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					Alice Mohan

Irish Literature

            “An identity is questioned only when it is menaced, as when the mighty begin to fall, or when the
wretched begin to rise, or when the stranger enter the gates, never, thereafter, to be a stranger…” This is a statement
from an African-American writer, James Baldwin. In my opinion, I think he is saying that identity only becomes an
issue when people are forced into certain situations within a society. There are also cases where a person’s identity
has nothing to do with these situations. Every society is different in its own way; some societies categorize people
because of their identity, while others will judge them because of their actions. My objective in this paper is to
justify the statements I have made with sufficient texts.
            The character Leopold Bloom from Ulysses quoted, “A nation is the same people living in the same place
together.” From my point of view, I would say that Bloom meant that a nation is a society of people that lived
together for a long time, and they have come to understand each other through their culture and their way of life. But
after Bloom told the men his opinion, they laughed at him; and Bloom tried to recover himself by saying “or also
living in different places.” So the men ridiculed him more, because he just changed his original answer to defining a
            The Duke of Wellington stated, “Just because a man is born in a stable does not make him a horse.” It is
documented that this statement was the Duke’s response to being called an Irishman. When we interrupt this, most
of us would agree that it basically means that just because you were born in a certain place, that does not mean you
have to follow that society’s culture and beliefs. You are free to follow the beliefs you may think is more suited for
            In the book Ulysses, Episode 12, some of the Dubliners are at a pub having drinks. One of the main
characters having a drink is called ‘the citizen.’ He is portrayed as an older Irish patriot who praises the nationalists
cause. Although he does not really work towards the cause passionately, people look to him for news and opinions.
As the years passed, he has built up a certain revulsion towards foreigners and openly expresses his feelings. Other
characters present in this episode are the narrator, Joe, John Wyse, Ned and quite a few others, including Bloom. So
the men are having their drink and talking about the death of Paddy Dignam. It is around this moment where Bloom
enters the pub declaring he is there to meet Martin Cunningham. Bloom’s character is very different from the other
men. He is a thirty-eight year old advertising canvasser. His father was a Hungarian Jew, and his mother was Irish.
He is a clear-sighted individual and mostly unsentimental when it comes to his male peer. He is not like the other
men, he does not like to drink nor gossip and he is always friendly and is not sorry to be excluded from gatherings.
            When Bloom enters the pub, one of the men asks if Bloom would like a drink, to which Bloom respectfully
refuses. As time passes, the men transit from one topic to another; and then the citizen states that he longs for the
day when Ireland can respond to the wrongs England has committed against it with force. Bloom responds to this
saying that the world is full of persecution which brings about continuous hated among nations. Bloom is then asked
to describe a nation, to which we know he gives his response. The men then questions Bloom’s nationality, and says
that he was born in Ireland. He then goes on to say that he belongs to a race that is hated and persecuted. Of course,
he was referring to the Jews because he is half Jewish. Bloom continues on about the injustice against his race, to
which John Wyse replies that he should stand up to it with force. Bloom says that responding with hatred and force
will not work, but it is love that will be the key because love is life. He then leaves and the citizen starts to mock him
because of his ideas and being Jewish. By this time, Cunningham arrives looking for Bloom and not finding him, he
joins in the conversation on gossiping about Bloom. Bloom then returns and Cunningham senses a bit of hostility
coming from the citizen and suggested they leave. As they leave, the citizen suddenly starts yelling at Bloom about
being a Jew. In retaliation, Bloom lists a number of famous Jews including Christ. This angers the citizen who then
throws a biscuit box at the car as they drove away.
         From that scene, we can see that Bloom is being singled out because of his origin. We can relate this to the
Duke of Wellington’s statement “Just because a man is born is a stable does not make him a horse.” These friends at
the pub already had a certain dislike for Bloom and when they found out his true origin, they used his identity and
labeled him. The fact that Bloom was half Irish and was born and lived in Ireland his whole life did not matter to
them; he was not part of their nation.
         In the story from Dubliners: The Dead, we meet the character Gabriel Conroy. He is someone who wants to
keep up with society’s ways. He does not want to be left behind and will put on an act just to be well liked by
everyone. He is described as a ‘social performer.’ At a family dinner party, he meets an old school mate, Miss Ivors
who labels Gabriel as a “West Briton,” which was often described as an Irishman who identifies primarily with
England. She does this because she thinks Gabriel deliberately rejects his Irish nationality. To prove herself right,
she invites him to something called the Aran Isles where the Irish language is spoken during the summer. Gabriel
makes an excuse about having a cycling trip; and upon being questioned further by Miss Ivors, Gabriel admits to her
that he is quite sick of Ireland.
         Gabriel Conroy’s story goes back to the Duke of Wellington’s statement. Gabriel was born and raised in
Ireland, but unlike Bloom, he does not want to be connected with Irish tradition. He, in a way is denying his Irish
roots and basically his identity. One of his responses to her was “Irish is not my language.” And for this she labels
him as a cultural traitor. Although Gabriel was born in the Irish nation, he is not part of it; because he does not
consider himself to be part of it. At some point in his life, he detached himself from the nation he was born into. So
what is Gabriel Conroy’s identity? Well at the end of The Dead, it says that he is finally connected with his Irish
roots because of part of his wife’s past; but at this specific moment in Gabriel’s life, he is trying to be part of a
society of which he was not born into.
         Unlike Bloom, who embraces both of his nationalities; Gabriel wants to deny his whole identity to join
another. I agree with Bloom’s description of what a nation is because in my opinion it is true; and I also agree with
the Duke of Wellington’s statement as well. Both Bloom and Gabriel’s stories are different, but similar in their own
ways. For Bloom, he was born part Irish and part Jewish but believes himself Irish; believes himself part of the Irish
nation; the fact that he is part Jewish does not bother him, although it bothers the other men. In my opinion, it shows
that Bloom knows what his identity is; even though the other men ridicule him for his Jewish ancestry, he does not
let that hinder his Irish beliefs, which is truly admirable. Gabriel on the other hand is the opposite of Bloom. He
wants to deny his Irish ancestry and be part of another society, the English. In my opinion, I feel that Gabriel thinks
he is better than his fellow Irishmen and does not want to be like them. So in Gabriel’s case, just because he is of
Irish blood, does not mean he has to follow the Irish tradition. And he chose not to indulge in the Irish tradition for
some time in his life.
         Referring back to my opening quote by James Baldwin, these two characters were forced to confront their
identities, but in different ways. We are all at some point in our lives faced with identity issues, but it is up to us
ourselves to decide who we are and what we want to be part of.


    1.   Dubliners. James Joyce. New York: The Viking Express, 1975.
    2.   Ulysses. James Joyce. Paris: The Little Review, 1922.

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