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Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce

In A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, James Joyce outlines the political and religious battle in Ireland using Stephen’s fascination with the colors red and green. The colors represent the different sides: “the brush with the maroon velvet back was for Michael Davitt and the brush with the green velvet back was for Parnell” (3). Maroon, a shade of red, is the religious side and green is the political side of the battle. The properties of red and green are that they are opposites, yet they complement each other, suggesting that these two factions in Ireland do not agree with each other, yet one cannot, and would not, exist without the other. Davitt and Parnell once worked together, but then Parnell disobeyed God and the church and Davitt did not like it. Therefore, Davitt said that the church comes first, but Parnell said that his country comes first. The strength of the argument for one side wound not exist if the other side did not exist, though.
A song that Stephen sings goes, “O, the wild rose blossoms/On the little green place” (3). In this children’s song, the rose, which is presumably red, is the church again. The green land is Ireland, so the song represents the church existing in Ireland. Roses are seen as beautiful, yet difficult to touch because of their thorns, so the church is seen as a good thing, but it will be hard to overtake. Later, Stephen thinks about the song again and he states “but you could not have a green rose. But perhaps somewhere in the world you could” (9). Now, the green is the political side of the fight again, rather than Ireland, so in Ireland there will not be a political structure that is strong and is seen as a good thing. Somewhere, though, there can be a political structure similar to the one many people in Ireland want, but it will not, and cannot, exist in Ireland.
As the argument between the two sides grows, Stephen again notices the colors of red and green: “he had coloured the earth green and the clouds maroon” (12). Because the green is inside the red, it depicts how the church encompasses politics in Ireland. Here, the green earth represents Ireland and the growing support for a government separate from the church, but the supporters are trying to make a green rose, which cannot exist. The red is the church, and it is looming over the political support, threatening it. The religion is also shielding the political support from view, trying to cover it up, and attempting to demolish it because an earth covered by clouds would not be able to survive.
For Christmas, “the red holly and the green ivy” (28) are the main colors. The holly, which represents the church, means immortality, demonstrating that the church will never die and will never be overtaken. Ivy, which is for the political side, represents hidden desires and forbidden pleasures. Parnell, a leader of the political side, is represented by the ivy because he had an affair with a married woman while he was also married. In addition, though, ivy is able to grow practically anywhere and can cover entire walls, suggesting that it will be possible for a good political structure to grow out of the existing bad one, and the good structure will take over Ireland. However, earlier it was established that the green rose cannot exist in Ireland, so it is not yet decided whether or not the political support can succeed in separating from the church.
At the Christmas dinner, Mr. Dedalus and Mr. Casey have an argument with Dante about politics and religion. They are on the political side, while Dante is on the religious side. During the argument, Mr. Casey says, “Let them leave politics alone, or the people may leave their church alone” (31), saying that the church and the government need to be two different entities, even though the colors red and green suggest that one cannot exist without the other. Dante, on the other hand, thinks that the church should preach politics, represented in Stephen’s dream: “he saw Dante in a maroon velvet dress and with a green velvet mantle hanging from her shoulders” (25). Because she is wearing both colors in her outfit, it demonstrates how Dante believes that religion and politics should be combined as one thing. It is interesting that Mr. Dedalus and Mr. Casey think the opposite, that religion and politics should be separate, yet they are arguing about politics on Christmas, a very important religious holiday, therefore mixing the two things together again. Since the men are not able to separate the two ideas, it could foreshadow that they will never be separated. Therefore, the religion side will win the battle, and the red clouds will succeed in demolishing the green earth.





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