- James Joyce
In this short story Joyce reveals more about his conflicting ideology , most especially his struggle with his catholic upbringing and how as he sees now the pursuit of this faith is the driving force behind his writing.
He endeavours to retreat into his father’s persona and thus lampoon ,lambaste , excoriate everything he saw and perceived to inhibit him as a writer.
He wrote these stories for the most part while he was still living in Ireland.
He was employed for some brief time as a school teacher in Dublin.
At this stage in his life he had already begun to despise an Ireland which had rejected Parnell and all his political ideology.
His relationship with his father is explored even further that he’d ever done before. His father , a Parnell devotee was so distraught about an Ireland which betrayed Joyce’s father ‘s political hero - Parnell - that he abandoned that Catholic Ireland and falls from favour with God . Parnell had been on the cusp of achieving Home Rule for Ireland .However he becoame embroiled in a scandal with a married woman and had three children by her. The woman was subsequently divorced and married Parnell . But by this time Parnell's political fate was sealed . The Bishops of the Catholioc church declared him unfit for offfice . This led to his swift downfall , and he died broken hearted at the age of 45 .
Joyce uses his father in the form of Mr Kernan to personify the fallen angel. He who has fallen from grace . Joyce’s father was a bon vivant , given to carousing ; drinking and singing. He too falls from grace as does Parnell.
Here then is the essence of what the story is about , it is a theme explored by Dante , and Aquinas . The fall the redemption and the resurrection.
The man we meet in the pub who has fallen down the stairs is Joyces‘s father in the person of Mr Kernan . He in unconscious when we meet him. He sobers up and escapes a cautioning from a passing policeman.
He has bitten his tongue in the fall and his lisp is heard over the ensuing paragraphs. He is taken home by taxi and stays in bed the next day sending a note to his employer . He is a travelling salesman for a tea company.
Eventually 3 do-gooders call to the sick house where Mr Kernan is recuperating .They collude to bring him back to the path of rightousness and sobriety and inform Mrs Kernan of their intent.
The uniqueness of this story is in the dialogue, and much of this may be lost on the American or English ear . It is quintessentially Dublinese .
The conversation rambles all over the place , as is the tendency in Irish conversation . But there is a purpose to granting free rein to this he conversation . Mr Cunningham is waiting to lay his trap for Mr Kernan. He has resolved to bring the man back to the Catholic Church and to make him reform his errant ways.
Mr Cunningham has his own troubles in life . His wife is an alcoholic and has sold his furniture to purchase drink on six ocasions . He is connected to the money lending business . This was common in Dublin at the time and still is in many Irish towns. They are legal. They charge exorbitant rates of interest . They used to be run by Jewish communities , and are generally loathed not as Jewry but as ruthless exponents of usury.
The conversation seems to turn this way and that and the precision of the dialogue brings us to the point where Mr Kernan has fallen into the intellectual ambush conspired by the quartet in the sick room.
Mr Cunningham with an apparent throw away comment seems to have let slip their meeting up in the coming days for a special occasion. Mr Kernan’s curiosity is aroused.
- is it the opera he asks
No No they tell him reluctantly at first ,then with growing bravado they tell him they have decided theyhave agreed that they really are a right bunch of scoundrels and they have decided collectively to clean the old pot together . As an afterthought Mr Cunningham asks the infirm man if he would care to join them. This is the beginning of Mr Kernan’s redemption .
-We’ll make a four - hand reel out of it.. He suggests. The four hand reel is a form of folk dancing in the Celtic tradition. Something between like dancing and river dance - or perhaps a more precise form of line-dancing. But without the exuberance of either .
Mr Kernan is particularly fond of the Jesuits and he reveals that the Jesuits are the only order who remained true and faithful throughout the ages.
Joyce himself was to attend Jesuit schools almost all his life ending his secondary education in Clongowes Wood College .
This is probably where he met the character upon whom Fr Purdon is based .
Mr Kernan is a little conflicted . He doesn’t quite know if he wants in or out . Then it is revealed that all the sinner has to do is hold up his lighted candle aloft during the ceremony and he can renew his vows and plead for redemption . Mr kernan balks at this. - the candels .. No no ..no Magic lantern business..
The talk turn this way and that . They discuss among other things the infallibility of the pope .
They decide to meet again in the church at the ceremony , which is a spiritual event where renunciation of sin is vowed as are the pledges to the Catholic church,
The manner in which the men find themselves distributed in the church is a construction which Joyce lays before us as a metaphor for something ecclesiastical , perhaps even a liturgical statement . The quintet ; Mr Kernan and his four pals form a quincunx
—an arrangement of five objects in a square, with one at each corner and one in the middle.
This has religious significance as does the triangulation of the congregation The various men in the congregation - all business men - as they are pointed out and their positions in the church , the nave the transepts ets form a perfect crucifix.
And then comes the redemption
Joyce has railed against the candles . He holds out against he fires of hell saying
I‘ draw the line at the candle business
This gives us a hint at the nature and importance of the business men in Mr Kernan’s world again .
. The preacher is Fr Purdon. He ingratiates himself with the congregation by assuring him that he too is a man of the world .The text he has just read from the gospel is one of the most difficult to interpret. But this was a text for businessmen, and if he could be so bold as to give them an analogy from the account book of a business.-If the ledger on the one side showed did not balance the items on the other side of sheet , well the book was not balanced.
He ends with a message that they have to settle their accounts with the Lord. As businesses men they would understand the concept.
They had to balance their books .
This is the enigma of Joyce himself.
He deplores he catholic church yet he knows it is the reason detre of his writing,
He rails against Catholicism , as did his father yet he never adopted any other creed and continued to read St Thomas Aquinas all his life .
Joyce , it is said while sitting with his mother on her death bed is implored by the dying woman that her son grant her one wish , that he return to the catholic church. Joyce touches on this in The Poryrait ‘ he never does forgive himself for this denial to his mother.
He lives his teenage years in the shadow of mortal sin having had a sexual ’ encounter with a prostitute in Dublins infamous Monto area. He went to her with full knowledge and full consent.
He describes his first experience at full sexual penetration as the prostitute yields her open thighs to him … timid pressure, darker than the swoon of sin, softer than sound or odour. This is a description of synaesthesia, where the person experiences more than one sensation at the same time . The reference to the odour of the woman is an obvious one as it is the first time he associates that scent with the soft sensual feeling of entering her , with its dark pressing pleasures
But to return to the bed -ridden alcoholic
"All we have to do," said Mr. Cunningham, "is to stand up with lighted candles in our hands and renew our baptismal vows."
"O, don't forget the candle, Tom," said Mr. M'Coy, "whatever you do."
"What?" said Mr. Kernan. "Must I have a candle?"
"O yes," said Mr. Cunningham.
No, damn it all," said Mr. Kernan sensibly, "I draw the line there. I'll do the job right enough. I'll do the retreat business and confession, and... all that business. But... no candles! No, damn it all, I bar the candles!"
He shook his head with farcical gravity.
"Listen to that!" said his wife.
"I bar the candles," said Mr. Kernan, conscious of having created an effect on his audience and continuing to shake his head to and fro. "I bar the magic-lantern business."
Everyone laughed heartily.
"There's a nice Catholic for you!" said his wife.
"No candles!" repeated Mr. Kernan obdurately. "That's off!"
He repeats the words candle and business many times to emphasise again that this is a sort of elite club ; selected gentlemen who have convened to better the church and one another.- In concert- It is something between Opus Dei and the Freemasons .
The argument concerning the infallibility of the pope is masterful. In the end it is argued that when he is speaking ex-cathedra , the pope can never err because he is infallible , and therefore he cannot err , because he’s speaking ex- cathedra … and therefore cannot err … and round and round . The logic is utterrly flawed . The men are jousting one another with Latin in order to establish a higher orthodoxy on their positions. Mr Cunningham describes the motto of the various pontificates as ‘ Lux in Lux’ and Crux in Crux’
These are hybrid phrases , part English part Latin.They would never constitute a papal ‘ motto’
In the end Joyce leaves it to his reader to determine whether Mr Kernan is redeemed reformed , or remains defiant .
His respect for Mr Cunningham’s knowledge of the church and its liturgy is misplaced but it is fervent . Mr Cunningham has asserted his authority in the sick room . His rhetoric in Mr Kernan’s eyes is utterly convincing. And while Mr Cunningham is a bombast and a bluffer and defies the others with a steely defiance in the sick room all we can really determine is that he has borught Mr Kernan to the church and laid before him the road to sanctity and redemption.
The use of candals is probabally a reference to the fires of hell; but could equally refer to phalic symbolism.
There are just 3 scenes in the whole story. ; Outside the pub; the sick room ; the church.
This story is told through its dialogue , and the use of colloquialisms is so frequent as to befuddle the Irish - non - Dublin. It must constitute a considerable challenge to the non - Irish .
But the story is a masterful piece of comedy, and is worth persuing to get the hang of it.
Where is the writers sympathy here? Joyce was very attached to his father who like Mr Kernan had a fine tenor voice.
He suceedes here in being everywhere and nowhere at the same time.Joyce makes a virtue of his elusiveness.
These stories were written in a particular sequence. This one ' Grace ' is second last in Joyce's Dubliners collection.
Many of them were published first in the Freemans Journal - a newspaper of the day.
They caused no great fuss or commotion at the time . Joyce emigrated having writteen these stories , and returned to Ireland only twice.
Once for his father's funeral. The second was to launch Dublin's first cinema. The venture like most of Joyce's was not a success.
while 'The Dead ' is considered one of the finest short stories ever written in the Engliosh language , only a few writer's recognised his geniius during his lifetime. Among his early admirers was Hemmingway.
Others included Proust , and later Samual Beckett.
Joyce never won the Booker prize or the Nobel prize, yet as an artist he towers above Yeates , and on a par with Oscar Wilde for his unique genius , which changed the character of the English for ever.
If Joyce put the effort into writing it ; it is likely to be worth some effort into reading it.