Without turning this into a long, twenty-page essay, I wanted to look at Dedalus’s relationship to language, which is a concern for Stephen throughout the entire novel. Since, in my opinion, this is a novel about the development of a subject (subjectivity) of a person (artist), and if there is no consciousness outside of language, then it makes perfect sense that Stephen has such a fascination with language. This relationship to language is complicated when, in chapter 5, Stephen is talking to the dean of students, an English priest, who doesn’t understand Stephen’s Irish word for oil funnel.

This leads Stephen to complicate the language he is being educated in:

“The language in which we are speaking is his before it is mine. How different are the words home, Christ, ale, master, on his lips and on mine! I cannot speak or write these words without unrest of spirit, His language, so familiar and so foreigh, will always be for me an acquired speech. I have not made or accepted its words. My voice holds them at bay. My soul frets in the shadow of his language” (170).

This scene exemplifies the English colonization of the Irish so perfectly as it shows what Ngugi Wa Thiong’o in Declonising the Mind calls a “Cultural Bomb,” saying, “The effect of a cultural bomb is to annihilate a people’s belief in their names, in their languages, in their environment, in their heritage of struggle, in their unity, in their capacities, and ultimately in themselves,” and then a little later on he goes on to say, “It makes them want to identify with that which is furthest removed from themselves; for instance, with other peoples’ languages rather than with their own” (3). This is what I see this short, subtle passage conveying.

Stephen is coming into his artistic consciousness, but he will always ‘fret in the shadows’ of an English language that he uses to create art. Furthermore, being educated in an English school, he is learning the culture of proper English society; is this what Stephen’s mother is worried about and why his father is mad at him?

This also parallels the somewhat contentious relationship Joyce had with Yeats. Joyce say Yeats (and Maude Gonne) as relics of a antiquated Irish past. Joyce didn’t understand Yeats’s mysticism, but I believe the Thiong’o quote explains why Yeats was reaching back to old Irish folklore and to Eastern symbols in his plays (which was derided in real life as is seen in Portrait). Yeats does so because he wants to find an uncolonized identity for the Irish. Joyce, on the other hand, is more caught up in the colonization since he was educated by English Jesuits.

This subtle critique of colonization is seen in Ulysses as well when Stephen says he has three masters: England, the Catholic Church, and Ireland that wants him for “odd jobs.” I wonder if this Ireland that wants him for odd jobs is a reference to Yeats believing that it was an artist duty to help establish an Irish identity.

I believe that this moment is here to show that Stephen is developing not just as an artist but as an individual as well. I take Joyce to be tongue and cheeking much of Stephen’s development– it is all so dramatic and important. At the end of the novel, Stephen is writing about an encounter with Emma, and the language he uses is dramatic and intellectual, “Turned off that calcve at once and opened the spiritual-heroic refrigerating apparatus, invented and patented in all countries by Dante Alighieri” (233).

I think back to being in my late teen and early twenties when everything I read was so meaningful; it was all so serious, so I see Joyce capturing this youthful exuberance in Stephen. As I finished my masters degree, my school hired a new philosophy professor who taught a class entirely on Marx, so of course, every freshman who takes the class wants to be a communist until you get older and realize, as Yeats did, that revolutions are for the young, “Oh, that I were young, and held her in my arms again.”