Stranger

In Brief

Seven hundred and fifty years of English occupation of Ireland (850 in Ulster, and counting) produced a few contemptuous names for the foreign conqueror. Four that appear in Ulysses are "Saxon," "Sassenach," "paleface," and "stranger."

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For a linguistically inventive people, no substitutes are necessary to convey dislike. Creative use is made of the common given name, from Mulligan’s “God, these bloody English! Bursting with money and indigestion” to the brilliantly funny revenge ditty placed in the mouth of an only slightly exaggerated Citizen in Circe:

May the God above
Send down a dove
With teeth as sharp as razors
To slit the throats
Of the English dogs
That hanged our Irish leaders.

But nicknames do come in handy. In Cyclops the Citizen speaks of "the Saxon robbers." In Telemachus Mulligan calls Haines "A ponderous Saxon," and Stephen, who is energetically resisting the Englishman's overtures of friendship, thinks, "Horn of a bull, hoof of a horse, smile of a Saxon." All three, according to a common saying, are things to fear. The Scots Gaelic equivalent of Saxon, “Sassenach” (Irish Sasanaigh), is used several times, once by Mulligan (again, speaking of Haines to Stephen) and twice by the Citizen ("the bloody brutal Sassenachs"). For many centuries this term has been used for people born in England, and not for those who have assimilated (the latter were called gaill or foreigners in the old annals).

The distinction between nativized Anglo-Irish settlers and more recent arrivals also figures in the slang word that Stephen uses in Telemachus for Oxford students, "Palefaces." This term supposedly originated with Native Americans confronting their own English settlers, and the Irish apparently use it to reverse the current of racist hatred implicit in 18th and 19th century British stereotyping of the Irish as dark-skinned, brutish, and subhuman, like Africans and Native Americans.

The Citizen declaims, "We have our greater Ireland beyond the sea. They were driven out of house and home in the black 47. Their mudcabins and their shielings by the roadside were laid low by the batteringram and the Times rubbed its hands and told the whitelivered Saxons there would soon be as few Irish in Ireland as redskins in America." If the Irish can be characterized as redskins, then corresponding language can be applied to the people across the Irish Sea: "Two carfuls of tourists passed slowly, their women sitting fore, gripping the handrests. Palefaces. Men's arms frankly round their stunted forms" (Wandering Rocks).

But this term also plays on the fact that Dublin has always been the city of foreign conquerors, from its founding by the Vikings to its Georgian splendor under the British. In the late Middle Ages, the Pale was the small part of Ireland that remained under the direct control of the English crown after most of the Anglo-Norman invaders forged alliances with Gaelic chieftains and intermarried. As the territory under the control of the English crown contracted to the area around Dublin, and as its perimeter was progressively ditched and fenced to hold off the natives, it came to be known metonymically by the Latin name for a stake (palus) driven into the ground to support a fence. Those outside the fence were “beyond the pale.” Those inside it—essentially, the inhabitants of greater Dublin—were “Palemen.”

Perhaps the most interesting of these slang epithets is “stranger,” or “stranger in the house.” Stephen uses it when thinking of Haines, Deasy of the Anglo-Norman invaders in the twelfth century, and Stephen again in Scylla and Charybdis when he alludes to the Countess Kathleen bemoaning “her four beautiful green fields, the stranger in her house” (i.e., the four provinces of Ireland, and the English invaders). Old Gummy Granny, Circe’s hallucinatory version of the mythical Poor Old Woman, spits, “Strangers in my house, bad manners to them!

In light of the novel's frequent use of this Irish expression of resentment, it is interesting that Bloom is called a stranger several times. The anti-Semitism expressed by many of Dublin’s citizens prepares the reader for this nomination. At the end of Nestor, Mr Deasy jokes that Ireland has never persecuted the Jews “Because she never let them in.” In Cyclops, the xenophobic Citizen extends his dislike of the British to the “half and half” Italian-Irish Dennis Breen, and by insinuation to the Jewish-Irish Bloom. "We want no more strangers in our house," he says. Oxen of the Sun appears to perpetuate this mentality when Mulligan and the other young men in the maternity hospital think of Bloom several times as “the stranger.” Perhaps they are simply not used to seeing him in the hospital, but their use of the term may very well be xenophobic.

All three of the book's protagonists could be called strangers: the partly Jewish Bloom, the exotically Mediterranean Molly, and the young man with an "absurd name, an ancient Greek." Joyce's dislike of British rule was tempered by his awareness that Ireland has been shaped by repeated waves of conquest and assimilation. In Finnegans Wake he created another male protagonist who is regarded suspiciously as an outsider. Mr. Porter, the (possible) daytime instantiation of HCE, seems to be a Protestant, just as Bloom is Jewish, and HCE is associated repeatedly with the seafaring conquests of Danes, Norwegians, Jutes, Normans, Englishmen, and other Germanic invaders. His recurrent compulsion to defend his existence seems connected to Ireland's aggressive suspicion of outsiders: "So this is Dyoublong? Hush! Caution! Echoland!"

In The Irish Ulysses (U. California Press, 1994), Maria Tymoczko argues that the ancient Irish text called The Book of Invasions "helps to explain why the central characters in Ulysses are all outsiders though they stand as universalized representations of Dubliners, for the invasion theory of Irish history in Lebor Gabála is predicated on the notion that there are no aboriginal inhabitants of the island. In this scheme, everyone is an outsider, descended as it were from immigrants. From the perspective of Irish pseudohistory, the cultural alienation of Stephen, Bloom, and Molly mirrors the heritage of all the island's inhabitants as descendants of invaders" (35). Greek, Jew, and Spaniard, by this reading, stand in for Nemedians, Formorians, Fir Bolg, Tuatha de Danann, Goidels-Milesians, Dane-Vikings, Anglo-Normans, and British.

JH 2017
Anglo-Norman knights disembarking at Waterford, before their battle with Rory O'Connor, high king of the Irish chieftains. Source: www.mainlesson.com.
Ireland in 1450, from wesleyjohnston.com. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
Viking settlements in Ireland. Source: www.irelandstory.com.
Folio 53 of the 12th century Book of Leinster, one of more than a dozen medieval manuscripts that record the Lebor Gabála Érenn, held in the library of Trinity College, Dublin. Source: Wikimedia Commons.