Although I have read several chapters of Ulysses before, this was the first time I’d ever read “Telemachus.” There was not as much that confused me as I thought there would be, although I’m sure there was much that slipped by without my noticing. There were also many things I found interesting. In particular, I was interested in the scene with the milkwoman, the “personification of Ireland” (Gilbert, 101).
What I found specifically interesting in this section was her interaction with Haines, the Englishman, and their discussion on the Irish language. The Englishman speaks to the milkwoman in Irish and she does not understand him; in fact she asks him if he is speaking French. Buck Mulligan comments, “He’s English… and he thinks we ought to speak Irish in Ireland” (Joyce, 12). The woman, answers, “Sure, we ought to… and I’m ashamed I don’t speak the language myself” (13). As a representation of Ireland itself, the woman is ashamed that she doesn’t speak the native language. This suggested to me that Joyce was commenting on how the majority of the population in Ireland, except for those in the west, knew very little Irish. Ireland is ashamed of that fact, but that doesn’t seem to make much difference. The other Irish characters in the scene do not seem to give much thought to the language, and Mulligan seems to be mocking Haines for thinking the Irish should speak the Irish language.
Over the summer I read “The Dead” from Dubliners and there is a scene that discusses the Irish language. I was reminded of it as I was reading this section. In “The Dead” Gabriel claims he wants to learn and keep in touch with other languages, and Miss Ivors says that he should be keeping in touch with his own language, Irish. He responds by saying, “Irish is not my language.” Not only is Gabriel putting other languages above Irish, he is also refusing to claim it as his own. There is no pride for custom or tradition, and I think this is something that comes out in the scene from Ulysses.