Joyce – Rebel In Literature, Rebel In Society Essay, Research Paper
Rebel in Literature, Rebel in Society
It wasn’t until the Modernism period, that questions about human existence and their place and function in the world were raised. Prior to this time of doubt and query, there was always a True answer for any question, and quandaries of perception were labeled as unknown due to insufficiency of needed information. Human infinite pride in its own superiority, blinded people to their incapability to possess the key to all the mysteries of the universe. Rigid in its rationality and logic, the thought process imposed a dogmatic system of truth and reality. T.S. Elliot and James Joyce are faced with the struggle between self-expression and self-fulfillment and the patriarchal society enforcing dehumanizing codes of honor and etiquette. In their works, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, the authors reveal the journey one must accomplish before realizing the lack of objectivity and understanding one’s intrinsic need for food of the soul. The perpetuated sense of hunger and self-emptiness is creep up on protagonists of both works, leaving them largely disillusioned and frustrated. Yet, as Joyce’s protagonist manages to ultimately transform himself, it is too late for Elliot’s character to turn away from what he dreads, in spite of the epiphany-like realization of the horror, in which he lives and reinforces. Through the use of vivid imagery of the grotesque world, unconventional methods of narration, where the speaker appears to be omniscient, yet, at the same time exceptionally personal, as well as through stepping away from the conservative linear structure and applying vignettes, T.S. Elliot and James Joyce aptly convey their realism, and although, placing great demands on the reader, the latter are allowed to impose their own personas onto the protagonists.
Joyce makes use of such descriptive imagery of water to enhance their message of disgust awakened by the hypocritical society. Already in Chapter I of the Portrait, can the reader notice the infant Stephen’s vivid description of his bed-wetting accident. With great seriousness, he explains that “when you wet the bed first it is warm then it get cold”(Joyce 19). Stephen does not intentionally bring upon this incident, but rather it is the work of his body, and thus, nature. As undesired as it is, initially, the warmth does not provoke any negative connotations to the child. Yet, it is coldness, and the boy’s mother’s condemning reaction that are symbolized by the following coldness. The liquid substance loses its cleansing power, instead it brings discomfort, and later on, it manifests itself to Stephen in his mind as “an idea of what his own personal hell would be”(Lambe 1). When he is pushed into a sewer at his elementary school at Clongowes, the initial uneasiness transforms into fear, for the warmth is nowhere to be found, while he is surrounded in the “cold and slimy water”(Joyce 22). In addition to his self-consciousness about his size and weakness, and thus inadequacy in comparison to his fellow students, the repulsing water encounter causes Stephen to fall ill. In his feverish depression, he dreams of his own funeral, wishing for death, for it seems it is the only savior from the constricting environment. As Stephen gets older, water becomes almost synonymous with hell-fire. As the preacher refers to inferno as “the lake of fire?boundless, shoreless, and bottomless” and “the burning ocean”(Joyce 112). The fear, mutated by the sermon, almost destroys Stephen. Yet, it is his confession to a Jesuit priest, one that doesn’t remind about the wrath of God, that brings back the cleansing properties of water, for as Stephen speaks, what was burdening his delicate and vulnerable conscience, “[flows] from him like liquid, like urine”(Lambe 4). Now, the stormy waves of fire become the “sweet and quenching rain of God’s light upon his soul”(Lambe 4). Although the description of exaggerated fear of water is very personal, any reader can identify with the Fisher King wound that engulfs one’s mind, creating painful connotations for things that should be perceived as positive. It is not until, one faces what the “Thin People”(Plath 7) lurking in the mind symbolize that the realization and healing of the soul come about.
Similarly, Elliot uses an imagery of smoke to reveal how the condemning society overcasts the true mystery of full life. On those “restless nights”(Elliot, The Love Song?), the speaker walks through streets covered with the “yellow fog that rubs its back upon windowpanes/ The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the windowpanes”(Elliot, The Love Song?). As it slides and covers people passing by, it represses their desire for self-expression and surrounds them with the darkness of grotesque conformity and superficial understanding. The smoke obscures the people’s perception of how chaotic the supposedly absolute patriarchal order of the society. It holds back the speaker from fuller experiencing of life. Instead, the main character, fearful of commitment, dwells on what he is not doing. “Etherized upon a table”(Elliot, The Love Song?), his dead response to the conformity reveals emotional alienation as well as spiritual disillusionment. Although, the complexity and depth of what Elliot is trying to explain is too difficult to comprehend, certainly, the reader recognizes the feeling of doubt, where “decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse”(Elliot, The Love Song?).
In Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Joyce’s narrator becomes an omniscient being that is able to reach into the minds of all the characters and pull out their thoughts and perspectives for the effect of emphasis on how the society structures and deprives its members of individuality and instead, replacing it with a system of rational thinking. Initially, the narrator conveys “the quality of objectivity, or at least, the pretense of objectivity”(Clark 3). While the reader may never be able to get the entire sense of what the speaker attempts to reveal, the story makes perfect sense in some peculiar way for the narrator. Consequently, “beneath the veneer of objectivity conveyed by the third person narrative mode, lies the influence of the subjective personal truth and reason”(Clark 3). Furthermore, the boundary between Stephen and the narrator is blurred, as the latter passionately involves himself in the protagonist’s epiphanies. This fusion is emphasized by Stephen’s recognition of himself as an individual “truly apart from the world”(Clark 4) of dogmatic thinkers. Both persons ascend from mundane grayness to a tone of a poetic vision of beauty. Such technique brings the reader incredibly close to Stephen’s realization, allowing him to participate in the epiphanies. Finally, as the protagonist comes to a full understanding of his artist nature, the narrator “surrenders his pretense of objectivity, by changing the narration to first person”(Clark 5). For the first time, Stephen is applying meaning and emotional content to the events, not hiding it behind the tone of his omniscient and unbiased language.
Unlike Joyce’s narrator, Elliot’s speaker remains in the third person through out the whole poem. This does not mean, that the poem does not evoke the same strong reader’s response. Instead it reveals, that the speaker does not unite within himself. Like the rest of his society, he is blind in denial of his fear of action. He asserts he is not “Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be”(Elliot, The Love Song?). Ironically, he follows the footsteps of this Shakespearean protagonist and does not dare to act. His flawed, yellow fog infected rationalization dictates that action will destroy the perfect order. The realization of his unquestioned subjugation to the absurd codes of the society, however, comes too late, for he “[drowns]“(Elliot, The Love Song?). The reader can only pity the speaker, for he is condemned to eternal deprivation of his self perpetuated through “Talking about Michelangelo”(Elliot, The Love Song?).
Both authors abandon the linear structure. That in itself is a statement of rebellion enacted or simply imagined, as in Elliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”. The conveyed memories are disjointed, and do not flow smoothly into one another. However, it is still logic, yet, not the patriarchal one, but rather that of “subjective association”(Clark 4). Through vignettes Joyce emphasizes that which is significant to the transformation and adds up to the specific epiphanies. The singular snapshots are juxtaposed against each other. On one hand, Stephen perceives femininity as the one that through evoking his unleashed and misunderstood desires brings him into damnation. Yet as he learns to appreciate beauty according to his own aesthetic, he recognizes the latter as a “wild angel?of mortal youth and beauty, an envoy from the fair courts of life, to throw open before him in an instant of ecstasy the gates of all the ways of error and glory”(Joyce 152).
Elliot’s unique nonconformist style of singular images emphasizes the chaos hidden under the light veil of logical order. It also represents the freedom of one’s self to follow whatever it decides is rational, thus, accommodating one’s inner self. In his, “The Love Song?”:
“Do I dare
Disturb the Universe?
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse”,
Elliot mocks the disorder, which he is afraid to challenge as not to make it any less logical. Far from understanding his own nature he is unable to acknowledge the error-filled ideology he chose to believe in and sacrifice his spirituality and mind to. Unlike Joyce’s logical disorder, Elliot fails to ever reach the essential understanding of what his unconscious is feeding him, and that is dame of his doom. He is unable to live outside the no longer rational confinement, yet, the reader sympathizes with him, because of the scale of emotions that is conveyed.
Despite the surface difficulties due to hugely biographical, and thus, that much more personal confessions, the reader is capable of comprehending the unique, but very convincing portrayal of human beings in search of their identities. Although with contrary results, Joyce and Elliot aptly convey their frustration brought upon the severe authority of the patriarchal society.
Clark, Timothy D. “The Dedalus Factor: Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist.” [online] [12/11/99] Available at World Wide Web at: http:///rpg.net/quali/libyrinth/joyce/joyce.paper/clark.html. pg. 1-5.
Elliot, Thomas S. “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.” Rpt. In The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Revised Ed. M. H. Abrams, et. al. Vol. 2. New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 1968. 1773.
Joyce, James. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Ed. R.B. Kershner. Boston: Bedford Books of St. Martin’s Press, 1993.
Plath, Sylvia. “The Thin People.” English packet. Ed. Mrs. Merrill, 1999. Pg.7