Origins of the Theme of Betrayal in
James Joyce’s Dubliners
Throughout his early years, certain people and events heightened Joyce’s awareness of the hopelessly corrupt environment of Ireland that had betrayed so many of its own. The more profound of these enlightening inspirations were the betrayal and downfall of Charles Stewart Parnell, the indifference of Henrik Ibsen towards literary protests, the neglected native artistry of James Clarence Mangan, and Joyce’s own role as Prefect. These occurrences provoked Joyce’s bitter resentment towards Ireland, initiating the gradual alienation towards his church and homeland. The issue of betrayal is prevalent throughout Dubliners, for Joyce imagined it, hated it, and feared it.
James Joyce was born into a country dominated by England, and the cause of Irish freedom captured his imagination at an early age. The spokesman for this cause was Charles Stewart Parnell, who became a heroic figure to Joyce. It was the early period of Joyce’s life that saw Parnell greatest influence and tragic betrayal.
By 1889 the attempt to implicate Parnell in the Phoenix Park murders of 1882 had failed, but in the same year he was accused of adultery in the divorce suit of captain O’ Shea. At first it appeared that Parnell might weather this scandal, but a coalition of political enemies and devout Catholics ousted him from leadership of the Irish Parliamentary Party, and the rural population of Ireland turned against their leader with savage hatred. Even Parnell’s Lieutenant Tim Healy, who had vowed never to betray his leader, finally turned against Parnell. After a year of campaigning against his enemies, Parnell died on October 6th, 1891—this day marks the beginning of James Joyce’s resentful feelings towards Ireland, which were eventually revealed in Dubliners.
When Parnell’s body was brought to Dublin for burial, thousands were waiting for a glimpse of the coffin. Among the spectators was St. John Irvine, who mournfully recalled: It was taken from a deal case—‘which was thrown aside, but, as it fell, crowds seized it and tore it into fragments that they might have even that as a relic of him’—and carried to City Hall. It lay there under O’Connell’s statue through a wet and stormy morning and noon, while thirty- thousand people filed past and plucked and ivy leaf from it.
Later, at the cemetery, a meteor flashed across the sky as the coffin reached the bottom of the grave: "Many people saw, or as times saw, or as time passed they believed they had seen, the portents" (Kershner 57). Through the recollection of Irvine, we are able to see that the people of Ireland realized what they have done. Parnell had been converted in Joyce’s imagination into a betrayed hero, a savior destroyed by his own people.
Joyce seems to have been very concerned with the issue of "betrayal," which is prevalent throughout Dubliners. In the book’s third story, "Araby," the young narrator betrays the Lord by seeing Mangan’s sister through eyes of passion. The images of a dead priest and an empty, dark church suggest the absence of spirituality and the betrayal of faith. Joyce believes that all Dubliners would suffer the same degenerate fate, eventually being part and parcel to their own betrayal. Indeed, Parnell was betrayed by those who had already corrupted themselves and Joyce feared that such betrayal would consume him, as well.
John Joyce, James’ father, reacted bitterly to the "betrayal" of Parnell, and nine-year-old James was so affected that he wrote a poem attacking Lieutenant Healy called "Et Tu, Healy." Not a single copy has survived, but we know from Joyce’s brother, Stanislaus, that at the end of the poem "the dead chief is liked to an eagle, looking down on the groveling mass of Irish politicians from
His quaint-perch aerie on...
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