Academic journal article European Joyce Studies

Joyce in Blackface: Goloshes, Gollywoggs and Christy Minstrels in "The Dead"

Academic journal article European Joyce Studies

Joyce in Blackface: Goloshes, Gollywoggs and Christy Minstrels in "The Dead"

Article excerpt


It has long puzzled me why in "The Dead" the word "goloshes" reminded Gretta of the Christy Minstrels.1 A few Joyceans over the years have nipped at this allusion, but none has tackled it head-on. Of course, like everything in Joyce, snow is not simply snow and goloshes are not simply Guttapercha rain shoes. As Joseph S. O'Leary comments about "The Dead," it is an example of "Joyce's characteristic supersaturated, exhaustive motivai textures, which are so rich that almost any association they suggest will turn out to have been thought of already by the author, who has deftly integrated it in his web."2

This paper explores the "web" more widely and suggests that several other keys in the story help to explain why this fascinating tidbit is included ? with the word "galoshes" used no less than eight times. The main argument of this paper is that the three parts of "The Dead" mimic the three parts of the traditional American minstrel show.

John Wyse Jackson and Bernard McGinley, in their edition of Dubliners, suggest that Gretta associates goloshes with the Christy Minstrels because she hears the word as "golly shoes."3 The allusion to the Christy Minstrels is important because Joyce wants the reader to make the connection with the minstrel show, a subject with which Joyce was familiar, according to Bowen.4 Looking at the Golliwogg historically and the links to the minstrel tradition opens a portal into reading "The Dead" whereby some of the other odd references in the story start to make sense.

A Golliwogg's Cakewalk5

The Golliwogg6 was a fictional doll drawn by the British artist Florence K. Upton in annual children's stories created for the Christmas market beginning in 1895. Upton based the Golliwogg character on a black rag doll she had had as a child growing up in America; the doll had a jet-black face, wild wooly hair, a large smile, bright eyes and formal minstrel attire (see Figure 1). Such rag dolls were one of the most popular toys for girls in the 1800s, alongside Dutch dolls ? also known as "penny dolls" or "stick dolls."7

The first of the annual verse-and-picture books was entitled The Adventures of Two Dutch Dolls and a Golliwogg for the Christmas market in 1895, and up until 1909 another twelve books were published in the series. Published in both the US and the UK, they had their widest success in Britain. After the introduction of the "Teddy Bear" into the children's toy market in 1902-3,8 the Upton books portrayed the Golliwogg as "Teddy's best friend" and made it a heroic, loveable figure.

Gabriel-as-Golliwogg is a tempting image, particularly when we look at Upton's 1895 cover illustration of the Golliwogg between two penny dolls; Gabriel's self-description as a "penny boy" for his two aunts comes to mind. I have no evidence that Joyce was aware of the Upton books or the Golliwogg character, but given the timing of publication of the series and the fact that golliwogg dolls (circa 1900) from both Italy and the UK are still traded by collectors, it is probably a safe assumption. The fact that the Golliwogg became the Teddy Bear's best friend in the series also may help explain why Freddy Malins is referred to as "Teddy." Likewise, the Golliwogg/rag doll allusion also links to the seemingly idle reference to Lily's carrying a rag doll as a child, as well as to Molly Ivors' derisive reference to Gabriel's writing for a "rag": the Daily Express.

The Golliwogg allusion is an important linchpin to many other interesting aspects of the story, including Freddy's comment about the Negro chieftain singing in the Gaiety pantomime. The more subtle connections emerge when one compares the structure of the traditional minstrel show to the structure of 'The Dead" and its characters, and the larger context of Anglo-Irish relations to US (and European) racial relations at the turn of the twentieth century.

The Structure of the Minstrel Show9

The traditional minstrel show was a uniquely American theatrical form that was highly popular from about 1840 to 1895 and largely disappeared from professional venues by about 1910. …

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