Theme of Love in Joyce’s Dubliners, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, and Ulysses
A central theme in James Joyce’s works is that of love: what is it, and how can we discuss it? Joyce could not bring himself to use the word ‘love;’ when Nora asked him if he loved her he could only say that he "was very fond of her, desired her, admired and honored her, and wished to secure her happiness in every way; and if these elements were what is called love then perhaps his affection for her was a kind of love" (Ellmann 6). One can read Molly Bloom’s "Oh, rocks. Tell us in plain words" as Nora’s answer to Joyce’s intellectual, complicated answer (Joyce, Ulysses 64). Perhaps as a result of Joyce’s own concern and questions about love, many of his characters are also confused and looking for a definition of love. There are many kinds of love discussed in Joyce’s works, including love for ideals, family, friends, God, and most importantly, husband and wife. This paper will explore the theme of love in Joyce’s work and show that love is a basic concept in life; characters unsure of this concept need to find a concrete definition before they can be comfortable. To do this I will analyze characters from Dubliners, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, and Ulysses, using the Greek ideals of agape; spiritual love, storge; familial love, philia; the love between friends, and eros; sexual love.
Godlike Love: Agape
Ulysses opens with Buck Mulligan calling Stephen a "fearful jesuit" and mocking church rituals as he shaves (Joyce, Ulysses 3). The two main characters of this novel, Stephen Dedalus and Leopold Bloom have each fallen from their respective faiths. They both suffer for their religious affiliations; Bloom is excluded and harassed because of his Judaism, and Stephen suffers internally because of his struggle with faith, as well as feeling guilt for being unable to bring himself to accede to his mother’s request to pray for her at her deathbed.
Stephen Dedalus, as a largely autobiographical figure for Joyce, has trouble with the definition of love. His friend Cranly asks him if he has ever felt love, and Stephen remarks that he "tried to love God" although he thinks that he had failed. Stephen cannot overcome his intellectual itemizing of love, saying, "I tried to unite my will with the will of God instant by instant" (Joyce, A Portrait 512). His confusion stems from thinking instead of feeling, leaving him unable to comprehend what he considers the most basic form of love, that of agape. Stephen’s concept of love is only "an inchoate desire for the insubstantial image of his soul’s creation" (Dibattista 171). This seems a spiritual motive, but it is also a selfish one because he is concerned only for his own soul, which is not the selfless agape, with itself as its only reward. If he cannot achieve this basic form of love, it is difficult to move on to the other forms (Lockett). Stephen, like Joyce, has rejected religion. His confusion...