Of interest to me in Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man is a particular scene where Dedalus holds a conversation with Davin. Dedalus refuses to learn Irish (219), and is criticized for that. Davin implies that by refusing to accept the Irish language, he is somehow not “Irish” (219). At the same time, Davin also suggests that if Dedalus had stuck to supporting English, he would not be criticized either. Davin says, “One time I hear you talk against English literature. Now you talk against Irish informers” (219). It’s almost as if Davin is insisting Dedalus should choose a side, and be either pro-English or pro-Irish. I think Dedalus implies that by forcing him to choose reinforces the binary of colonizer and colonized as he insists of flying by those nets of “nationality, language, religion” (220).
What this highlights is I think something Fanon talks about in “The Negro and Language”, that the mindsets of the colonized has become entrapped in the discourse of the colonizer such that the colonized can only envision himself in respect to the colonizer. To be pro-English means to accept being colonized, to be pro-Irish appears equivalent to being anti-English, which is to reject being colonized. Either way, it appears that Davin can only see himself as an Irish in respect to the British. Whether by accepting colonization or rejecting colonization, he can only see himself as colonized. This becomes restricting as there is then no identity outside that of being colonized.
It was very interesting to read Jackson’s article about Ireland and its place in the Empire. I was always confused with Ireland’s position within the Empire and the present United Kingdom due to the separation of the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland and it seems that this article cleared a lot of my doubts. So far, we’ve been reading texts from a colonizer’s point of view but Joyce’s text is interesting because his (/Stephen’s) position as a colonizer or colonized is quite ambiguous. Ireland, despite being part of United Kingdom, used to be a colony and this notion causes a lot of conflict when it comes to its national identity. I visited Belfast last year, and despite Ireland having long been declared a free state, there is still conflict as to whether the Irish identify themselves as British or Irish (for example, you are not allowed to fly the Union Jack in certain parts of Belfast) and I could still see the effects of the economic drain of Empire on it. I think this conflict of identity really exemplifies the dichotomy between who was considered a subject or citizen within the empire and how this dichotomy affects the creation of national identity. I also feel that a lot of modernist writing concerns itself with the search for identity and Joyce’s text, to me, is about the search for identity – whether it be a national identity or his identity as a writer. However, I think that this identity cannot easily be defined as a simple uniform, permanent entity but a fluid, changing one.
“Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man” can be seen as a sort of Kunstlerroman, the growth of an artist. It, in a way, describes the growth of the artist from a boy to an artist. However, by “becoming” an artist, Stephen Dedalus abandons the religion and culture that is “native” to Ireland. On the other hand, to remain “Irish” (eg. Catholic) would be to reject the growing into an artist.
I think that language reflects the growth of the artist. The English used in writing the novel gets increasingly more complex as the novel progresses and as Stephen gradually “grows” into an artist, perhaps reflecting his growing ability to express himself. However, English is the language of the colonizer. By using it in the novel, there seems to be assimilation or a submission of his “Irish” identity to that of the colonizer. This is especially so, because as his English gets more complex, arguably, we can also say that he becomes more comfortable with the language of the colonizer, and more assimilated into the discourse of the colonizer.
However, maybe we can see this in a different way. As Jackson has mentioned, the Irish view of the British is quite paradoxical as many Irish viewed the “Empire was [as] both an agent of liberation and oppression” (123). In that sense then, even while Stephen allows the language of the colonizer to oppress him, maybe, by using the language of the colonizer, he also liberates himself from the stifling confines of the “Irish” identity. I don’t think the novel offers Stephen’s dream of flying past the nets as a good or conclusive solution. However, perhaps we might be able to see this novel as a breaking of the binary between Colonizer and Native. Perhaps the novel is suggesting assimilation is not necessarily a bad thing, though it is also not necessarily ideal. After all, it is by speaking the language of the colonizer that he can redeem Ireland, and “forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race” (276).