"The National Past" in Joyce's 'The Dead' and Orwell's '1984' + his essay 'Poltics and the English Language'

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

"The National Past" in Joyce's 'The Dead' and Orwell's '1984' + his essay 'Politics and the English Language'



‘The National Past’ as it emerges from:

a) Joyce’s short story The Dead

b) Orwell’s novel 1984 and

    his essay Politics and

    the English Language


pdf-logo-13bHere available in pdf format


Final paper - to be handed in by 5th August, 1999

Name: Albert Hans

ID-number: 991-60-8822

Signature and date, on which the paper was submitted:


(A. Hans)


I) Introduction p.1

II) A) Investigation and evaluation of some of the imagery
in Joyce’s The Dead           pp.2 - 7

B) Relating those findings to Joyce’s position as a
‘national writer’ and drawing first conclusions           pp.7 - 8

III) Orwell’s viewpoint per evidence from:

A) 1984 pp.9 - 11

B) Politics and the English Language           pp.12 - 13

IV) Conclusion: final assessment of the two authors
with focus on what relates them to ‘modernism’           pp.13 - 14

I) Introduction


To avoid any misunderstandings that might arise from such a wide and far-ranging subject, I should like to point out that it is not in the least in my interest to label the two writers as “nationalists” or even “chauvinists” in extension of an exaggerated nationalism marked by a warlike attitude towards other nations. The question I am concerned with primarily in this treatise is to what degree, in what dimension and perhaps to what purpose there are any characteristics of what might be considered ‘national’, traceable and discernible in the writings of the two authors. And in case there are any features or hints as to a ‘national(minded)ness’, of what values they are within an overall estimation of this topic. It must be taken for granted as well that any author – independent and irrespective of the literary value of his/her single work – has a message for his/her readers which is of a different nature. This message carries an ethical function. It usually is a lesson teaching us a moral or it sets principals along which we are meant to go so as to keep up the good things in life on the basis of what we regard as ‘common sense’. It is such a cluster of mutually interrelated items that form the bulk of my questions connected with the subject and theme of my investigation:

a) The 'national heritage' - what is it made up of (in either case of the two authors)?
b) Is this 'national heritage' an object, an asset to be admired, adored, worshipped,
    even glorified, or just worth romanticizing or, conversely speaking, de-romanticizing?

c) Does 'national tradition' have an obligation for us (following/resulting from it)?
d) Do the two writers - irrespective of the points in which they differ from one
    another - have something in common we are admonished to share in and to cherish
    as a 'universal' heritage serving as a cornerstone/pillar to any kind of true, genuine
    (personal and political) freedom?


To shed some light on the intricate complex of these questions is the main purpose of this paper.


- 2 -


II) A) Investigation and evaluation of some of the imagery in Joyce's The Dead


It is my primary purpose to probe into the question whether the imagery used in this last piece of Joyce’s constringent contributions to the sequence of “Dubliners” adds to a sense of “paralysis’, ‘futility’, and pessimism in Gabriel Conroy, unquestionably the protagonist in this novella-like ‘short story’.


The story completing and marking the final highlight in this superb flow of thematically interrelated stories is just this rich in images of differing kinds that I shall have to concentrate on just a few of them to point out the deeper meaning they have for the story as a whole.


From beginning to end there is a lot of play on the two-pronged cluster of light and darkness, shade and growth, day and night, which in turn is reflected and thus intensified by the geographical directions of ‘east’ and ‘west’. It is this world of dualism, of polarity that pervades the whole 24 hour ‘plot’ in the narrative, largely conveyed to us through the eyes, the mind and senses (emotions) of Gabriel – explicitly through descriptive passages or implicitly, technically speaking, by means of frequent use of interior monologue laying bare to us what’s going on in the mind and thus at the bottom of this person’s soul. Towards the end of the story, when the Christmas or New Year dance-party (in itself a turning point, symbolically) at the Morkans’ is over, Gabriel has an ‘epiphany’. This epiphany is related to his marriage which has become monotonous, vividless, scaringly empty. What is it due to that his marriage to Gretta has drifted ‘on the rocks’, so to speak, without him being aware of it until he has this sudden, unexpected, unforeseeable insight into his life and what it has been like all the while. Gabriel can most certainly not be marked out as an insensitive man, unloving and inconsiderate to others. This becomes clear in the brilliant speech he gives after the opulent dinner in gratitude to the “hospitality” of his relatives, the two Misses Morkan and their niece, the “Three Graces” as he apostrophizes them. Yet in a way he has perhaps been too introverted as far as his wife is concerned. Has there been a lack of love, a lack of


- 3 -


feeling, real understanding for his wife? Has his relationship to Gretta consequently become ‘dead’ (worn out, threadbare, trodden down, senseless)? Gabriel’s awareness of her as a complete being - like a living piece of art eternally to be admired anew – has gone lost. And it is this ‘loss’ he has become conscious of in a last moment, the moment of his ‘epiphany’. What was the event disclosing to him that his wife had already been alienated from him? Was it a “dead” lad (> Michael Furey, his wife’s former adolescent lover) who brought him back to life, hopefully, for the story significantly finishes with an open ending? Does the insight he now gains at this decisive moment in his life in this dim lit room of a hotel have an impact on him so as to stir him up and make him re-consider his attitude to life, love and within this context to his wife? And is the ultimate question not why he has been misguided in his assumptions on ‘love’? Should he have taken into regard the ‘past’ of his wife, i.e. what had formed, shaped her in terms of her character, her expectations and her view of life? And if so, what are the means or/and the images in which Joyce tries to bring this across to us?


The reason why Gabriel lives in a “thought-tormented” plight as if caught in a cataclysm between a world of “cold” and “snow” on the one side and one of “light” and “fire” on the other is intricate. It consists of an entanglement of various factors, some of which we can only surmise, presuppose or indirectly derive from dexterously schemed allusions and references (under the cover of some images) to other details of the story.


Again it is light, new light in which Gabriel finds his wife so attractive all of a sudden. What makes him see her completely new? Has she re-gained her youth(fulness), has she been born a new human being? What is it that gave her back her original beauty?


Before Gabriel begins to reflect about this ‘cluster’ of questions, he is that much carried away by her charm and outer beauty that he wants to ‘devour’ her with his very instincts. The (momentous?) sexual desire he unquestionably feels for her is boundless. Thus it is through his wife he feels born again. A miracle has taken place for him, too. The world has opened up to him again. Life has become worth living – through love. His marriage has been saved (if at all, that is). Like the “snow” outside, which hasn’t been there in Ireland for the last thirty years, his marriage has been ‘cold’, ‘dead’. Now – overwhelmed by a new feeling for his wife – he beseeches everyone (the porter of the hotel as well as Gretta herself)


- 4 -


to take away any candle up the staircase and in the room of the hotel itself. It is in a dim lit room or rather in the dark he wants to re-unite with his wife. And at the same time he wants to find out about the mystery enshrouding her ‘abstractedness’ (“Why did she seem so abstracted?” he wondered on p. 156 in the Wordsworth Classics edition). Why was she not with him? Why was she not listening to him? What was it she was wrapped up in her mind with? What was she absorbed in so as not to be able to really communicate with him? Had their relationship – like the unusually cold winter outside – frozen to ‘death’?


Some such questions must have passed through Gabriel’s mind before ‘light’ fell upon him through what his wife confessed to him. An old Irish folk song (The Lass of Aughrim), which is a love ballad about a lass abandoned/left in the lurch (by the feudal lord who had fathered her), and which was sung at the party, had brought back to her recollections of the past.


The song reminded her of a boy who used to sing that song too and who was in love with her (when being seventeen). All this had happened at Galway, a small village in the west of Ireland, where she used to stay with her grandmother. There was something inexplicable (about either of them) for which they had fallen in love with each other.


And unlike Gabriel, this lad gave himself completely away to her. Though he was seriously ill, he came out to her right in the (cold +) rain just to see his beloved one. He obviously was prepared to sacrifice his life for her. He wholly dedicated himself to her in an unselfish, angel-like way (> cf. Gabriel, one of the archangels, wasn’t he? And here he was about to ‘fail’!?). Through ‘death’ he remained united to her. Thus he has lived on in the heart of Gretta, who herself has been able to live through this invisible link from the past. (This episode of ‘real love’ also fits in with Joyc’s theme of Christianity, which is not only restricted to Ireland. It was Jesus who said, “ He who gives his life away for my sake will regain it.”)