James Joyce Themes

This Study Guide consists of approximately 5 pages of chapter summaries, quotes, character analysis, themes, and more - everything you need to sharpen your knowledge of James Joyce.
This section contains 761 words
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Country and Nationality

For someone of his era and economic situation, James Joyce spends an extraordinary amount of time abroad, most of the time without any financial resources to fall back on. One of the main reasons for this is his preoccupation with Ireland, his native country. In his early life, Joyce writes articles and gives lectures on men who fought for Ireland's independence and on the subject of home rule. However, he is convinced that his destiny lies elsewhere and travels the globe searching for the best place to live, living in Yugoslavia, Italy, Switzerland and France. Though he claims to often feel disconnected from his native country, his writings depend on his identity as an Irishman, though they are often critical of the contemporary Irish situation. Dubliners, for example, paints a vivid portrait of the good and the bad in the Irish capital, while Ulysses shows a Jew wandering through Dublin over the course of one day and Finnegan's Wake brings in old Irish myths (among those of many other nationalities and languages) at the wake of an Irish man. Despite the prevalence of Irish themes in his writings, Joyce disconnects himself as much as possible from Ireland, traveling there as little as possible in his later years. In fact, when Yeats nominates him to the newly-founded Irish Academy, Joyce refuses this honor because of his feelings towards his motherland.

Family

James Joyce's family is one of the defining aspects of his life. Early on, he is his father's favorite son (and the oldest); the two go on long walks together and have long, deep talks as the other sons, particularly Stanislaus, look on. Despite Stanislaus's feelings that he is taken advantage of and overlooked in the Joyce family, he is also extremely close to his older brother, who adores him, though he borrows extreme amounts of money and cheats his brother in numerous ways. Later on, Joyce wants to serve as a benefactor to his remaining family members, though he does not have much money of his own and even offers to pay for singing lessons for one of his sisters. Two other sisters, Eva and Eileen, move to mainland Europe with him. Once Joyce begins to travel with Nora, eventually taking her as his de facto wife, he is extremely loyal to her (outside of several brief infatuations with other women) and the two live together until their deaths, marrying in 1931. At the same time that he adores his wife, whom he sees almost as a mother figure, he also allows her to take on heavy burdens—for example, the care of Lucia, who is a violent schizophrenic and convinced that her mother is out to get her. When World War II begins, Joyce protects his family, working hard to secure them all visas (including George and his son—Joyce's grandson—Stephen) to get over the Swiss border. He is devoted to his daughter after her illness begins and is convinced—despite all evidence to the contrary—that she can be cured.

Genius

"James Joyce," as a book, is an extraordinary portrait of genius and the sacrifices it demands, both for the bearer and for those around him or her. From a young age, Joyce appears to have been convinced that he was exceptional and a genius and that he would do something that would change the world. As a result of this, he has no trouble making demands on his family—for example, begging money from his mother, who has to pawn the family furniture to support his studies in Paris. Later, Nora makes similar sacrifices to support her husband, though she never reads his books and relies on the critical reception for her impressions of what he has written. She keeps his house and raises their children, rarely questioning him (though she will fly into rages at his extravagances when there is no food on the table, or when he drinks too much). Stanislaus is perhaps the person who bears the burden the hardest. An intelligent man in his own right, he works hard only to have his money taken from him by his brother, who wheedles it out of him or even straightforwardly has his brother's paycheck transferred into his own accounts. Throughout their lives, James has Stanislaus fact check and critique his manuscripts, take care of household matters when he is out of the country and other such chores. However, James is also a family man and appears to have loved all of these people dearly.

This section contains 761 words
(approx. 2 pages at 400 words per page)
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