Dubliners by James Joyce: Ivy Day in the Committee Room

This next short story in James Joyce’s Dubliners inhabits the most political setting of all the short stories so far. The story is in the background of an election–the main characters are canvassers. Nationalism butts heads with Conservatism–Ireland buts heads with England.

In one section of the story, the working man is placed against (and above) the politician. I’m not here to say what occupations are better or worse than others. But something did stand out to me in this part of the story.

–The working-man, said Mr Hynes, gets all kicks and no halfpence. But it’s labor produces everything. The working-man is not looking for fat jobs for his sons and nephews and cousins. The working-man is not going to drag the honour of Dublin in the mud to please a German monarch. (p. 118)

What stood out to me was the phrase “labor produces everything.” Although not the exact same, this reminds of the latin phrase labor omnia vincit (labor conquers everything). In this story, and in the mind of man in general, there is an assumption that work is everything, work can do everything, work produces everything, work conquers everything. I think that this is both wrong and correct, according to the gospel. It is wrong because if we believe work conquers everything (referring to human work), then we are damned. We could not possibly have the power to get anywhere on our own. But work does conquer everything in another way: The Work of Christ. The work of Christ conquered all death and all sin. It gave us all freedom and all righteousness.

These are my musings on this three words in ‘Ivy Day in the Committee Room’–perhaps a phrase that has little to do with the story as a whole.


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