In the Dubliners Joyce trails the children in his stories from childhood to maturity gradually increasing in age from one story to the next. The characters in the first three stories are young enough to still entertain hopes and dreams of their adult lives and the adventures and experiences that they might have. These first three stories – ‘The Sisters’, ‘An Encounter’ and ‘Araby’ – are all set in the childhood stages of life. In all three of these stories the children come across as young, innocent and very nave.
Each one of the children in each of the stories learns or discovers at least one thing about the adult world that they live in. There are three words that describe the childhood world in Dublin at this time perfectly and they are isolation, paralysis and entrapment. In ‘The Sisters’ the boy discovers the reality of death when a close adult friend of his dies. At the beginning of the story he is intrigued by the world paralysis, ‘It filled me with fear, and yet I longed to be nearer it and to look upon its deadly work.
This boy had not come across the idea of confinement to one particular place or room like the dying priest was on his deathbed and the idea was a strange one for him. He wanted to understand it and when the priest dies the child grows to understand the idea a bit better. ‘The priest is said to have taught him a great deal, mind you; and they say he had a great wish for him. ‘ The priest assumed that the boy would want to go into the church without any discussion or ideas from the boy, this shows that during this time in Dublin the youth were guided by the adults around them, they followed on doing the same job as them.
The children of this time just thought that this is what happened and they didn’t have the choice of what they wanted to do as they entered adulthood, this is an example of entrapment in childhood. In ‘An Encounter’ the boy discovers the corruption of the adult world. As a child the boy believes that all adults are trusted. The boy meets this stranger and the man takes an unusual liking to the boy and pays a strange amount of attention to him.
There seems to be a sexual nature about the attention that he is paying to the boy and the boy does not see this at the beginning and speaks to the man about literature and school punishments but then the boy seem to understand that this is not the way that most adults have spoken to him before and he sees that something is strange about this and so tries to get away from the man. He had not seen this side of the adult world before and he then did not know how to react towards the people around him, he understands that not everyone is to be trusted. The boy in ‘Araby’ has just discovered a girl that he has strong feelings for.
He wants to please the girl and so he agrees that he will go to the bazaar on the other side of Dublin and buy her a present. From the story it seems that she is a bit older than the boy and seems to have had more experience of people of the other sex and knows how to manipulate the boy and enjoys how much she knows the boy likes her. In this story the boy discovers the opposite sex and the circulation that relationships and the opposite sex themselves can lead you into. The boy was so determined to go to the bazaar just to impress this girl, maybe he wouldn’t have gone if the girl didn’t want some thing from there.
There are lots of ideas of circulation in the three stories about childhood. At the time that Joyce has set these stories there was a lot of circulation in Dublin, the children would have found it very hard to get out of the way that people wanted them to react and behave. They would have found it hard to find a job for themselves most families had generations of their families in the same job and workplace it would even have been hard for them to leave Dublin and Ireland as there were not great opportunities at that time for these people.
All of the children in Dubliners live with their aunt and uncle whether this is because the children have been abandoned by their parents of have left with them due to professional or any other reason is not known, but this shows that there is a great sense of family based groups in Dublin at this time and there may not be a way of getting out of this – again, the idea of entrapment and circulation. I believe that children at the time that Joyce wrote the stories of children in the Dubliners were not aware of the dangers of the adult world around them.
In these particular stories these children discover death, the corruption of adulthood and the opposite sex. These are all very important this in the development towards adolescence and then adulthood. I think that Joyce was very aware of the development of children at this time and I believe that he conveys their youth and naivety very well in the stories that he wrote.