Caught between a rock and a hard place.

The Irish possessed an interesting position within the British empire. On one hand, they had been annexed by the British and had functioned as part of the empire for some time. On the other, they themselves were colonized by the British. Jackson argues that Ireland represented the problems and struggles of the colonial empire. This crisis of identity is evident in Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man as Stephen Dedalus constantly thinks about the Irish, the Irish identity and their relation to the world. The colours green and maroon are associated with Dante and the Irish resistance leaders, reinforcing Dedalus’ need to reclaim his Irish identity.

While Jackson posits that the complexities of the relationship between the Irish and the British are most evident in the economy, in Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man this complexity is manifested by through the language that Stephen Dedalus chooses to use. Here, we see language as a symbol and by extension, an agent for colonization. Stephen Dedalus wants to “forge in the smithy of his soul the uncreated conscience of his race”- he uses his art (language) in order to subvert the hegemony of the British and thus reclaim his Irish identity.

However, I am quite certain that the Irish would not consider their colonial counterparts in the other colonies (India, Africa, South East Asia etc) their equals. Perhaps the best evidence of this can be seen during the California Gold Rush in the USA, where despite being immigrants themselves, the Irish began resenting the other influx of immigrants (the Chinese, Latin Americans, Africans).

Divided Families, Divided Selves, Divided Ireland

Personally, I feel that Jackson’s comment that “British imperial rule in nineteenth-century Ireland generated a political culture where families might be divided through their Irish or imperial allegiance” (136) resonates with Portrait’s depiction of the predicament Stephen and his family find themselves in. As already mentioned in Caroline’s post, the Christmas family dinner scene highlights how national politics drives Stephen’s family apart. In fact even as a young child, Stephen’s world-view is demarcated along political lines, being taught that the “brush with the maroon velvet back was for Michael Davitt and the brush with the green velvet back was for Parnell” (3-4). In addition to tracing the division of individuals and families via national politics, Portrait also highlights how Ireland herself is divided by similar impulses, evident in the interaction between Stephen’s musings and the geographical landscape of Ireland: “The grey block of Trinity on his left […] pulled his mind downward; and while he was striving […] to free his feet from the fetters of the reformed conscience he came upon the droll statue of the national poet of Ireland” (194). Geographically, such a juxtaposition between the Protestant and Anglo-Irish orientated Trinity College and the national poet Thomas Moore, who represents a cultural heritage of contemporary Gaelic Catholicism, underscores how divided the physical landscape of Ireland is. This is something I could only understand when I had the opportunity to visit Dublin while on exchange last year. The city is indeed peppered with many monuments and statues that celebrate movements or individuals of different national factions. While paradoxical, I think it does encapsulate the predicament Ireland finds herself in, and reading Portrait allowed me to better appreciate the historical origins of this predicament and how such a predicament is inherited by the Irish, such as Stephen and his family.