Essay, Research Paper: Hermaphroditic Joyce By Dante

Literature: Charles Dickens

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Dante's "The Hermaphroditic Joyce" One of the most powerful nuances of
any writing is the dialogue within the story. In literature, it is all too often
that characters live only in the jaded voice of the author and never truly
develop as their own, or are not strongly opinionated in a manner which
contrasts the opinions of the writer. It is also unfortunately true that the
women depicted in most male-authored literature do not often sound realistic, or
how most women one would speak to in the course of the day tend to sound. All
too often, women are depicted on a lower level of speech than men. For instance,
Dickens and Arthur Miller both apparently subscribed to this notion, as the
women in their stories were usually more passive, and not as elaborate as men in
their speech, however, James Joyce did not see things in the same light. The
most developed female character in Joyces A Portrait of the Artist as a Young
Man, is one who speaks with dignity, passion, and the female tact which is all
too often ignored in the ch aracters of women. Joyce's Dante Riordan's words and
thoughts are true to those of literate twentieth century women. Although a
short-lived character in Portrait, Dante Riordan, in a brief amount of time
emits an apparently important and mysterious aura, the aura of a woman. Judging
from the studies of twentieth century linguists, Joyce's brief representation of
Dante through speech is nearly flawless. To more lucidly understand this, one
must carefully examine some of the instances at which Dante speaks in her
conversation with Mr. and Mrs. Dedalus, Charles, and Mr. Casey, and re-examine
the arguments she makes. Dante is introduced into the dinner table conversation
as a silent character. However, when the men's conversation turns to the misuse
of the preacher's pulpit, Dante begins her interjections. All too often, women
in literature remain linguistically dormant unless called upon, however, studies
conducted in the reality outside the covers of a book have shown that women will
interrupt a conversation to contradict a previous speaker, and do so vehemently
(Coates, 193). A nice answer for any man calling himself a catholic to give to
his priest, (Joyce, 273) states Dante as her first response. At this point,
Dante has drawn herself into the conversation. Never speaking out of turn (as
linguists are always quick to point out about women), Dante's next few lines are
responses to the rebuttals of Mr. Dedalus and Mr. Casey. In these lines, she
defends priests in that it is their duty to teach, warn, and direct their
flocks. According to the findings of most linguists, strong beliefs in religion
and authority are held by women, and a desire to speak in favor of them is
inherent to feminine nature. The bishops and priests of Ireland have spoken, and
they must be obeyed (Joyce, 274). Linguist, Jennifer Coates states that
woman-speak is revolved around power, and, as Dante illustrates in this quote,
that women's conversational style, and topics of interest will usually be
subconcious admittances to the idea that women must obey men, and remain
socially submissive (Coates, 203). Joyce's realistic portrayal of Dante does not
end there, however. In studying the findings of linguists, it becomes clear that
during the Renaissance, it was proper for a woman to be silent and a man to be
eloquent. However, the increased level of female literacy in the late nineteenth
and early to present twentieth century, changed this philosophy, and it is now
expected that women be just as, if not more eloquent than men. As Dante
continues her conversation, she quotes the Bible in response to the ongoing
attacks of the men at the dinner table in the presence of women and a child: Woe
be to the man by whom the scandal cometh! It would be better for him that a
millstone were tied about his neck and that he should scandalise one of these,
my least little ones. (Joyce, 274) Even today, it is rare in literature to find
a woman allude to, let alone directly quote literature as a witty response to a
verbal assault. Women have an instinctive shrinking from coarse and gross
expressions and a preference for refined and (in certain spheres) veiled and
indirect expressions (Coates, Jesperson, 126). What better way is there to
describe Dante Riordan? Her primary reason for involving herself with the
conversation from the start is the vile blasphemy at hand. Of her sixteen turns
in the conversation, eight of them are devoted to reprimanding the 'language'
that she hears from the mouths of the men. To assert the reality of Dante's
character even further, look to sociolinguist William Labov. He writes that, in
lower and middle-class groups, females are far less tolerant of incorrect
grammar and taboo (Labov, 207). This was made pleasantly lucid in the character
of Dante Riordan. In light of all of this, it steadily becomes more apparent
that Joyce had paid careful attention to real conversational language. In the
characters of the men, he captured the competitive attitudes, vulgarity, and
lack of tact which are so often marks of men in English speaking societies. But
more importantly, through the character of Dante, he captured the fire, the
respect, the subconscious submission, and the maternal aversion for taboo that
unite to form the psyche of this century's woman. Joyce, in spite of his hatred
of the church, designed a character who's few spoken words do all they can to
uphold the honor of the imperfect institution, and aside from Mr. Dedalus's
final immature remark, Dante has the last word, and in effect wins the
conversation. This is literary genius. Developing thoroughly and realistically
the character of a non-existent person in the medium of text alone is a
monumental task, but one that appears so effortless in Joyce's portrayal of
Dante. A problem re mains, however? where are all of the other real women in
dead white male literature? 
1) Bloom, Harold. Modern Critical Interpretations: James Joyce's A Portrait
of the Artist as a Young Man. New York:Chelsea House Publishers, 1988. 2)
Coates, Jennifer. Women, Men and Language. New York:Longman, 1993. 3) Labov,
William. Variation in Language in Reed, C.E.O The Learning of Language. National
Council of Teachers of English, New York, 1971. Dante's voice in Portrait.
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