The first major work by James Joyce was Dubliners, which was published in the 1914. The publication was followed by a critical interpretation. Dubliners is as a collection of short stories. From the external appearance, James Joyce tried to unite his stories together under one title. Consequently, some of the critics considered that continental practitioners of the genre had the influence on James Joyce as a short story writer. Yet, there is no one who can deny that Joyce was an experimentalist; he continually built internal structure and shaped a symmetrical exterior structure seen in his work. He always experimented with short stories and worked with their internal resembles and the novel’s experimentation (Wachtel 93). Although Dubliners presents the 15 segments collection of stories that are separate entities, it also integrates all of the pieces into a sequentially organized art product. The unity in Dubliners is a question that is ever present; moreover, it demands a certain amount of the caution when formulating theories and trying to resolve the stories’ enigmatic problem.
Epiphany in Dubliners
According to the stories, the epiphany is obvious in each story to the readers and rarely to the characters of the stories. The word ‘epiphany’ was adapted from the religious term that referred to the Christ revelation divinity. James Joyce, however, referred to it as a sudden insight into oneself. He also meant a sudden manifestation when he talked about epiphany, whether it was the vulgarity of gesture or speech or a memorable phase of the mind itself. In his stories, he believed that the epiphanies were the most delicate moments of evanescence. For Joyce, this meant that any of the commonplace action or object could have brought about a sudden truth revelation and a deep understanding of life (Kenner 36). The major theme that runs throughout the Dubliners stories is the paralysis, both the moral and physical, which is linked to the religion, culture, and politics. All the citizens in Dublin are victims of the paralysis; the city is the heart of the paralysis. The epiphanies’ series is not simply about the paralysis but about the paralysis’ revelation to the victims.
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According to Joyce, the city was a center of paralysis as the citizens were denied the opportunities to grow and understand themselves with the social forces determining their lives. The theme of the insufficiency of the will was pursued in the final story “The Dead” through the stages of adolescence, childhood, adulthood, and the public life; and it, therefore, brightens the gloomy portrait of the moribund society through the recognition of hospitality and humor. Each of the deceptively simple stories always focuses on the epiphany (an insight moment into the society or a character). The brilliant and complex handling of the language and the structure, which suggests a deep meaning beneath the dull surface of the texts, as well as the technical virtuosity are there to illuminate the mythological, historical, social and political patterning that makes all impossible and serves as an assertion of the psychological freedom in Dublin of 1900.
In the story, protagonists are caught in some circumstances which are beyond their control; nevertheless, they pathetically surrender to them. They become victims of the self-deception, religious servility, colonialism, laziness, greed, clumsy educators, and the excessive desire for being socially accepted. It is only in “The Dead” that Joyce went on to indicating that his native Ireland might have spiritual resources for countering its malaise. When reading the work of Joyce, the reader gets excited about the possibility of playing with the multi dimensional subject (Peake 76). The work also presents itself as simple; nevertheless, through the scrutinizing of the puzzling symbols, most seen in the visual images, style changes and words choice, the naïve readers will conclude that the book is structured chronologically and develops from the childhood to the adolescence through the public life. The stages then build up and progressively show the inner Dubliners’ world; from disillusioned, frustrated and trapped youth, the characters turn into the passive adults who are non-productive and surrounded with the static social organizations in a paralyzed and dead society.
In Dubliners, each story has a central theme of the paralysis, which is characterized by a state of emotional helplessness and an inability to make right decisions or act. The paralysis is partially caused by the religious, political or social forces (Hart 82). Joyce was seeking for the detachment delusion of the characters. Nevertheless, through sudden spiritual insights that are presented in epiphanies by Joyce, the Dubliners’ characters recognized their inability to change their immediate situations, which were frustrating and within which they were trapped. The epiphanies can be decoded only by the readers that are able to understand multilayered images that Joyce painted using symbolism, metaphors, similes, and color contrasts.
In the Eveline short story, James Joyce introduces Eveline to the readers, a young woman, and talks about her life. This is yet another story or tale about the paralysis. This is a story of arduous adolescence and childhood full of anguish. According to the author, Eveline was bonded and heavily burdened, physically and mentally, by the parents and family (Ellmann 54). Eveline’s life is full of responsibilities and duties; however, when she is given a chance to release, she does not take it because of the fear and disbelief in her.
She had the chance to escape together with Frank, a man that she thought she loved, to another country far away to start a new life. However, Eveline decided to remain in her home country and continue living a gloomy and dreary life that she knew already. For the reader to understand why Eveline never pursued a better life, the reader needs to analyze the story with keenness. Evaline did not know Frank well enough and because of her fear of the unknown as well as due to the many attachments she had in her home, Eveline decides to stay. After focusing on the youthfulness full of disillusions and frustrations in the paralyzed society, the author continues to elaborate on the passivity of the adolescents in the same dying city. The journey began in “Eveline”, the fourth story in Dubliners. In this story, the author concentrates on the 19 years old girl internal conflict. The girl suffered from the threats and violence from her father, but still she was to keep her promise to take care of her two brothers given to the dying mother. She was supposed to be working in the Dublin stores department so that she could be able to support the family, but he dreamt of escaping with Frank, a sailor whom he loved. He was struggling as she had to choose between the gloomy reality and the positive future awaiting her if she escaped with the sailor Frank.
She yearns for her own life and independence; nevertheless, the family bonds seem to be stronger, although they may be rotten or decayed. It shows how strong family ties may be and that, at times, it is very difficult to let go, even if it proves to be unpleasant. It is very easier to cling to the old life and do waht it is required from you by others. She depicts a conflict that many women in the early 20 century in Dublin felt as they were to choose between the domestic lives that were rooted to the past and the possibility of the new married life abroad. The family and traditional bonds are very strong, particularly, when someone is afraid of a change and unpredictable future. According to Joyce, it is much easier to walk the path that is seen.
There is a vivid lack of movement and stillness in Dubliners in general and in the Eveline story, in particular, which is also explained by Brewster Ghiselin in one of his articles “The Unity of the Dubliners”. The symbolic paralysis in Dubliners further complicates the meaning of the movement, which Joyce himself termed as an arrest forced from within. It is caused not by the nets of the outside circumstances, but by the deficiency of power and impulse. In the first three sentences of “Eveline”, stillness can be seen:
It is said that she was sitting at the window while watching the avenue being invaded with the evening. Her head leaned against window curtains and her nostril was full of dusty cretonne odour. She was very tired.
Even though the third sentence was very brief, the reader is convinced of the exhaustion of Eveline. She was tired of the life she lived in Ireland for she had to work hard on a daily basis to support the family and to take care of her two brothers (Eggers 73). Her exhaustion was multiplied by her father’s violence. In her 19, Eveline still felt being in danger because of her father. In the story, the horrible character of Eveline’s father is a metaphor for Ireland imprisonment. Nevertheless, the words the dusk and invade give the readers a sense of the passivity by Eveline. The fatigue she felt was not merely physical; it was the mental weariness as well as he she reached an impasse.
Eveline comes from a religious family: when alive, her mother was a catholic, and her brother Harry decorates churches. Eveline’s father words, “Damned Italians!, Coming over here!”, make the reader understand the power the Rome church had and how it affected even very distant Ireland. It is interesting that Eveline’s paralysis is always preceded by the prayers to God.
On the other hand, Eveline was thinking of Frank and how different he was. She was about to start another life with Frank, who was very kind, open hearted, and manly. They planned to leave at night using a boat, and she was to be his wife and stay in Buenos Ayres, where he had a home. Eveline liked Frank because of his character as he differed from all the men in Dublin. Moreover, he was a sailor and he had travelled all over the world; Eveline enjoyed listening to his stories. According to the author, Frank was the only one that could assist Eveline in escaping from the miserable and hard life that she lived. When she realized that it was impossible to bear her miserable life, she kept on questioning herself if it was wise to leave her family and home.
The punctuation and the metaphors seen in the narration were arranged in such a manner for a purpose. In the beginning of the story, the reader gets the impression that the thoughts of Eveline are controlled logically. Nevertheless, towards the end, the language of Eveline becomes tense and then it is moved by the irregular and rapid motion, which gives readers a deeper sense of emotions of Eveline:
She stood up in a sudden impulse of terror. Escape! She must escape! Frank would save her. He would give her life, perhaps love, too. But she wanted to live. Why should she be unhappy? She had a right to happiness. Frank would take her in his arms, fold her in his arms. He would save her (33).
In the story, the changes from interior monologue to alternating narration, from scenes to feelings of Eveline help the reader to understand Eveline’s interior emotions fully, while the simile used in the last paragraph also produces the necessary effects. “She set her white face to him, passive, like a helpless animal. Her eyes gave him no sign of love or farewell or recognition” (34).
In addition, the paralysis theme also dominates Eveline’s thoughts, which is the major problem from which Eveline as well as the other characters in Dubliners suffer. Due to her fear to move away from Ireland, she feels paralyzed. This is all about her mind state: her situation reduced her reaction and made her helpless and passive. When comparing Eveline to an animal, the narrator did not suggest in any way that Eveline is sub-human; he simply points out that her condition is very severe as she is paralyzing with fear. When she received her epiphany, Eveline finds it much easier to continue living her old hard life than to confront the fear in her and discover a new life with Frank.
In another story, “The Dead”, James Joyce uses a character Michael Furey to show the apparent power of love that is continuous and steadfast. In the story, the Michael’s love dominates over the protagonist’s love, who is Gabriel Conroy. Gabriel is also faced with an intense question of whether he was loved by his wife, or whether he loved her honestly. Substantial information was given to persuade the reader that he did not truly love his wife. Although it was made evident to the readers that Gabriel had some adoration and devotion to Gretta, Gabriel’s confidence is diverted by Michael’s love. This forced Gabriel to come in terms with his life, understanding that he leads a different life from that of Michael. Through the process of misleading realization, he allowed himself to join many of the living dead in the Dublin community.
When the reader of Dubliners gets to the last story of “The Dead”,the reader will definitely understand why most of the characters in the story wished to avoid or escape from their world. This was the world in which human beings were not able to know each other, even the couples or the ones they were intimate with. “The Dead” brings up the isolation concept, the wish to escape, and miscommunication presented by Joyce. Conroy Gabriel is a character that also wished to escape, according to the author. The catholic Ireland dominating the dreams of its citizens detached Gabriel from his mother country. Also, Joyce used the symbols when showing the inability of Conroy to escape. For instance, he used galoshes in this case. According to the author, Gabriel’s medium to escape is to walk in his shoes, the galoshes. Furthermore, the same galoshes are covered all over by snow, which is an isolation symbol. Gabriel was trying to hide his wish to escape and his identity from the people who surround him, while continuing to scrap his feet vigorously. Gabriel never understood them until the last scene when he discovered that his wife and he were in very different and separate worlds. While he thought of happy moments spent in his marriage, the wife Gretta was thinking about her girlhood love.
In this case, the scene when Gabriel saw Gretta standing on the stairways is, therefore, a metaphor; the distance that connects and separates other people and Gabriel depicts his isolation. Moreover, when Gretta told her girlhood love story told to Gabriel and also dried her eyes like a child with the back of the hand, Gabriel saw the little girl in his wife that he had never seen. It is also vivid in this scene that Gretta was trying to be separate from Gabriel. Further, she showed Gabriel that he had the limited understanding of his identity and was unfamiliar with the role of a husband. James Joyce shows that the love depends on the level of separation or unity, not on the subordination or possession of each other.
The jealousy by Gabriel of Furey Michael comes not from the girlhood love memories of his wife; it was a sudden realization by Gabriel of his reality and his inability to love like Michael. It was also his epiphany of understanding his isolation and his inability even to communicate with the wife. When looking through one of his windows, Gabriel saw snow; it was upon every area in the lonely churchyard that the snow was falling and it thickly lay drifted on crooked crosses. It was a symbol of isolation that covered all Ireland. It was symbolizing the religious rules, which made most of the people self isolated and unable to communicate with others.
Dubliners’ eighth story “A little cloud” also has a paralysis as a theme. Nevertheless, juxtaposition technique of Joyce involves the things being thought and the things being said uniting the on-going events in the mind of Chandler and the told events. It is, however, interesting how the physical environment is presented by the narrator. While Chandler was approaching his friend, ignoring their past and his physical environment, the narrator uses a rhythmical striking language. The character is unable to recognize his environment and identity; he is paralyzed; he is like a little cloud moving in the sky without destination, up to when his miserable epiphany was found at the end of the story.
In the story, a symbolic cloud represents the effeminacy and fragility that the little Chandler holds in his personality. He gives much attention and cares of his appearance as it is a social order. This is the only thing he can somehow control. It is his endeavor to grasp the situation, as he is a man who does not get what he wants nor does he become whom he likes. Whenever Chandler thinks about his life and observes people all over in the park, he feels melancholia. Little Chandler’s most scrupulous suit is the common remnant of his long stifled desire for the passion.
James Joyce uses foil technique in the short story “A Little Cloud”. The character of Gallaher, a friend of Chandler, was used to emphasize the miserable state of Little Chandler in this story. The traits of Gallaher sharply contrasted with those of Chandler. The two of them are also different from one another physically. Gallaher is seen as a very heavy man with unhealthy pallor look, whereas the Little Chandler is very refined just under the male average stature. Chandler is said to be wearing a moustache and he had very fine silken hair; and Gallaher is said to be balding but he was very clean shaven. Gallaher is also described to be having a heavy face, shapeless and long lips with no color hint in them, and the eyes that are bluish, which were reliving his shabby look. Joyce then describes Chandler as a very fragile man with small hands that are white in color, thus displaying his nails perfectly, with a mouth that is lined with the childish white teeth.
According to the story “little” Chandler got his name because he resembled ‘a little man’. First, the theme of paralysis is clearly brought about by the Little Chandler’s office location in “king’s inn.” The building’s name shows the dominance of the English in Ireland. On the contrary, when little Chandler sits in his office and watches figurers passing by his window, th readers gain a similar sense of passivity, which was already encountered by the readers in “Eveline”. Thus, the office of Chandler is a symbol of his initial imprisonment.
His position and his dull, uninteresting job do not satisfy him apart from his feeling of pleasure at the workday’s end, which symbolizes his acceptance of paralysis as his destiny. However, the conversation the narrator had with his old friend in bar is a temporary escape from his paralyzed situation. Nevertheless, it ends with the Chandler’s frustration and jealousy when he compares the position of the friend in Britain and his dull job. The jealousy also makes him think of Gallagher and his inferiority in education and birth. Furthermore, if he was not shy, Chandler would have achieved more (Herring 50). Later, Joyce gives a glimpse of the domestic life of Chandler and it is seen that the whole family is paralyzed. When Chandler holds the little child, he realizes how unhappy he is with everything about his life, also including his wife. The baby’s cry symbolizes the Chandler’s desperate cry. He also recognizes that he was a prisoner for life. The tragic epiphany of Chandler is his own fault. The paralysis theme in the story is repeated severally to represent an unproductive and unhappy man in maturity stage that was trapped between incomplete identification and political as well as social constraints and norms.
According to Joyce, the sufferings that the characters in his story undergo are caused by the same factors which make people suffer nowadays as well. Due to the traditional, cultural, political or religious norms and rules, most of the people end up living under pressure that limits their hearts and minds. The pressure also distorts their identities until they end up losing their self and accept the wide spread self oppressive style of living. Consequently, the views of people on life become narrower, their minds and hearts then become rigid, and they morally die years before they die physically.
Joyce’s writing is always puzzling. Joyce’s message to Dublin people becomes well understood by the readers when they disclose the symbols. Furthermore, Joyce engages the readers with a special theme of paralysis affecting the Dubliners. The paralysis which Joyce wishes his people in Dublin to be aware of and detach from is well explained in the stories (Beck 64). Joyce considers epiphanies as his creative invention in fiction, and diverse writing techniques are, therefore, employed to make the readers fully comprehend the message. The author wants to be people to have their own position in the world; they should be aware of the special traps, such as political and religious expectations. It is only when detachment occurs, people may be considered free, and thus alive.
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