The language of the oppressor

It is common knowledge that the relationship between the Irish and the Empire has always been complex, with the Irish harboring ambivalent feelings towards the imperialism; Jackson’s article contextualizes these feelings by illustrating the benefits and the drawbacks of the Empire that were felt by the Irish:

For Ireland, therefore, the Empire was simultaneously a chain and a key: it was a  source both of constraint and of liberation… The Empire was not only a form of outdoor relief for impoverished Irish gentlemen: it also served as a vehicle for the upward mobility of the Irish middle classes, both Catholic and Protestant.  (Jackson, p136, 140)

Like many of its other colonies, the Empire was seen by the Irish as an oppressive force, an “imperial economic vampire”; it acted on its self-interest, resulting in the suffocation of Irish economy. Unlike its other colonies, the Irish were able to participate in Empire to reap personal economic benefits. This shows that shifting one’s political allegiances could result in the difference in one’s social position. The Irish ambivalence towards the Empire reminded me of the Joyce’s struggle with the English language in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. With the death of the Irish language (the Irish Gaelic language is after all seen as a dead language: the dean not recognizing the Irish word ‘tundish’ for funnel in Portrait suggests the colonization of Irish by the English language, and Stephen’s recognition of the impossibility of resurrecting the Irish language), the adoption of English language becomes a given, even if it suggests a betrayal of one’s cultural allegiances.  However with the appropriation of the language of the oppressor, Stephen struggles with his ambivalence towards his adopted language:

His language, so familiar and so foreign, will always be for me an acquired         speech. I have not made or accepted its words. My voice holds them at bay. My soul frets in the shadow of his language. (Joyce, p. 205)

Stephen is torn between using and rejecting the English language. He acknowledges that English does not belong to him because of his Irish identity, yet he is also aware that Irish is not his speech either. The colonization of the Irish language by the English language is akin to the Empire rule over Ireland. Like Stephen, Joyce appropriates the language of the oppressor to write the novel. Perhaps like the article by Jackson, although the Empire is being seen as an oppressive force that suffocated the Irish language, it provides another language (that is wider used, and hence allowing a wider readership for the novel) for Joyce to appropriate, and a medium that gives Joyce and Stephen voice.

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