Monday, April 7, 2008

familial relationships

thus far in the novel, a strong focus has been placed on familial relationships... especially those marked by death or tragedy. at the start of the novel, we are presented with ideas concerning maternal relationships. as the first few episodes take place along the water, we are repeatedly fed images of the sea as a mother-like figure. we also discover that stephen's mother has passed about a year ago, and yet stephen is still mourning this loss. whether or not he admits it, we learn that stephen is plagued with guilt over his mother's death, specifically over not having prayed by her bedside as she had asked. this guilt is also a recurring theme as we constantly hear stephen's inner monologue interrupted with "agenbite of inwit" (meaning remorse of conscience). in the classroom, stephen helps a particularly ugly student and consequently thinks to himself about the importance of a mother's love.

while maternal relationships are portrayed in a positive, if not perhaps sad, light, paternal relationships begin to dominate the novel in a much more negative light. we discover that stephen is not close to his father, and that his father has essentially left his children to fend for themselves since their mother's death. a number of other father-son relationships are touched upon throughout the novel, but this particular relationship between stephen and simon dedalus seems to be at the forefront. in episode nine, stephen explains the significance of fathers in a not-so-appreciative manner: "[the son's] growth is his father's decline, his youth his father's envy, his friend his father's enemy... what links them in nature? an instant of blind rut." here, stephen suggests that a father's only link to his son is the moment of conception, whereas a mother continues to nurture the son throughout his life. the son, essentially, usurps the father's role in time. clearly, stephen does not have a very high opinion of fathers.

in episode ten, we are given a glimpse of an otherwise rare sibling relationship. while walking through dublin, stephen encounters his younger sister, dilly. again, his internal monologue is overcome with the phrase "agenbite of inwit" as he feels remorse for his siblings' predicament. at his age, stephen is independent and able to care for himself, but his encounter with his sister brings him face to face with the fact that his younger, dependent siblings are stuck at home with essentially no one to care for them. their mother has died, and their father is a selfish drunkard who fails to support them. thus, stephen is torn between wanting to help them, but not wanting to get sucked into such a dreadful situation.

given these insights into the familial relationships of the novel, we see that the family is not so much a happy, close, supportive group of individuals as a distant, loosely connected group of individuals who happen to be blood-related.

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