James Augustine Aloysius Joyce was a writer and a poet, born on February 2nd 1882. He is widely considered as one of the most influential writers of the 20th century. James lived in Dublin and was the eldest of a family of ten. James’ father and mother were devoted Irish Catholics. His father, John was known for spending large sums of money and drinking a lot of alcohol. This made it difficult for the Joyce family to retain social standings. James expressed his difficult childhood in his writing. E. g. In the story of Eveline, Eveline has to deal with a drunken father and living on little income.
James went to Clongowes School in 1888, which was a Jesuit institution. He then went on to Belvedere College where he decided to enter the priesthood, which pleased his religious parents. After getting in contact with members of the “Irish Literary Renaissance”, he became bored with the idea. Soon he became critical of Ireland and its religion. In 1902, Joyce decided to leave Ireland and pursue a medical career in France. Joyce did not return to Ireland until the death of his mother. James then took up residence in Paris, where he began to write.
In 1905, Joyce produced his first book, “Dubliners”, but it was not published until 1913. During this time, he met an Irish woman called Nora Barnacle. They did not marry, but had two children. All in all Joyce wrote a total of four books, “A portrait of an Artist as a Young Man”, “Ulysses”, “Finnegan’s Wake” and of course “Dubliners”. James Joyce died from a stomach ulcer aged 58 in 1941. After Joyce’s death, people became interested in his work. Even today, “Ulysses” stands as the distinctive text of the Anglo-American modernist movement marking Joyce’s creative genius and premier abilities as a stylist of the English language.
I think that the statement “Dubliners is essentially a collection of tales depicting trapped characters, thwarted ambitions and wasted opportunities” is accurate, but I also think that there is a lot more that contributes to make up Dubliners. There are eight main themes in this novel. The first and foremost theme is the stages of life. Joyce writes the eight tales that make up Dubliners in order of age. He begins with younger characters and continues with tales based on gradually older protagonists. The next theme involves poverty and class difference.
The author sees mostly only the negative part of Dublin and its people. A lot of the characters in the tales are lower or middle class. Another theme is alcoholism. Joyce merges alcoholism with thwarted ambitions. Irish politics and colonisation is a recurring topic. “Ivy in the Committee Room” is a tale in Dubliners that is nearly completely committed to this theme. The fourth theme is longing for escape (or trapped characters). The author was obsessed with the liberating feeling of fleeing Ireland and he applies this obsession to many of the characters in Dubliners.
Another subject is defeat, imprisonment and paralysis. Due to Dublin’s defeated status, Joyce makes it clear that many of the characters feel trapped and are not able to leave Ireland. This theme is closely related to Isolation. Many characters are lonely and a lot of miscommunication occurs. Death or Mortality is the final theme in Dubliners. It is a natural theme of Joyce’s life structure. All eight of Joyce’s tales that make up the novel are packed full of these themes. I have chosen to analyse An Encounter, Araby, Eveline and The Dead. An Encounter is about two young boys who long for escape from school life.
They play hooky and wonder around some of Dublin’s poorer areas, finally across a very strange man, who my have some dark intensions. One of the main themes this tale is longing to escape. The boys play cowboys and Indians that is a symbol that they want to leave the tiny world of Dublin. The story starts with talk about the American frontier, which is a symbol for freedom and adventure. The boys walk around the poorer areas of Dublin, which addresses poverty. The main characters in this tale are in their boyhood, which means that they are too young to leave Ireland.
They plan to reach the pigeon house as a final destination, but due to their tired legs, they forget the idea. This becomes a thwarted ambition. Isolation and miscommunication is a reoccurring theme in An Encounter. When the boys meet the strange man, they do not recognise the danger of him. Araby is a short story about a boy from a poor family, who hopes to win over a girl’s affection by buying her a gift from a bazaar. When he goes to the bazaar, he finds nothing but frustration because they are about to close. The main themes that the story explores are defeat, alcoholism, isolation and paralysis.
As the boy waits his uncle’s return from the pub, so that he can go to the bazaar, the reader feels fear of defeat building. There are lots of hurdles the boy has to overcome to get to the bazaar before closing time. His fear of defeat and isolation increases even more when he finds that many of the items are too expensive (this highlights poverty). Paralysis is felt when he has no idea what is going to become of his relationship with the girl. The difficulty at the bazaar is a symbol of the difficulty there is in the adult world, in which the boy cannot navigate.
This story is similar to the point in Joyce’s life when he had just begun to establish his life as an adult, coping with fear of poverty, isolation and longing to escape. Eveline is a story about a nineteen-year-old girl. The main character Eveline, escape is through a sailor called Frank, who offers her a new life in Buenos Aires. At the end of the tale she is too frightened to leave Dublin. Like An Encounter, Eveline focuses on the theme of escape. While the young boys in the previous stories are two young to leave Ireland or escape from their poverty, Eveline is old enough and has been given a chance to leave.
Though, in the end she does not take it. Poverty is an important theme in Eveline. Joyce describes in great detail the terrible poverty and the pressure of Eveline’s situation. Isolation appears: Eveline is a lonely character. She looks after her father who abuses her. She dedicates her whole life to looking after her family yet she has no one to talk to or express her feelings with. This results in her personality being trapped and controlled by others. Paralysis is a main theme in this story. At the end Eveline finds herself unable to move forward.
She does not have the strength to leave her oppressive situation and leave Ireland for good. You get the feeling that half of Eveline wants to leave but the other will not leave her family. She will probably have a dismal future that may end in the same fate as her mother (death). This is a wasted opportunity. The Dead is the last story in the novel. It is about a holiday season dance where Aunt Julia and Aunt Kate entertain a wide range of guests. Among them is their nephew Gabriel, who makes a speech honouring his aunts. Later that night, Gabriel finds himself swept away with passion for his wife Gretta.
However, when they return to their hotel room, he finds that she is thinking about her first love, Michael Furey who died for her. Many themes are touched on in The Dead. At the dinner party, you see a hint of poverty in the character of Lily, whose family is poor. The reader sees political divisions in Ireland in the conversation between Gabriel and Miss Ivors. There is also criticism of the church Aunt Kate speaks about the discrimination of the pope to exclude woman from church choirs. Difference in class appears when Gabriel thinks that his speech may be too cast for his audience.
Irish politics comes up again in the tale. Miss Ivors accuses Gabriel of being disloyal to Ireland. The theme of isolation and miscommunication comes most strongly after the party, when Gabriel spends the whole journey thinking about some of the good times he had with his wife. Gretta is thinking near the exact opposite. She is thinking of the love that she had with Michael Furey in her girlhood. The result, after Gretta telling Gabriel about her first lover, is Gabriel admitting to himself that he had never felt so strong for a woman, that her would die for her, as Michael Furey did.
One of the key themes in “The Dead” is mortality (beginning with the title). The story is set in winter, which is the season of death. The old aunts in their old house symbolises death not being far away. Gabriel thinks that he will be back at the house soon for the aunts’ funerals. The major part of mortality is the death of Gretta’s first love. The separation of the dead becomes a separation for the living. Joyce joins the themes of mortality and isolation together. Gabriel feels like he is already dead although he is just living in isolation.
I strongly agree that Dubliners is a collection of tales with trapped characters, thwarted ambitions and wasted opportunities. In the stories that I have discussed, I have attempted to highlight these areas. In each of the stories however, I do feel that Eveline reflects these themes most strongly. The main character in Eveline seems trapped because of her family’s dependency on her. She harbours ambitions of going to Argentina and wastes the opportunities of love, wealth, happiness and a new beginning. In Araby, the main character appears trapped due to poverty.
He is too young to do anything about this. The main characters ambition is to buy a gift for a girl that he is fond of. He wastes an opportunity to build a relationship with the girl. An Encounter has a similar theme with trapped characters with that the characters are trapped by youth. The boys did not reach their ambition to get to the pigeon house. The boys had an opportunity to get away from the strange old man but they wasted it. In The Dead, there is emphasis on wasted opportunities, the main one being Michael Furey dying for Gretta and characters approaching death.