Speaker for the dead (Pt. 2)

In this blog, I will be outlining my oral presentation. There will be bullet point and regular points. I’ve said it aloud so many times that I’m not sure whether it will sound good or not. I also have found that I can’t really grasp at the words I need for this genre:

I’d like to begin my discussion by approaching biology and literature. As we know it, the concept of literature has been homogeneously contained on paper and in books, what exists outside of paper is other. This, even, is a reflection of society, second only to the ideas portrayed Through the literature. Looking at literature as the body, I might compare literature to culture as the corpus callosum to the brain. The corpus callosum is a bundle of myelinated fibers that facilitate communication throughout the brain. The absence of even a small section of this intercranial bridge can lead to slow or impaired mental faculties, encompassing poor coordination and repetitive speech. It is therefore imperative to have an inclusion of oral literatures into the inspection of literature and culture, not only for reasons of representing the underprivileged and illiterate, but for understanding tradition and culture more fully.


While my paper discusses the function of orature in several different cultures as a basis of comparison, I will be focusing on the function of Orature, and by proxy music, in James Joyce’s “The Dead.” Through my close reading of a small section of “The dead” I will make the claim that Joyce’s use of music encompasses several different functions and intents of orature.

– The original intent of the Afghan poetry is to express emotion as well as dissatisfaction with society and the men of that society. The effect of the orality is that the poetry form itself is a remark on society and the culture.

-The original intent of African and afghan poetry is to pass down traditions and morals through performance: Dancing/singing and storytelling. Although this may be the original intent of the poetry, there are several different layers to what the effect of the poetry has on people, and how it makes remarks on society.

– Within “The dead” there exists several instances of musicality. In fact, most of the general action and epiphany centers around music: The dance which led to gabriel’s discussion with Ms. Ivors, Aunt Julia’s singing of the Arrayed for the Bridal, and the final song, The lass of Aughrim, which entices Gretta’s emotions and memories– exciting gabriel in, perhaps, a not so positive way. While I look more indepth with the Lass of Aughrim and it’s function within the literature, it is important to note that there are these other instances of music in the story which sets the stage for the significance of music to joyce’s writing

– Looking specifically at the Lass of Aughrim,

” O, the rain falls on my heavy locks
And the dew wets my skin,
My babe lies cold…”

the final song in the story– the one which causes tears for gretta, and an epiphany and realization of his insignificance in Gretta’s life, considering that he has never loved Gretta as did Michael Furey, nor did she love him as much. it seems that joyce’s

-According to Benini, ( A voice from the west: rediscovering the Irish oral tradition in Joyce’s “the dead”) joyce uses the lyrics of Lass of Aughrim to represent gretta as lord gregory in the tale- to make these connections for the reader. In doing this, he assumes that the reader has some connection with this song; in adding this historical piece, joyce is in fact passing down some tradition.

“If this old Irish tale was indeed a source for “The Dead”, Joyce is performing a revivalist operation” (212) I disagree, I feel that this is only one layer of intent; joyce isn’t just using these ballads to allow for the portrayal of traditional irishness, there is too much contrast in the story itself for us to think that; we see this in Gabriel’s discussions with ms. ivors lead us to believe joyce is commenting on or criticising west britons, and yet his particular addition of an old irish ballad fascilitates the idea of culture as a conglomerous thing, an amorphous identity.

Looking at the nature of the ballad, it originating from this idea of dance, ballads are this concept of communal re-creation, an idea of give and take. This is important on several levels; the recreational ability of these ballads is representational of a constantly changing culture. although the same old ballad is being used here (Harkening to the idea that joyce’s intent is to present irishness and tradition) the ballad is being seen in a new or different context by the readers or those who listen to it. This brings into light the idea of Nationalists versus west britons that is discussed in the dead. Rather than choosing between the two, The presence of orature in the dead is a nod to the restructuring of culture and or the people. The idea of identities being reformed by this communal recreation, not only is it the person that is being changed by how they read it, their view of their society and culture changes as well. The simple addition of these ballads remark on the Irish culture and how people add and subtract from it for what they require. Rather than a general of irishness existing, Irishness exists for the irish.

Looking forward to Paula Gunn Allen’s analysis of the yellow woman stories in an academic setting, Allen describes oral tradition as “more than a record of people’s culture, it is the creative source of their collective and individual selves…. it is a living body. it is in continuous flux which enables it to accomodate itself to the real circumstance of a people’s lives.” This is crucial for this idea of irishness, and of this communal re-creation

Essentially, joyce’s intermittance of the ballads here are not simply the striking occurance required for gretta’s emotional outburst and Gabriel’s emotional awakening, nor is it simply intended to pass down the tradition, pass down irishness, but instead the presence of oral literature in the dead is a summation of these characteristics, embodying the quality of communal recreation.

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