A Multilayered Perspective on National Identity in James Joyce’s “Cyclops” Essay
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A Multilayered Perspective on National Identity in James Joyce’s “Cyclops”
—A nation? says Bloom. A nation is the same people living in the same place.
—By God, then, says Ned, laughing, if that’s so I’m a nation for I’m living in the same place for the past five years.
So of course everyone had the laugh at Bloom and says he, trying to muck out of it:
—Or also living in different places. (12.1422-28)
From the very beginning, “Cyclops” is a story that strikes our attention, not for its numerous peculiarities, but for their function in the text. Finding a first person narrator, whom we cannot fully trust; different texts co-existing at the same time and telling us the same story from alternative perspectives; and a narrative and characterization technique, “gigantism,” that provides an exaggerated reality is not surprising. These elements could be unique had we read the chapter by itself out of context; but by this point—“Cyclops” is the twelfth chapter of the book—readers are moderately “accustomed” to Joyce’s modernist creativity. What is most surprising is the actual intermix of characterization, content, and form, messy and confusing, to discuss a serious topic, nationalism, whose centrality prevails throughout the chapter as the main focus in the characters’ conversations. Nevertheless, the many layers of interpretations and realities leave unclear the meaning of the whole issue. First, the unnamed narrator, one of the cyclops, fulfills us with vulgar and empty words about his friends and their comments in the midst of superficially irrelevant dialogues. Second, his narration and the dialogues are broken apart by periodical interpolations, which, by parodying the “normal” discourse, add a further insight to the understanding of the subject in question, national identity. Third, a hyperbolic figure of nationalists, the Citizen, curses and blasphemes