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“Dubliners” of James Joyce is a unique work of literature in many senses. The primary outstanding feature of this book lies in the very structure of it. It consists of four major elements, that in turn consist of few stories that are not connected with each other but the reader somehow realizes that they all talk about common things that were present in Irish society at that time. The order of the stories is specifically designed to show the reader how the characters of the book are growing and changing their views and attitudes. Joyce was a master of constructing books in such a way so that he could convey deep meaning to the reader not only through the master theme but also with the help of systematically, almost geometrically organized stories and events. Evidently such approach made possible designing a masterpiece of “Dubliners” in which fourfold composition was meant to describe people who were born, matured and died in Dublin.
Through the first section of the book James Joyce is portraying childhood. It is interesting to observe that all three stories of the childhood section are told from the first person and we as readers become totally submerged into the world seen through the eyes of ten-year old boys. Such a sincere and receptive tone of the stories communicates the feeling of innocence which is accompanying the heroes. The author thus sees these boys as young people unspoiled by the society outside of their imaginary world. As Joyce says “I have written it for the most part in a style of scrupulous meanness..”(Gorman v-iv), this line was about “Dubliners”. Comparing the actual work and this characteristic of the author it becomes evident that indeed his characters are quite boring and subtle in what they do and say. Their images according to Joyce are all the same and that is where the “paralysis” theme is uncovered.
The first story in “Dubliners” is “The sisters” it sets the tone for the entire book. It starts with a quiet depressing line: “There was no hope for him this time: it was the third stroke.” (Joyce 4). Clearly James Joyce here attempts to tell the reader what he thinks of citizens of his native city altogether. Such sad beginning can hardly lead to the positive ending, as we see it happen in the end of the book. In this short story the author shows how the world of adults and childhood is clashing and how the two can barely understand each other. So a little boy who finds out about his friend’s death does not know how to behave in a standard way as adults do. He meets face to face with loss of someone who was dear to him and who truly understood him. This event brings a new realization of how things really are for the boy as he can see the dead priest in a different light. His aunt and Father Flynn’s sister are talking about him: “He was too scrupulous always, she said.” (Joyce 10) and this new image that is painted by them appears to be somewhat unusual for the boy. That is when he comprehends that he is not a youngster without his own thoughts and ideas, but he perceives himself as an individual. Such change in boy’s perception of the world is crucial as it implies that he will be no longer dreaming like children do but will be immersed in environment where society rules and where religion is a light in the end of the tunnel not a vivid life around them.
Obviously the author is hinting on the general mood of Dublin’s life and its inhabitants. By dramatically depicting death of the priest and gloomy relatives, he gives the reader an illustration of what is happening to the people in the city, especially those religiously inclined. Letting the priest die on the first page of the book, he thus already concludes that religion with its ancient texts does not provide answers to the question of happiness and contentment in life. Irony of “The Sisters” matures from the idea that the boy was almost in love with the priest and thought of him as authority. When he dies however, it appears that he was going mad. This controversy serves for James as the basis for proving his idea that religious truths have little to do with the real world in most instances. Although the boy believes his friend, he needs to wake up from the perfect dream and meet with reality in which things are not as positive looking as in the sacred Latin texts. “The Sisters” as the first book out of fifteen in “Dubliners” demonstrates that Irish society is deeply paralyzed by disagreement between rules that are imposed on its members and process of moral decay that is constantly developing in the city’s streets. Human inability to decide how to live in accordance with their natural wishes concerns the author who is depicting low-spirited people living as if they were waiting to die any minute.
In the second set of stories that Joyce considered adolescence period, “After the Race” is a significant one for a few reasons. It introduces a group of fellows, representatives from different countries who are somehow united. Clearly the three gentlemen from France and Hungary have found a common ground in their education and interests that they shared. All three of them were foreigners in Dublin and that made them such a unique crowd. Jimmy was with them, although he was too excited by the mere thought of it to actually understand and enjoy things that were happening around him. In this story James Joyce specifically indicates that even young people in his city were poisoned by the perception of wealth and money power, but moreover a social status-class. It is a known fact that social class in Ireland and Great Britain is of great importance and means even more than personal qualities, it is like a verdict which defines personality.
In this story Joyce gives Jimmy, the main character, his father’s money and education that was enough to be elevated in class. It seems that those things would be enough to provide Jimmy with respect and high standing. Ironically, it does satisfy the requirements of the society, but the hero himself cannot agree with his destiny. He is depressed by the fact that he is not that noble and is not born in the aristocratic family like his new French friends. The idea behind this is that he feels oppressed and does not fit into this group of people, although he really wants to appear as equal. Again in the beginning of “After the Race”, Joyce expresses his initial attitude toward people like Jimmy: “Now and again the clumps of people raised the cheer of the gratefully oppressed”(Joyce 37). This line is characterizing people such as Jimmy, who are willing to be psychologically oppressed if they only are considered a part of the upper-class. The author lets the ready know that Jimmy understands that he is not fitting in and does not have what it takes to be as witty and as clever as his friends, but what matter to him is this: “He had been seen by many of his friends that day in the company of these Continentals.” (Joyce 39). Such shallow comprehension of happiness is undeniably criticized by James Joyce.
Describing dinner in its outrageous falsity the author stresses how shallow Jimmy’s family as a whole part of the Irish society is. They are proud of their son’s acquaintances only because they have foreign names, and his father even talks to the Hungarian although he is very poor. It is hard to believe that society described by James Joyce in “Dubliners” wanted to mimic all the “great” other countries and were losing their own identity as a nation. This was especially well seen from a distance that Joyce was writing his book. He was not in Dublin when he created his masterpiece; being away gave him a different prospective on the city and its residents. Citizens such as Jimmy are caught in paralysis and seem to have no way out, although they are able to control to some events in their lives and avoid troubles. “He knew that he would regret in the morning but at present he was glad of the rest, glad of the dark stupor that would cover up his folly.” (Joyce 44) that is how Jimmy thinks when he loses game after game on the yacht. He is unable to control himself and can’t stop losing his father’s money. The author does not give explanation, as to why he acts the way he does, but one thing is apparent- he is trapped in a stupor and it is beyond his power to turn around and walk away.
Epiphany that Joyce includes in every story is meant to bring revelation to the heroes if only for a moment and give them the insight on reality of what is happening around them. “Daybreak, gentlemen!” is such epiphany in Jimmy’s case, who would see that the night has ended with its vicious traps that have captured his mind. By contrasting the daylight with the night’s troubles the author deepens the feeling of deception that the characters are living with.
Third part of the book is meant to contain maturity stage of a person living in Dublin in the middle of the twenty’s century. “He took up his pen and dipped it in the ink but he continued to stare stupidly at the last words he had written”(Joyce 89) this was the way how many people in the city existed according to James Joyce. Farrington who is a copier is living a pitiful live, he understands that all ingredients of it only enrage him but do not bring satisfaction. He is not a young fellow anymore like those in “After the Race” and there is hardly any chance that the course of his life will change. This sad circumstance, Joyce intensifies by description of Farrington’s inner rage and violence for people at work, wife and children at home and his general sense of frustration in all spheres of his existence. Obviously such situation is not a rare one even in our modern society, when people are strapped in circumstances that they probably have never envisioned for themselves. The real world appears to be a cruel and difficult place to survive in and such reality hits the hero of “Counterparts”. Thus he is choosing to hide in the bars with his so called friends drinking himself to unconscious state in which he wishes to stay most of the time seeking escape from his problems.
Hopelessness is one word that can describe the situation in which Farrington has found himself. This single episode accumulates the entire section of Irish society that was stuck in problems because of drinking and unwillingness to change their lives. Too lazy and too scared to act in order to start living a happy life was too much of a task. Stagnation in existence of such Farringtons caused them to give birth to the same kind of people as they were unable to provide a better example, and society kept locked in this paralyzed circle. The final and most symbolic part of the book is called “the public life”, needless to say that the author has named it for specific reasons. Three previous sections represented phases in a person’s life but the last one is a picture of the entire society, in which individuals are shaping the norms and views that in turn affect society as a whole. Gabriel Conroy is the main character in the last story “The Dead” that takes place at the holiday dance. Clearly the setting of it plays a separate role that has to emphasize the reality as opposed to that one during the ball. The entire story is built around Gabriel and his encounters with other guests. Those experiences are not of a pleasant character for him because they are forcing him to come out of his shell of egocentrism and selfishness. Joyce intends to reveal the notion of objectivity in Gabriel’s epiphany and thus show how everyone in the society is connected. His epiphany illustrates that an objective perspective can lead to genuine sympathy between people that is caused by realization of human mortality. The author in his story calls for unity in people and uses tools such as death and despair in his writing, as those symbols signify important things in everybody’s life and make people realize and appreciate what they have. Once again Joyce’s genius found a way to convey his thoughts through masterful writing.
“Dubliners” is a work of art that requires scrupulous investigation and knowledge of historical background of Ireland. It paints a picture of individual’s life from childhood to being a public figure, or a merely dead body according to the author. He shows how children stop dreaming and seeing life in through pink glasses and how their illusions are broken by death of a friend. Adolescence as a second step in life requires clever decisions and strong will, without which future happiness is hardly reachable. This point is proved in a third fragment of a movie called life and people who were not careful during early years will pay for it when maturity comes. Transformations that each individual has to undergo in life Joyce reduced to the size of the book in attempt to depict a “moral history” (Gorman v-iv) of his city according to his own words. He is not being very sympathetic with his fellow countrymen who are kept paralyzed by either: religious misconceptions, dissatisfaction of personal status or simple laziness. Joyce however is being generous sometimes and grants Dubliners a glimpse of truth and reality that is lost in every day’s routine and social constrains.
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