Joyce said that in “Dubliners” his intention was “to write a chapter in the moral history of my country and I chose Dublin for the scene because the city seemed to me the centre of paralysis”.The 15 stories which make up the collection are studies on the decay and banality of lower middle-class urban life and the paralysis to which Joyce refers is both intellectual and moral.The characters who appear in the stories lead uneventual and frustrated lives,which are described through carefully chosen detaila.The fact that there is very little action points again to the paralysis and monotony of life in a modern city.The stories are divided into 4 groups.As Joyce explained:”I have tried to present (Dubin’s paralysis) under four of its aspects:childhood,adolescence,maturity and public life.The stories are arranged in this order.”.
The sisters After the race
An encounter*** CHILDHOOD The boarding house *** ADOLESCENCE
A little cloudIvy day in the committee room
Clay A mother *** PUBLIC LIFE
Counterparts*** MATURE LIFEGrace
And then the last story,”The dead”,is longer,subtler and it can be cosidered as Joyce’s 1st masterpiece.
Though,at first glance,the stories seem simply to be realistic,objective descriptions of everyday life,they are psychologically eventful.The psychological action often takes the form of an EPIPHANY in which a commonplace action or object brings a character an unexpected revelation truth and a deep understanding of life.
The chief theme whcih holds the 15 stories together is the failure to find a way out from PARALYSIS,both physical and moral,linked to religion,politics and culture.Dublin is the heart of this paralysis and all citizens are victims.The moral center of Dubliners,however,is not paralysis alone but the revelation of paralysis to its victims.Each character comes to a knowledge,an awareness of his own condition and for a moment he’s able to see with clarity what is the best way to make all his/her dreams and hopes come true.But each character is always defeated from the environment,which shows to possess more strenght.That’s why we have the impression of inactivity,almost immobility.The idea of a moral paralysis is expressed sometimes in terms of physical arrest,in a real weakening of characters’ impulse and ability to move far or in the right direction because of their frustation or their complete lack of orientation.Paralysed by boredom and anguish the characters try in vain to escape from the oppressive morale imposed by the materialistic society and they often look for love because love is the right way to escape from solitude and the sense of enclosure they experience.
Most of the short stories,though, end with a defeat and a consequential frustration of the character.Very often it’s a banal situation,a trivial gesture or sight which cause the self realization of the characters about their no-way-out lives.That sudden awareness is properly called “epiphany”,which is exactly “the sudden revelation of a hidden reality thriugh casual words or events”.When Joyce’s “heroes” realize their condition we become aware that the revelation of Dublin to its citizens reveals our world and ourselves.
The characters are also unable to relate successully either to each other or with the world; if Dubliners are paralysed in their relationships, their paralysis is often of a sexual nature.
The omniscient narrator and the single point of view are rejected: each story is told from the perspective of a character.Narrated monolgue, in the form of indirect thought and often of free indirect thought,is widely used:it consists in the presentation of the protagonist’s thoughts through limited mediation of the narrator and allows the reader to acquire direct knowledge of the character.
The linguistic register is varied, since the language used in all the stories suits the age,the social class and the role of the characters,though most of the times the language is realistic.
The series of short stories included in dubliners depict a broken morale in and around the city of Dublin.The early 1900’s marked a time of disheartened spirits not only in Dublin but all of Ireland.England still clutched Ireland under its own control, that’s the main reason which made citizens bitter and dismayed.It wasn’t until 1922 that Ireland freed itself from England.Up until that time,Ireland was occupied and ruled from Britain.The occupation had begun hundreds of years before,but from the end of the 18th century,a distinct Irish nationalism began to evolve.From 1801 onwards,Ireland had no Parliament of its own.It was ruled by the Parliament in Britain whcih consisted of the House of Commons and House of Lords.Meanwhile,in the 1840’s,a small group formed out of the Young Ireland movement.The leader,Thomas Davis,expressed a concept of nationality embracing all who lived in Ireland regardless of creed or origin.A small insurrection in 1848 failed,but their ideas influenced the coming generations.
In “Dubliners” the most important aspect is the systematic use of symbols.Such images,significantly disposed, give a firm texture and pattern to the individual stories of “Dubliners” and points out the integrity of the work as a whole.This unifying aspect is evident in the realistic elements of the book and appears in the struggle of certain characters to escape the circumstances of existence in Ireland and especially in Dublin,”the centre of paralysis”.In Dubliners,none of Joyce’s protagonists moves very far though some aspire to go far.Yet their dreams of escape and the desire to “fly away to another country” are really suggestive.In Dubliners,the meaning of movement is complicated by that symbolic paralysis which Joyce himself referred to, an arrest imposed from within,not by the external situations, but by a deficiency of impulse and power.
that’s why it should be no surprise to discover in a book developing the theme of moral paralysis a structure of movements and stases, a system of motions and arrests,involving every story.There’s above all a tendency to eastward movement among the characters of Dubliners.Interpreted realistically,without recours to symbolism,this aspect shows the frustration of Dubliners unable to escape to a more living world.However, from the symbolic point of view,the eastward motion or the desire of it has a much more complicated meaning.Eastward movement theme finds its roots in the catholicism;
the ancient custom of building churches with their heads to the east so that the celebrant of the mass faced east: in doing so the priest looked toward Eden,the earthly paradise;
the cathecumens4th century turned to the west to renounce Satan and to the east to recite the creed before they stepped into the baptismal font;
Chist returning for the Last Judgment was expected to come from east;
East: universally accepted emblem of beginning and place of birth.
So, that “unity of Dubliners” which critics talk about , is realized in terms of religious images and ideas(most of them distinctively Christian).
Joyce’s schematic arrangement of virtues and sins in “Dubliners”
First 3 stories– faith,hope,love (THEOLOGICAL VIRTUES)
From 5th to the 11th story– pride,covettousness,lust,envy,anger,gluttony,sloth (SINS)**P.S.the 7 stories devoted to the sins occupy exactly the central position of the book)
From 12th to 14th story–justice,temperance,prudence(CARDINAL VIRTUES)
15th story–No virtue or sin is given (maybe Joyce aims to suggest its predominance).
The pattern of virtues and sins and the pattern of motions and arrests in Dubliners express one development.
The sisters-This story is a riddle.Nothing comes quite clear.The nameless boy who tells the story is “puzzled” by hints and “intricate questions” and so are we.”The sisters” opens simply with night,paralysis and death which,as we have seen,point toward the final story.
Central words (they express men’s physical,moral,spiritual imperfections):
-gnomon (imperfect geometrical figure)
-simony (ecclesiastical sin**imperfection)
About the plot, almost nothing happens.
“The poor Father Flynn” is talked about by the old Cotter and the sisters and thought about or remembered by the boy.The story is mostly made of talk and memory from which we learn that Father Flynn was a queer one (un tipo strano),untidy,torpid and probably perverse.
Epiphany in the story:the boy’s nightmare of Father Flynn’s grey face and his murmured confession
Themes:- confession (in the dream)
– comunion (Father F. drops a chalice; when dead he “loosely” hold a chalice; the glass of winereceived by the boy at the table (altar).
An encounter-This story seems a continuation of “The sisters”.
-both stories are told in 1st person by the same boy,who’s now a little older;
in “The Sisters”**image of the father
in “An encounter”**image of the journey or,better,of the QUEST(=that is,journey with a goal).
This quest is for the PIGEON HOUSE,Dublin’s electric light and power station on the breakwater in the bay.
Symbols: – light and power suggest God;
– the pigeon**traditional icon of the Holy Ghost.
The boys never get to the Pigeon House.Their quest ends in frustration.They meet an old man near the bank of the Dodder.He really looks like Father Flynn because of his clothes,teeth and perversity.the old man is called by Mahony as a “queer old JOSSER”(un tipo molto strano)***nothing in Joyce is accidental.”JOSSER” can be English slang for a simpleton (sempliciotto).Thosuh this is not the right case.But the word can also be Pidgin English (**inglese semplificato misto ad elementi indigeni) fro a devotee of a Joss (=idolo) or a God.Probably not God,as some have thought, the pervert here may imply what men, unable to reach the Pigeon House (that is, The Trinity), find in place of him.
-ILLUSION AND DISILLUSIONMENT (desiring relief from the boredom of school and Dublin,the boy wants to escape**”green eyes”=symbol of escape).
-the green-eyed Norvegian sailor shouts “All right!All right!”(that seems commonplace)
-the boy meets a pervert with his bottle-green eyes.
Araby:another story of illusion,disillusionment and awareness.That North Ricmond Street,where the boy lives (and Joyce himself once lived) is not without meaning.In spite of its brown aspect (brown and yellow) are Joyce’s colors pf paralysis and decay) in this brown street we have the exciting figure of Mangan’s sister.Since Mangan,one of Joyce’s favorite poets, dedicated “Dark Rasaleen” to his country, it seems that Mangan’s sister is Ireland herself.This kind of “Sybil” talks about “Araby”,a bazaar,which promises “Eastern enchantment”.Talking about this enchanting place,Mangan’s siter pushes the boy to go there.Plus, in that way she starts the boy on his quest.With a florin in his hand, the boy arrives at the building displaying the “magical name”but it is too late for the shop was closing.
Epiphany of the story -silence (“it is like that which pervades a church after a service”)
-the stupid conversation of a young lady with two men (this is a typicalepiphany because it shows the emptiness of the moment and provides thesinking sensation)
The promise of enchantment has benn followed by disenchantment .
Last sentence (it shows the moment of realization):
“gazing up into the darkness I saw myself as a creature driven and derided by vanity”.
Eveline – This story is the best expression of Joyce’s paralysis. The plot is simple. This girl, who has a dull job and leats a dull life whit a brutal father, is offered escape by a sailor. But Irish paralysis frustrates her bold project. The end doesn’t show awareness but inability, arrest. Images, though less abundant than in the first three stories, are never insignificant. The most important images, however, include life and death:
– Dust finds its opposites in the good air of “Buenos Aires” and in the sea.
– Buenos Aires, never reached, is Eveline’s Pigeon House (connection with “an encounter”).
– Also in “Eveline”, as in each of the first three stories, there is a missing priest, represented here by a “Yellowing” photograph in the parlor.
After the race – This story was published during 1904. We notice a Joyce’s unfamiliarity with the subject. He almost didn’t know anything about cars, yachts etc. etc.. Such ignorance may explain the failure of this story. Jimmy, the protagonist, may represent Joyce during his tempopary infatuation with speed, elegance and machine.
Big admirer of Frenchmen, Hungarians, Englishmen and Americans, Jimmy finds in their cars and yachts his pigeon house and his Buenos Aires.
The bitter realization of his true condition comes with the grey light of day (that’s quite unnatural as well).