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Monday, March 15, 2010

Vincent J. Cheng: "Empire and Patriarchy in 'The Dead'"

Despite the fact that this essay is primarily focused on a post-colonial and gender analysis of "The Dead", I found that Cheng's most compelling points came from a biographical perspective. The first of these points came in the preface when Cheng was attempting to show that Joyce was politically active and had an affinity for socialist ideas in particular. He quotes a few of Joyce's speeches which relate to the British rule in Ireland, but he demonstrates Joyce's socialist leanings by giving us an exhaustive list of books found in his personal library (343-344). When I first read this list I believed it to be somewhat excessive, but upon further thought I realized that a shortened list could be construed as incidental. One might argue that Joyce read many kinds of books, and the presence of a few socialist works proves nothing about his political leanings. In order to demonstrate that Joyce had more than a casual interest in socialism, Cheng needed to show just how much he was interested in these writers (who number over twenty here).
A second biographical point which I noticed was a direct comparison between Gabriel and Joyce(353-4, footnote 8). He notes that both Joyce and Gabriel had anti-nationalist feelings, and they even both wrote reviews for the same newspaper (354). This allows Cheng to connect Joyce's political leanings directly to those of the main character in this story, much furthering his political analysis. He shows that Joyce used to be anti-nationalist but eventually came to agree with a "non-extremist brand of nationalism", implying that Gabriel does the same (354). Joyce's socialistic leanings, then, which Cheng demonstrated earlier, can be used to interpret Gabriel's final "general" realization of equality. Without these biographical details, this essay would lose much of its power.

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