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Thursday, February 25, 2010

Political Inactivity in James Joyce's "Ivy Day in the Committee Room"

"O, don't let that trouble you, Jack," said Mr. Henchy. "Many's the good man before now drank out of the bottle."  (Joyce, “Ivy Day in the Committee Room”)


         Joyce uses this passage as a sarcastic critique of Irish drinking at the turn of the century, which leads to political inactivity.  To begin with, before this passage the two men have been anxiously awaiting a delivery of twelve bottles of beer from a seventeen-year-old boy.  The beer itself is from a pub called “The Black Eagle,” which suggests two things to the reader.  First is the traditionally ominous color black.  This color often has a negative connotation throughout literature.  Understanding that and turning to the idea of an "eagle," Joyce sets up the sarcasm of the quote.  An eagle is a bird of prey; it swoops down and kills its victims, then consumes them.  Joyce, by having this alcohol come from a pub called “The Black Eagle” suggests that alcohol is what preys on the Irish; it is what metaphorically kills and consumes them.  It kills and consumes their passions for successful lives and also, especially within the context of this particular story, their drive to achieve home rule, that is, freedom from the British.  By having a character, very seriously say “Many’s the good man before now drank out of a bottle,” Joyce is showing us the ignorance of the Irish people regarding their problematic fixation with alcohol.  Later on in the story the two men discuss better days when the Nationalist movement was stronger and more legitimate.  They don’t focus on the present anymore because it is essentially hopeless.  Joyce heavily critiques the hopelessness, and by having his character say this particular quote, which reveals his ignorance, blames, or holds responsible, the current generation of political “activists,” or, as Joyce might say, political “inactivists.” 

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