Servitude

For me, one of the most interesting moments of “Telemachus” was near then end, when Stephen and Haines discuss the issues of servitude and freedom. First of all, I found Haines’ statement, “After all, I should think you are able to free yourself. You are your own master, it seems to me,” (17) both naïve and insensitive. Perhaps I’m overestimating the extent of the tensions between the Irish and English, but this seems like a ridiculous thing for an Englishman trying to “play nice” to say to a dissatisfied Irishman. It was not a smart move, which he realizes as soon as Stephen responds. In an attempt to remedy the situation, Haines gives the abysmally weak excuse, “It seems history is to blame,” (17).

In addition to being intrigued by Haines’ failure at political correctness, I found it fascinating that Stephen still considers himself a servant of the Catholic Church. As we know from Portrait, Stephen can no longer accept Catholicism, going so far as to refuse to pray for his mother as she was dying. One would think that a person with such a strong aversion to the Church would have tried to distance himself from it as much as possible. Even if it did take time to sever the connection, I would expect Stephen to be making a conscious effort to forget his religious past. Instead, practically every other paragraph of  “Telemachus” has some reference to Catholicism (or Christianity, at the very least). Many of these references come in the form of Stephen’s thoughts and words. The frequency of these musings, combined with the fact that Stephen still feels enslaved by Catholicism make it hard for me to believe that he has completely given up on the faith. Obviously, he is struggling with his beliefs (and lack thereof), possibly in an attempt to reconcile the teachings of the Church with his life experience. I look forward to seeing Stephen’s relationship with Catholicism progress throughout the book. 

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2 thoughts on “Servitude

  1. amybunselmeyer

    I do not think you are overestimating the tensions between the Irish and the English, and I was fascinated by this section as well. Haines does seem to be very insensitive to the Irish way of thinking on this matter. It does not surprise me, however, that he blames history, rather than himself, other Englishmen, or his country. There seems to me to be a feeling of superiority that he has towards the Irish… He thinks that they should be able to free themselves, that they should speak Irish in Ireland, etc. I got the feeling that he almost seems to think that he would have been a better Irishmen, had the roles been reversed. I’m not sure if that makes sense, but that’s the feeling I got, and I agree with your statement that it was insensitive and was not a smart move.

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  2. jsdrouin

    Yes, Haines speaks from the privileged position of one of Stephen’s “masters” and is unwilling or unable to acknowledge his individual responsibility in what is a collective problem between the two nations over 800 years of history. This is one of many segments that deals with the idea of Nation — what is a nation, exactly? Bloom will take this up in “Cyclops” — and its sway over the individual, and vise versa. Others have already blogged about this topic, so let’s take it up in class.

    The question of Stephen’s faith is another core element of Ulysses. As we saw in Portrait, Cranly ribs Stephen for being supersaturated by the religion in which he professes to disbelieve. There is a similar moment with Haines toward the end of “Telemachus,” where his mechanical intellect over-reduces the problem of faith, much to Stephen’s disgust. Stephen seems to have a more fluid understanding of the issue, so let’s talk about what that might mean.

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