“She prayed, and her prayer was monstrous because in it there was no margin left for damnation or forgiveness, for praise or for blame-for those who cannot conceive a bargain cannot be saved or damned. She could not offer herself up; she only told of herself in a preoccupation that was its own predicament.” (51)
Barnes, Djuna. Nightwood. New Directions, 1937. Print
Throughout some of the novels we have read as a class, the theme of religion is a prominent feature. Questioning, invoking, pleading, or simply referencing God or a “higher power” plays an important role in these novels and the development of their respective characters. The early twentieth century in the United States was marked by social reform, The Great Depression, which not only rocked the world reawakened the Social Gospel as well. These were desperate times and many were either turning toward religion, or away from it. While Joyce and Barnes can be seen as the marker for a pre-and-post Great Depression novel looks like they have the unique characteristic of knowing each other. Despite the two decades separating the publication of The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce and Djuna Barnes Nightwood, Stephen Dedalus (post-renunciation of the Church) and Robin Vote have striking similarities. Stephen writes in his journal, “Amen. So be it. Welcome, O life!” (213). Stephen is not begging God for a successful journey, or even saying a prayer at all, amen is stated at the end of a prayer and literally means “so be it” indicating that his life is no longer in the hands of God but rather to be “forged in the smithy of my soul”. Robin Vote (as stated above) prays but does not “offer herself up” like a lamb to slaughter. She is simply trying to make sense of a “preoccupation that was also its own predicament” (51).
Zora Neale Hurston in Their Eyes Were Watching God and Jean Toomer’s Cane also grapple and contemplate the role of God and religion from the experience of Black America in the South. In Toomer’s “Cotton Song” the verse goes as follows, “God’s body’s got a soul, Bodies likes to roll the soul, Cant blame God if we don’t roll, Come, brother, roll. roll!” (13) This concept of a “rolling soul” is directly evoked in Hurston’s novel as well, “Like all the other tumbling mud-balls, Janie had tried to show her shine” (86). In Cane, the poems often seen as prayer-like. In “Conversation”, the “African Guardian of the Souls” yields to “a white-faced sardonic god-“, (17). Again this feeling can be seen in Hurston’s novel where she writes, “The time was past for asking the white folks what to look for through that door. Six eyes were questioning God” (151). The questioning of God, not only in who but why, and how binds these four novels together. The ability of God to shape the lives of these characters (or not) brings up questions never asked before. Depending on the character’s acceptance or rejection of a Higher Power (and perhaps the authors’ own experience and beliefs) allowed for a religious critique in the early 20th century that turned the idea of God as absolute truth into God as something to be questioned, and perhaps, that’s not such a bad thing after all.
“Hearing his ‘come in’ she opened the door and for one second hesitated, so incredible was the disorder that met her eyes. The room was so small it was just possible to walk sideways up to the bed; it was as if being condemned to the grave the doctor had decided to occupy it with the utmost abandon.” (84)
Barnes, Djuna. Nightwood. New Directions, 1937. Print
Thinking of the historical change throughout the novels we have read this year, they all seem to have common themes but are presented through different ideas/mediums in the different novels. Starting with Heart of Darkness, we are opened to the inner monologues of our character, but it is all by direct reported speech through his story telling frame. And the theme itself of imperialism and colonization is something else that we see repeated in the course. In A Portrait of the Artist as Young Man, we again are taken into the inner monologue of a character, but this time in the third person and mainly through free indirect discourse. And in this novel we are introduced to the bildungsroman type of story with the coming of age of Stephen Dedalus. Then in Mrs. Dalloway we again see free indirect discourse to give us thoughts and ideas of different characters, while also coming back to the idea of imperialism and war with the backdrop of World War I a constant theme. And in Their Eyes Were Watching God we still have a type of frame narrative like in Heart of Darkness, but the narrative voice is shifted from first to third, giving us more instances of free indirect discourse. This novel also brings in the ideas of nation building, race, and is a kind of anti-bildungsroman, set in the early 1900s south. And we finally end up with Nightwood, another third person narrative that uses instances of free indirect discourse while also showing this through different characters. The chosen quote I found to shed some light to the doctor, who up until this point we don’t really know too much about his history or past, but he has also been in almost every scene of the novel and given us lots of information through his dialogue and through instances of free indirect discourse.
“His throat ached with a desire to cry aloud, the cry of a hawk or eagle on high, to cry piercingly of his deliverance to the winds. This was the call of life to his soul not the dull gross voice of the world of duties and despair, not the inhuman voice that had called him to the pale service of the altar. An instant of wild flight had delivered him and the cry of triumph which his lips withheld cleft his brain.”
James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008. pg. 143
“The world for all its solid substance and complexity no longer existed for his soul save as a theorem of divine power and love and universality.”
This quote caught my attention because it is explaining Stephen’s new outlook on everything. He has decided to completely devote himself to cleansing his soul and this quote serves to solidify his viewpoint of the world as a vessel for him to achieve his religious goal.
James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008), 126.
“In a college like this, he said at length, there is one boy or perhaps two or three boys whom God calls to the religious life. Such a boy is marked off from his companions by his piety, by the good example he shows to others. He is looked up to by them; he is chosen perhaps as perfect by his fellow sodalists. And you, Stephen, have been such a boy in this college, prefect of Our Blessed Lady’s sodality. Perhaps you are the boy in this college whom God designs to call to Himself”.
James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008)
Stephen feels proud of himself for receiving this honor and there is amazing imagery in this part of the novel that depicts what is going on in his mind and his idea of being a priest of God.
“Now, as never before, his strange name seemed to him a prophecy. So timeless seemed the grey warm air, so fluid and impersonal his own mood, that all ages were as one to him. A moment before the ghost of the ancient kingdom of the Danes had looked forth through the vesture of the hazewrapped city. Now, at the name of the fabulous artificer, he seemed to hear the noise of dim waves and to see a winged form flying above the waves and slowly climbing in the air.”
Joyce, James. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. New York: Oxford UP, 2000. Print. 142.
Stephen’s dreams and aspirations for himself lead him to believe that he may be a prophet. He develops hopes for a new soul and a new spirit for himself in his life as a priest.
“He still tried to think what was the right answer. Was it right to kiss his mother or wrong to kiss his mother? What did that mean, to kiss? You put your face up like that to say goodnight and then his mother put her face down. That was to kiss. His mother put her lips on his cheek; her lips were soft and they wetted his cheek; and they made a tiny little noise: kiss. Why did people do that with their two faces?”
James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008), pg. 11.
Demonstrating affection towards a mother or any other person through a kiss is an act commonly done without much thought put into it. Stephen’s questioning of what it is, it’s meaning, whether it’s wrong or right, and why people do it caught my attention. The dissection of the gesture, the phrasing of the questions, viewing it objectively rather than subjectively, they have an adult-like quality to them, being given to us through a child.
“Once upon a time and a very good time it was there was a moocow coming down along the road and this moocow that was coming down along the road met a nicens little boy named baby tuckoo. . . . ”
The first few lines of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man suggest that Joyce is trying to portray the characteristics of a young child. The words “moo cow” “nicens” and “baby tuckoo” could be words that would come from a child.
“They all laughed again. Stephen tried to laugh with them. He felt his whole body hot and confused in a moment. What was the right answer to this question? He had given two and still Wells laughed.”
James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008), 11.
Speaks to Wells’s character as a bully. Also speaks to Stephen’s character, desperately seeking approval, even when it has already been predetermined that he won’t receive it.