Ivy Day in the Committee Room Analysis

James Joyce

Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

If he had written nothing else, Joyce would be assured of a place in literary history because of his innovations in short fiction. His counterdramatic sense of his material, his stylistic resourcefulness, and his celebrated deployment of epiphany enable him to distill aesthetic and cultural validity from superficially unpromising raw material.

Joyce’s use of anticlimax as revelation is seen to good advantage in “Ivy Day in the Committee Room.” That aspect of the story’s technique may be thought of, in effect, as being synonymous with its subject matter. In addition, the drifting, unpredictable flow of conversation in the story mirrors the characters’ rudderless, improvised social existence. At the same time, however, without the characters’ knowledge, their conversation creates a structure of thematic relationships, conceived around the issues of loss, impoverishment, and venality.

Speech and verbal utterances of all kinds are extremely important in all of Joyce’s stories, and “Ivy Day in the Committee Room” is noteworthy for its talkativeness and for the witty and fastidious precision with which it mimics local Dublin usage. This emphasis on talk, its implicit contrast between talk and action, and its mocking and tacit allusion to the cliché that “talk is cheap” confer on the reader the role of eavesdropper. The intimacy thereby created between speaker and auditor, or between character and reader, is a demonstration of one of Joyce’s most characteristic artistic strategies, the impersonality of his authorial presence.

This strategy, coupled with (or indeed expressed as) a rejection of omniscience, gives the reader an unmediated, though artfully contrived, experience of the material. As a result, the material achieves a definitive showing forth of itself, ostensibly on its own terms. In Joyce’s terms, it attains “epiphany.” Economically, unobtrusively, incisively, but above all, inferentially, Joyce lays bare the pathetic stagnation of public life in Dublin as he knew it—that unheroic, degraded present that he could neither forgive nor forget.