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Free Book Summary-Dubliners by James Joyce-Study Guide/Synopsis
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DUBLINERS - FREE ONLINE STUDY GUIDE

IVY DAY IN THE COMMITTEE ROOM

Notes

In his advanced works, Joyce always and consciously maintained a distance between politics and art. For one thing, with the establishment of the Irish Free State in 1922, the heat of the struggle was neutralized. But in the period when ‘Dubliners’ was written, the earlier enthusiasm of the Home Rule Movement had been deflected, particularly since Parnell’s death. There was discontent, but the politicians themselves were opportunists, trying to carry favor with Britain so as to retain their influence. Parnell himself had lived from 1846 to 1891. He was a highly charismatic leader and was equally feared by the British, as by the church. Ultimately he fell from grace because of an affair with Kitty O’Shea, a married woman and involvement in her divorce. The church was very active in whipping up sentiment on this matter, hence the reference to "fawning priest" in Hynes’ poem. Joyce repeatedly links the church with British colonial rule, and shows both as collaborating to exploit the Irish people. It is implied in "Grace" and here too.

In "Ivy Day", the irony derives from the fact that it is Parnell’s anniversary and two of the characters observe it by wearing an ivy leaf in their lapels. Every one carries on in a stagnant morass of inaction and corruption. There is no action to speak of people merely drift into the so-called Committee Room, supposedly working to promote a candidate they have only contempt for. Hynes and to a lesser extent, O’Connor, are shown to have sentiments about freedom and the staunch leaders of the past. But they too, are caught up in the web of opportunist politics. O’Connor is one of the team of turncoats like Henchy; Hynes is met even shown to be doing anything, besides expressing his feelings of cynicism and despair. These characters are all low level, political activists. Tierney who is their candidate never actually appears in the story; the implication being that all the big players are elsewhere making their corrupt deals, while their minions merely grumble and drink.

The irony is sharper after the bottles of stout arrive. Suddenly, Henchy and company begin to speak favorably of Tierney. As they drink, they grow sentimental, and all begin to talk of Parnell. The unwilling Hynes, earlier an object of suspicion, is praised and dragooned into reciting his Ode. When its read, there is an emotional silence, then its business as usual-with Crofton’s line about its being "a fine piece of writing." Parnell’s struggle and Hynes’ mournful plaint for him are reduced to nothing with this.

The central issue on which people take sides is the visit of King Edward VII. Dublin’s moral degradation, which Joyce calls ‘paralysis’ is reflected in its municipality’s decision to offer an address of welcome to the English King. Through the changing position of Henchy on this subject, Joyce exposes the bogus nationalism of the politicians, who are quite ready to kow-tow to the colonizer, in the belief that they will invest capital in Irish industry.


OVERALL ANALYSIS

CHARACTER ANALYSIS

John Henchy

A "bustling little man with a snuffling nose and very cold ears", he is a middle aged and seasoned political campaigner. Proud of his persuasive skills, Henchy considers it just a job. He has no faith in his candidate whatsoever, and is perpetually abusing him. Yet when some stout is sent by the same person, expressions of approval pour from his lips. It sounds odd when he charges Hynes with no "spark of manhood", or again when he damns the entire opposition as "castle hacks" referring to Dublin Castle, center of British rule. He is himself prepared to defend King Edward as "a man of the world" who "means well by us." He has no scruples about making sweeping charges about Hynes one moment, and praising him the next or discussing Parnell, and then hailing his dedication. He is the representative of the Irish political class as a whole to Joyce.

Joe Hynes

Joe Hynes is a young nationalist with labor sympathies. He is not clearly shown to be a political figure, but he has a family background related to nationalist politics. Joe represents the rebellious young Irishman, disgusted with corruption in politics, fiercely opposed to British Rule. He represents a minority, which can’t stein the corrupt tide of the majority. He hides his despair and his deep attachment to the idealism of the past behind a manner of cynicism and wit.

PLOT STRUCTURE ANALYSIS

There is no real plot to the story. Everything takes place in the committee room over a few hours, with various people representing different political trends coming in mainly to get warm and out of the rain. The sheer inaction throughout the story is symbolic of the stagnant bog that Irish politics has become. The conversation is mainly complaints about not being paid and the corruption of their candidate. It then shifts to the British King’s visit. Finally Joyce satirizes the Irish sentimentally displayed when the poem is read.

THEMES-THEME ANALYSIS

The degraded state of Irish politics, particularly in the city of Dublin. Everyone is in politics only for the money and the free drinks and they look on the occasional idealist like Hynes with deep distrust.

OTHER ELEMENTS

SYMBOLISM / MOTIFS / IMAGERY / SYMBOLS

The imagery of dark and light is used repeatedly. When the story begins the two men are sitting in the dark, and old Jack is trying drag the dying fire out, to make its warmth last a little longer. This signifies the general bleakness of their political situation. Hynes enters and insists on their lighting up, which Old Jack unwillingly does. In Hynes’ Ode, light is associated with freedom, when Parnell’s "spirit may Rise, like the Phoenix from the flames, When breaks the dawning of the day, "The day that brings us Freedom’s reign."

Another symbol briefly used is that of the ivy leaf, the symbol of Parnell, which is worn only by O’Connor and Hynes. Thus all Parnell’s struggles and the hypocritical rejection of his politics is made futile, when all his followers can do is sport an ivy leaf in their buttonholes for a day.

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