chapter
16 Pages

Introduction

At the end of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, a departing Stephen Dedalus recalls his mother’s “pray[er] … that I may learn in my own life and away from home and friends what the heart is and what it feels.” Stephen, now fully committed to his individual aesthetics, chooses instead to “encounter for the millionth time the reality of experience and to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race” (P 275-6). Ulysses may demonstrate Stephen’s failure to accomplish these goals, but his author succeeds in “forg[ing]” this Irish “conscience” largely because James Joyce recognizes the importance of May Dedalus’s “pray[er]” in fulfilling her son’s prophetic calling. Indeed, Joyce frequently ties the efficacy of his characters’ social and political pursuits to their knowledge of “what the heart is and what it feels,” as their capacity to love directly determines their ability to interact productively within Ireland. While the majority of his protagonists can neither love nor engage their community effectively, Joyce’s depiction of Leopold Bloom compellingly shows how the affection that pervades personal relationships can empathetically guide social encounters and challenge the paralysis he attributes to everyday Dublin. By highlighting this intersection between the “heart” and the “smithy of [one’s] soul,” we see a love ethic emerge that extends throughout the Joycean oeuvre and promotes a loving model of civic dialogue over what Joyce called the “old pap of racial hatred” (LII 167).