by James Joyce
Ulysses Theme of Patriotism
When we think of patriotism, we usually have positive connotations; it's good to be proud of your country. In 1904 Ireland, however, resentment of English oppression could sometimes lead to patriotism that was so strong it became like a form of primitive tribalism. The result is that people worshipped everything that was Irish and had little interest in the rest of the world, leading to a very narrow-minded and insular way of thinking. Joyce, remarkable scholar that he was, could not condone such short-sightedness. He loved his country, but throughout Ulysses he demonstrates the traps of nationalist thinking, and his characters do their best to steer their way through them.
Questions About Patriotism
- Considering "Cyclops" and "Eumaeus," the image we get of Irish nationalism is often of a very narrow-minded way of thinking. What would an open-minded nationalism look like?
- Compare and contrast some of the different definitions of "nation" that the novel presents. Does Ulysses present one coherent idea of what a nation is? If not, try to elaborate on some of the contradictions.
- Think of the recurrence of Robert Emmet's speech in the novel. In what ways has patriotism run its course in Ulysses? How has it lost its power from overuse?
- Is patriotism a fundamentally selfless or a fundamentally selfish feeling? Is it both? How so?
Chew on This
Bloom's moderate view of nationalism is a result of the fact that he comes from two different cultures. The fact that he is both Irish and Jewish allows him to both exist inside a culture and to see it from the outside of it; this makes him think of nationalism as an idea rather than just as a feeling.
The communal nature of nationalism makes it unappealing to the individual-minded Stephen, but Stephen invents his own form of nationalism, one where one strives for self-perfection and allows the nation to benefit as a side effect.