircase from the hall. He wore the white cloak of a marshal; his face was pale and strange; he held his hand pressed to his side. He looked out of strange eyes at the old servants. They looked at him and saw their master s face and cloak and knew that he had received his deathwound. But only the dark was where they looked: only dark silent air. Their master had received his deathwound on the battlefield of Prague far away from the sea. He was standing on the field; his hand was pressed to his side; his face was pale and strange and he wore the white cloak of a marshal.

Here, Joyce presents the readers his view on Parnell s innocence and on the fate of Parnell s followers: His servants are old and quiet-which means they cannot do or say anything. They can only look and mourn for their lost leader. Consequently, the death of their leader will also mean their death. And death of the proletariat, in keeping with the Marxist s principle, is also the death of the society. Joyce, through the eyes of his protagonist- Stephen Daedalus, dreams of Ireland where everyone is equal and free. In the last pages of the book, Stephen quotes I desire to press in my arms the loveliness which has not yet come into the world. However, with the death and the silence of the proletariat, Stephen believes that transformation will still be a long way off. This belief is also parallel with Marxist theory of proletariat dictatorship: That progress will only be attained through the rise of the proletariat.

When the workers replace the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie, by their revolutionary dictatorship . . . to break down the resistance of the bourgeoisie... the workers invest the state with a revolutionary and transitional form. Marx

Which in the novel s case, the awakening of the consciousness of the Irish men.

All in all, A Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man is a Marxist social mirror in 19th century Ireland. It presents the readers a picture of social and political ills during their time and suggests solutions for cure. As much as it is revolutionary, it is also still relevant at the present.

References:

Casey, T. (n.d.). THE DEDALUS DREAM Reflections on Irish Society with the Help of James Joyce s Fiction . theway. Retrieved February 25, 2012, from

http://www.theway.org.uk/Back/464Casey.pdf Charles Stewart Parnell - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. (n.d.). Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Retrieved February 25, 2012, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Stewart_Parnell#Family_background Collar. (n.d.). Proletariat - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Retrieved February 25, 2012, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Proletariat#Usage_in_Marxist_theory Dictatorship of the proletariat - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. (n.d.). Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Retrieved February 25, 2012, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dictatorship_of_the_proletariat Joyce, J. (n.d.). Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man Themes | GradeSaver. Study Guides & Essay Editing | GradeSaver. Retrieved February 25, 2012, from http://www.gradesaver.com/portrait-of-the-artist-as-a-young-man/study-guide/majorthemes/

Joyce, J. (1964).

Kelleher, J. V. (n.d.). The Perceptions of James Joyce - 58.03. The Atlantic

on politics, business, culture, technology, national, international, and life TheAtlantic.com. Retrieved February 25, 2012, from http://www.theatlantic.com/past/docs/issues/95sep/links/kell.htm Milesi, L. (2003). James Joyce and the difference of language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Murphy, S. P. (2003). James Joyce and victims: reading the logic of exclusion. Madison, N.J.: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press ;. Opium of the people - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. (n.d.). Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Retrieved February 25, 2012, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Opium_of_the_people SparkNotes: A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man: Themes, Motifs, and Symbols. (n.d.). SparkNotes: Today's Most Popular Study Guides. Retrieved February 25, 2012, from http://www.sparknotes.com/lit/portraitartist/themes.html#3 The 'Dictatorship of the Proletariat' in Marx and Engels by Hal Draper 1987. (n.d.). Marx Myths & Legends. Retrieved February 25, 2012, from http://marxmyths.org/haldraper/article2.htm movement, 1. h., & Irish, w. i. (n.d.). JOYCE AND HIS TIME. College of Liberal Arts and Sciences | The University of Florida. Retrieved February 25, 2012, from http://www.clas.ufl.edu/users/kershner/bioa.html

portrait of the artist as a young man. New York: Viking Press. News and analysis

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