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angelas ashes

Discuss "exile" in Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Manand McCourt's Angela's Ashes. Which theories of exile should I rely on?


Exile is a form of displacement, physical or mental; it is almost always personal. This means being in exile results from a person alienating and/or isolating himself or herself, from his/her society. It is true that some people are exiled from their countries (such as the Nigerian novelist Buchi Emecheta whose passport was confiscated by Nigeria because she wrote "feminist" novels), but that is very rare, especially these days.

So, in this response, I am going to concentrate on self-exile which is, after all the case both with James Joyce and Frank McCourt. McCourt chose to leave Ireland for the United States; Joyce, who also left Ireland for Europe, opted for "psychological" exile, an exile of the mind.

To me, Joyce's Portrait is a better example for the theory of exile than Angela's Ashes.

In Ashes, we read the story of the protagonist, going from childhood to young adult, as he makes his journey through a poverty stricken life in Limerick, and all the other evils that come from poverty. In the end, Frank's leaving Ireland is almost inevitable, the exile, though self imposed, is overwhelmingly circumstantial.

Joyce's Portrait, though, is quite different. It's important to note here that The Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man is not just an autobiography. In it James Joyce develops a theory of cretivity and aesthetics, one in which emotional and psychological exile plays a critical role. 

Since exile is a form of displacement, physical or psychological, being in exile shares an inverse relationship between the Self and Place. That place may be a space in our mind (psychological as in the csae of the Portrait) or a physical displacement such as Frank's moving from Ireland to the US.

Thus, from a theoretical point of view Joyce's Portrait seems to be more relevant than McCourt's Ashes. Because in Portrait, Joyce depicts his life as a child through the life of Stephen Daedalus, a sort of fictional alter ego for the novelist. Of course, "Daedalus," is a ponted reference to the greek myth, the story of a young man who dared to fly too close to the sun -- and died from a fall --when his father, Icarus, made him a pair of wings with bird's feathers and wax. Deadalus symbolizes the creative urge and energy of the artist, and hence this novel represents Joyce's early rebellion against the constraints of Roman Catholicism and his own intellectual and religio-philosophical awakening.

Another reason why Joyce's novel is more conducive to the theory of exile than McCourt's is that the environment of exile is everywhere present in Portrait. Notice that the novel hardly has any dialogue; whereas Ashes is a typical autobiographical novel fraught with people, noise, squalor as well as Frank's inner thoughts. McCourt's protagonist is, to paraphrase Charles Lamb, "alone among six hundred other boys," while Stephen Daedalus is alone, period. Theoretically this aloneness -- in other words, this exile -- has a deep impact on creativity and aesthetics. It would be interesting, for example, to count how many metaphors of aloneness each novel has.

I hope this helps.

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