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The Hermaphorditic Joyce Essay, Research Paper

” One of the most powerful nuances of any writing is the dialogue within

the story. In literature, it is all too often that characters live only in

the jaded voice of the author and never truly develop as their own, or are

not strongly opinionated in a manner which contrasts the opinions of the

writer. It is also unfortunately true that the women depicted in most

male-authored literature do not often sound realistic, or how most women

one would speak to in the course of the day tend to sound. All too often,

women are depicted on a lower level of speech than men. For instance,

Dickens and Arthur Miller both apparently subscribed to this notion, as the

women in their stories were usually more passive, and not as elaborate as

men in their speech, however, James Joyce did not see things in the same

light. The most developed female character in Joyces A Portrait of the

Artist as a Young Man, is one who speaks with dignity, passion, and the

female tact which is all too often ignored in the ch aracters of women.

Joyce’s Dante Riordan’s words and thoughts are true to those of literate

twentieth century women.

Although a short-lived character in Portrait, Dante Riordan, in a brief

amount of time emits an apparently important and mysterious aura, the aura

of a woman. Judging from the studies of twentieth century linguists,

Joyce’s brief representation of Dante through speech is nearly flawless. To

more lucidly understand this, one must carefully examine some of the

instances at which Dante speaks in her conversation with Mr. and Mrs.

Dedalus, Charles, and Mr. Casey, and re-examine the arguments she makes.

Dante is introduced into the dinner table conversation as a silent

character. However, when the men’s conversation turns to the misuse of the

preacher’s pulpit, Dante begins her interjections.

All too often, women in literature remain linguistically dormant unless

called upon, however, studies conducted in the reality outside the covers

of a book have shown that women will interrupt a conversation to contradict

a previous speaker, and do so vehemently (Coates, 193). A nice answer for

any man calling himself a catholic to give to his priest, (Joyce, 273)

states Dante as her first response.

At this point, Dante has drawn herself into the conversation. Never

speaking out of turn (as linguists are always quick to point out about

women), Dante’s next few lines are responses to the rebuttals of Mr.

Dedalus and Mr. Casey. In these lines, she defends priests in that it is

their duty to teach, warn, and direct their flocks. According to the

findings of most linguists, strong beliefs in religion and authority are

held by women, and a desire to speak in favor of them is inherent to

feminine nature. The bishops and priests of Ireland have spoken, and they

must be obeyed (Joyce, 274). Linguist, Jennifer Coates states that

woman-speak is revolved around power, and, as Dante illustrates in this

quote, that women’s conversational style, and topics of interest will

usually be subconcious admittances to the idea that women must obey men,

and remain socially submissive (Coates, 203).

Joyce’s realistic portrayal of Dante does not end there, however. In

studying the findings of linguists, it becomes clear that during the

Renaissance, it was proper for a woman to be silent and a man to be

eloquent. However, the increased level of female literacy in the late

nineteenth and early to present twentieth century, changed this philosophy,

and it is now expected that women be just as, if not more eloquent than

men. As Dante continues her conversation, she quotes the Bible in response

to the ongoing attacks of the men at the dinner table in the presence of

women and a child: Woe be to the man by whom the scandal cometh! It would

be better for him that a millstone were tied about his neck and that he

should scandalise one of these, my least little ones. (Joyce, 274)

Even today, it is rare in literature to find a woman allude to, let alone

directly quote literature as a witty response to a verbal assault. Women

have an instinctive shrinking from coarse and gross expressions and a

preference for refined and (in certain spheres) veiled and indirect

expressions (Coates, Jesperson, 126). What better way is there to describe

Dante Riordan? Her primary reason for involving herself with the

conversation from the start is the vile blasphemy at hand. Of her sixteen

turns in the conversation, eight of them are devoted to reprimanding the

‘language’ that she hears from the mouths of the men. To assert the reality

of Dante’s character even further, look to sociolinguist William Labov. He

writes that, in lower and middle-class groups, females are far less

tolerant of incorrect grammar and taboo (Labov, 207). This was made

pleasantly lucid in the character of Dante Riordan. In light of all of

this, it steadily becomes more apparent that Joyce had paid careful

attention to real conversational language. In the characters of the men, he

captured the competitive attitudes, vulgarity, and lack of tact which are

so often marks of men in English speaking societies. But more importantly,

through the character of Dante, he captured the fire, the respect, the

subconscious submission, and the maternal aversion for taboo that unite to

form the psyche of this century’s woman. Joyce, in spite of his hatred of

the church, designed a character who’s few spoken words do all they can to

uphold the honor of the imperfect institution, and aside from Mr. Dedalus’s

final immature remark, Dante has the last word, and in effect wins the

conversation. This is literary genius. Developing thoroughly and

realistically the character of a non-existent person in the medium of text

alone is a monumental task, but one that appears so effortless in Joyce’s

portrayal of Dante. A problem re mains, however where are all of the other

real women in dead white male literature?


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