restricted access "Grace" and the Idea of "the Irish Jew"
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"Grace" and the Idea of "the Irish Jew"

Questions of identity are central to Joyce's artistic engagement with Ireland.1 His identification with his native country and simultaneous resistance to her corrupted myths prompted him to probe the Irish psyche, stripping naive nationalist assumptions and simplistic religious ideologies of their prescribed authenticity while laying bare the multiple cultural, religious, and historical identities of the Irish people.2 These complexities of character are not only mirrored by the complexities of Joyce's construction of Irishness in his work but also by the intricate ways in which he sets them off against another referent acting as a foil to an embattled nationhood—Jewishness. His choice is determined by the many convergences between Irish and Jewish identities. For example, Irishness, like Jewishness, is commonly the subject of an ideological discourse in which identity is fixed by multiple relationships between internal and external forces. There is no unequivocal answer to the question of what it means to be Irish, and the same is true of being Jewish.3 Critics have seized upon the perceived unfixed nature of Jewishness as a significant artistic method by which Joyce is able to manipulate questions of character, selfhood, and identity in his writing. During the last two decades, Joyce studies have generated several authoritative accounts of the representation and construction of Jewishness in Ulysses, and they generally emphasize the parallels between Joyce's own fractured cultural identity and that of Jews reflected through ambiguous and inconsistent prejudice in Europe at the turn of the century.4 Yet whereas Ulysses is widely regarded as the seminal text for this line of inquiry, I propose that Joyce's earlier works are unduly overlooked as part of the argument. One reason for this neglect is the paucity of identifiable evidence in Dubliners and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Only a handful of allusions to Jews or Jewishness can be found in both texts, not enough, perhaps, to form the basis of a sustainable theory. One story in Dubliners, however, deserves closer inspection since it reveals a complexity of engagement between Irishness and Jewishness similar to that in Ulysses, especially when seen in dialogue with the typically ambivalent Joycean perspective on Ireland. As Joyce highlights Irish ambivalence towards Jews, he simultaneously reveals his own ambiguous reaction to Ireland by availing himself of Jewishness as the emblematic figure of "otherness." [End Page 71]

"Grace" was originally conceived as the final story of Dubliners (LettersII 124) and thus presents the climax of Joyce's moral history of his community (LettersI 62-63) to which "The Dead" acts as the denouement. "Grace" also provides the most direct link to Ulysses with characters from the story reappearing in the novel's "Hades" episode. The tale is constructed from the weft and warp of meanings that, once unraveled, disclose the familiar topical strands of fatuous religious observance, social snobbery, and corrupt politics informing Joyce's exploration of Dublin as the "centre of paralysis" (LettersII 134). It describes a few days in the life of Tom Kernan, tea-taster, apostate, and Dublin character, whose social decline is illustrated by his compromised position with which the story opens. Yet hardly any critic has pondered how Kernan came to be in the pitiful state in which he is found, even though the narrative begins in the middle of a sequence of events that started the previous Friday. Only Scott W. Klein, who is indebted to Margot Norris's gender-based examination of Joyce's narratives, provides an angle that accounts for Kernan's deplorable situation and explains the ubiquitous references to credit rewarded and sums unpaid in "Grace" in his essay, "Strongarming 'Grace.'"5 Based on Kernan's reticence to recount the story of his accident, Klein develops a compelling second story in which Kernan was intercepted by a loan shark and shaken down for the money owed. This "strongarming" reveals a credible picture of Irish economic relations frequently based on extortion and usury. In the depiction of what he knew from personal experience was endemic among his father's family and friends, Joyce composes a multilayered narrative of loyalties and obligations...