Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Perception and Politics in Nestor:

As Stephen sits in Mr. Deasy’s office during Episode two, he reels off in his mind the countless atrocities committed by the British against the Irish throughout history. Stephen doesn’t bother to voice his objections, but Mr. Deasy senses that Stephen is no anglophile. He intersperses his lecture on foot and mouth disease with political prognostications and insults about the “fenians” in a chapter in which Joyce emphasizes the relativity of all events. Stephen, despite his progressive nature, cannot free himself from being a subject of Irish history. However, he recognizes that he and all Irish are subjects in history. He wonders: “But can those have been possible weeing that they never were? Or was the only possible which came to pass” (25). Stephen, unlike Mr. Deasy, stakes his belief in the idea that “an actuality of the possible as possible” will unfetter the Irish from their English chains.

Deasy, on the other hand, subscribes to the idea that history itself moves to the singular goal of “the manifestation of God” (25). When Stephen responds that a shout is a manifestation of God, he most clearly elucidates the dichotomy. Deasy believes in history as a single timeline which will have a definite ending in the future (and will result in the triumph of good), while Stephen believes that history ends in the present, and that what happens at the present determines the future. This basic contrast between the fatalist and the proponent of human agency determines the political beliefs of both men. Mr. Deasy searches for ways to accommodate the English. The most convenient way to do so, of course, is to demonize another group while portraying the English as benevolent father-figures. Jews and women are his choice targets. He claims that the “Jew merchants are already at their work of destruction” (33) just after declaring virtuously that “money is power” (30).

Stephen, obviously, is an ardent nationalist. He cannot abandon the history that has determined everything about his life. He refuses to redirect blame at others for the sins of the English solely to advance under a foreign government’s rule, as Deasy does. In extolling British venality as a virtue, Mr. Deasy not only accepts Ireland’s place on the underbelly of English history, but accepts the reasons for English tyranny: money. For all of his bluster about the clear-cut nature of reality and the virtues of financial independence, it is ironic that in this episode Mr. Deasy is the character who accepts his role as a subject in history.

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