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Thursday, February 4, 2010

Joyce's "An Encounter": What about the color green?

“…I came back and examined the foreign sailors to see had any of them green eyes for I had some confused notion………”

Green eyes, a green coat; sailors and an old man: a footnote suggests homosexuality, but the ellipsis allows for ambiguity—and ambiguity means I can propose something other than a boy’s confrontation with sexual character. But what do I say, what do I say?
I thought nothing of sexuality upon my first reading. Instead, I was considering the boys’ want of adventures, “real adventures.” The narrator reflects that such things “must be sought abroad.” The boys’ getting away from school for a day is an attempt at achieving this, though on a much smaller scale. The narrator scans the sailors’ eyes, looking for something that sets them apart, something that proves their edification, their worldliness. His “confused notion” might possibly be that green eyes signify experience. The fact that he finds such color on only one sailor supports his confusion: one would think that, were such a myth true, every seaman would wear green.

The boy’s confusion is compounded during his encounter with the strange man. Here, a green-jacketed, bottle-green-eyed vagrant evokes nothing more than discomfort. The man has the color, but not the sense of exposure the boy is expecting. Rather, the man is odd in composure and behavior, and the boy’s day of exploration is upset and soured. Whatever green represents, it surely isn’t the adventure the boy does not have.

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