Public Life ("Ivy Day in the Committee Room")

In the three stories towards the end of Dubliners, Joyce shows how the paralysis of the private lives of the city is exploited in the public arena to create a society that is shaped by treacherous and mercenary instincts. He seems to indicate that this self-serving monotony lies beneath the wider inertia of the other characters.

The historical background of Ireland at the turn of the twentieth century plays a huge role in the subtext of many of the stories. Dublin is violently subject to the forces of nationalism. In Ireland this involves not only patriotism but also dedication to the Catholic Church, as misrule by London, particularly in terms of religious intolerance, was the historical basis of the Irish National movement. Joyce sees both Nationalism and Catholicism as empty shells for his characters; "-isms" which give meaning to their lives, but which their ignorance and hypocrisy undermine and render ultimately meaningless.

Ivy Day in the Committee Room is the most overtly political of the stories. Parnell, the "uncrowned king" of Ireland who was disgraced and split the nationalist movement when he was found to have been involved in an extra-marital affair, is presented as a symbol of the nationalist movement. Joyce looks back to the Parnellite era as a time when the National Movement was full of its proper integrity. Old Jack, the Caretaker says, "God be with them times! There was some life in it then!" Tricky Dicky Tierney, by comparison with Parnell, is materialistic, shallow, greedy and unprincipled.

Joyce deliberately dated the story on the 6th October so that it coincided with the anniversary of Parnell's death. The irony of the fact that the so-called Nationalists are deciding to welcome King Edward VII on a royal visit to Dublin on this day is clear. A further irony is that Parnell was disgraced for one monogamous love affair whilst the King is notorious for his sexual promiscuity.

The readiness of the characters in the story to condemn Parnell at the same time as they pretend to revere him, is indicative of the hypocrisy which Joyce attempts to uncover, and illustrative of the degeneration which he aims to portray. The degeneration is symbolised by the fact that Old Jack's son is reputed to be a drunken layabout. Equally poignant is the fact that Hynes' father is decribed as "a decent, respectable man", whilst Hynes himself "is not nineteen carat".

Most of the characters are denied any authorial sympathy as they fail to see their hypocrisy and remain ignorant fools in the eyes of the reader. Only Mr Crofton is saved through his uncomfortable irony as he remarks on Joe Hynes' poem as a "very fine piece of writing". Joyce is making a comment on his own work. What is the use of a "very fine piece of writing" which people will applaud as "very fine" without taking on board or at least acknowledging its purpose? But Parnell, as Mr Henchy says, "is dead", and so is the purity of his struggle for national liberation. "It's capital we want", and we watch this meeting of nationalists fall into the sin of simony.

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