Similarities and Traditions of Ireland in Joyce’s Short Stories

June 22, 2022 by Essay Writer

James Joyce’s Dubliners is a collection of short stories that aims to portray Ireland, its people, and its issues. With the use of three short stories written by Joyce “Araby”, “Eveline” and “After the Race”, and the help of five secondary sources from Blake G.Hobby “Alienation in James Joyce’s Dubliners”, Neil Murphy “James Joyce’s Dubliners and Modernist Doubt: The Making of a Tradition”, Patrick Parrinder “Dubliners”, Susan V. Scaff “The Work of James Joyce”, and William York Tindall “The Escape Theme” ; we will see the similarities between these three short stories. Even though the characters have a balanced life, a job, a family and friends, they want to escape from their situation and the authorities that put pressure on them like Church and family. However, when they finally have the opportunity to flee, they become paralyzed and disappointed by reality. Thus, Joyce shows that the characters are influenced by the sociopolitical context of Ireland at that time.

Religion is a common theme in these three stories. In fact, the Church is represented through different elements and it influences the characters’ behavior. As reported by Susan V. Scaff, “the Catholic Church left its mark on the Irishman, its rigid mores producing in him an instinct to flee” (1). In “Araby”, the narrator is surrounded by religion because he lives in a house whose former tenant was a priest, he died and left his religious belongings. Joyce describes the house as an old and dirty place, which express a rebellion against the Catholic heritage. The boy attends a Roman Catholic school and all of the people around him are Catholic. Also, Patrick Parrinder states that “an anticlericalism is to be found in a much earlier Dubliners story, ‘Eveline’” (8) because she prays to God and asks for guidance with her decision-making. However, religion is represented with guilt, sacrifice, and promises. She made sacrifices by caring for her family, her duties and “she had hard work to keep the house together and to see that the two young children, who had been left to her charge went to school regularly” (Joyce 603). Also, she feels obligated to fulfill the promises she made to her mother on the deathbed, and to God, that is “to keep the home together as long as she could” (Joyce 604). Joyce critiques religion since Eveline’s guilt causes her to stay in Dublin. Moreover, Jimmy Doyle was educated in a “big Catholic college” and he studied at Dublin University, which was associated with the English Protestant ruling elite at this time because of the British occupation. Susan V. Scaff reports that some “doubts about the priests’ authority are modeled” in the three stories (3). Indeed, Joyce denigrates the Catholic Church in his writing because he considers that religion delays Ireland’s development. For him, the Church is taking a huge part in Irish people’s lives and as it influences their decision, they end up making mistakes that put them into an endless cycle of sadness and negative feelings. That is why Patrick Parrinder says, “the Church, in Joyce’s eyes, represents a humane and more subtle system of repression” (9). The Catholic Church takes advantage of the people by making them believe in great accomplishment and a better life, while it is the opposite for the characters. They finally realize that it was a fake idealization.

The three short stories take place in a dark environment where death is present in people’s lives and in Ireland because the country was occupied by England. Thus, Joyce symbolizes a state of inaction, as if the country was dying, and people’s lives have stopped. In “Araby”, the death of the priest emphasizes the morbid description of the house. The description emphasizes the presence of death, the darkness, and stench. In the end, the narrator says, ‘Gazing up into the darkness I saw myself as a creature driven and derided by vanity, and my eyes burned with anguish and anger’ (Joyce 366). It gives a presentiment of death and no future for the young boy. Eveline has been left behind, either by people dying or leaving. Her brothers have left her, and her mother is like a ghost, she is still haunting her with the promise she made.

Even though the characters have family and friends, they are isolated. The boy in “Araby” daydream because of unrequited love; Eveline is far from her lover Frank who is in Argentina, and Jimmy Doyle ends up alone, “rested his head between his hands, counting the beats of his temple” (Joyce 38). The characters seem to be lonely, in a morbid and heavy atmosphere. Life in Dublin, according to Joyce, is death. Irish people were not living at their fullest and the darkness was upon them. The religious references also suggest that religion make Dubliners think that their undesirable life will end and a better one will start. For instance, Eveline “wanted to live she had the right to happiness” (Joyce 604), as if a new life was about to start. According to Susan V. Scaff, “Joyce makes the Christian belief in death and resurrection the fundamental motif” (4). Thus, death is not a sensitive subject for Joyce because although the characters are unhappy in their current life, they still have the possibility to reincarnate.

According to William York Tindall, an escape can have three different aspects. It can be negative if the goal is to get away from an intolerable situation. It can positive if the objective is to find freedom and to create a new life. The third reason to escape is for a romantic purpose. In the three stories of Dubliners, the characters want to escape because they become aware of their undesirable life. In “Araby”, the boy challenges the expectations imposed on him by the family, nation, and religion because he thinks that the bazaar is the solution to find happiness and love. His opportunities to escape is the love for Mangan’s sister and the journey to the bazaar. Eveline aims to escape his home in Dublin, which reminds her of her childhood, her violent father, and her dead mother. Unlike the boy in “Araby”, she has a concrete plan to go to Argentina, “she must escape, Frank would save her, he would give her life, perhaps love, too” (Joyce 604). In “After the Race”, Jimmy Doyle, attempts to escape his responsibilities as a student, and as a man. Jimmy’s father pays for Jimmy to be educated and does not encourage his son to work, so Jimmy is financially dependent on his father. Symbolically, the characters want to escape the grip that Ireland and the religion have on them. They want a better life where they will be safe, and they will find freedom and love. Blake G. Hobby states “rituals with awkward silences and musical parodies in Dubliners call attention to the alienated state of the city dwellers, highlight their need to escape” (1).

In “Araby”, the music of the British coins reminds us that Ireland was occupied by England; “Eveline” contains many allusions to the heart and heartbeats as if she was anxious about staying in Ireland; and in “After the Race”, the music played during the dinner distracts Jimmy Doyle from the reality of his life in Dublin. According to Susan V. Scaff, Joyce wonders how characters can “revive and renew themselves, whether in their family or their religious lives or in the grander theater of history” (1). The characters embody the Irish people who do not want to stay in their “home”. They want to find the security and attachment in adulthood to let their power bloom. Susan V. Scaff states that “Joyce develops the theme of paralysis as early as Dubliners, describing scenes of fright, reticence, immobility and passive retreat into the safety of home and family” (1). In fact, the hopefulness or contentment gives way really fast to despair, vanity, anguish, anger, and shame. Every character is paralyzed and struggles to make good decisions. In these stories, not many of their futures look bright because the characters are locked in a disenchantment as if they could never be happy. According to Friedrich Nietzsche and Sigmund Freud in “Alienation in James Joyce’s Dubliners”, a disillusioned person is “isolated, filled with inner conflict and anxiety, suppressed by institutions and cultural values, and acting out in irritated rebellion against the established order and accepted forms” (1). In “Araby”, when the boy reaches the market, he is disappointed by the reality of what he finds “porcelain vases and flowered tea-sets”, as well as people talking in English accent (Joyce 365). Again, Joyce reminds us of the occupation of Ireland at that time. Blake G. Hobby states that “he vaults his own suffering, fictively creating himself ‘as a creature driven and derided by vanity,’ one whose own suffering and disillusionment are great” (1). The young boy realizes that the bazaar is not as an exotic escape as he expected. He is still in his own regular world, and his love for Mangan’s sister is also a fake escape, a vanity, a mistaken belief of his own specialness. For Neil Murphy, “’Araby concludes in resounding ambiguity mystery, insecure meaning, and uncertainty”(2)

Eveline plans to flee Ireland with her lover to a better life, but at the last moment, she finds flight ‘impossible’, she freezes, and turns ‘her white face to him, passive like a helpless animal’ (Joyce 604). By staying in Ireland, Eveline remains unhappy and self-destructs. Neil Murphy notices that the “heroine is across multiple temporal zones, despite her spatial immobility” (2). In fact, Joyce describes Eveline’s childhood when she used to live with her brothers and her parents, he relates the first time Eveline met Frank, as well as her future life in Argentina. Even though Eveline is physically in Ireland, Joyce tells us about her memories, her personal reflections and the environment. She cannot move with Frank because she is afraid, she is mentally trapped, and she does not have the courage to leave Ireland. She would rather stay with a life that she is familiar with, even though she is not fully happy. For Neil Murphy, Joyce’s characters are “suffering from paralysis of will, energy and imagination, the narrative is focused around the minds and inward experiences” (1). Jimmy Doyle is paralyzed during a moment of revelation in which he recognizes the truth of his situation, but he does nothing to change it because he keeps being an unproductive citizen, fooling around with his friends, and spending his father’s money. After he loses ruinously at cards, Jimmy hangs his head in his hands and finds himself sitting alone and terribly in debt. Patrick Parrinder states “the man’s obsession is a form of mental and emotional paralysis” (8) because he will do it again and he will regret later. The support given by his father is detrimental to Jimmy’s success and he realizes that he hasn’t accomplished anything. Jimmy’s father wants the best for his son, but he is actually doing a disservice by paying up all of his bills, not pushing him to finish college, and only wanting him to make friends in high places and show people that he has money.

According to “Alienation in James Joyce Dubliners”, Joyce creates “a cohesive portrait of urbanites following vain desires” (4) because the characters are unable to move from their unpleasant situations. The characters are paralyzed because Ireland was paralyzed at that time when Britain was occupying the land. According to Patrick Parrinder, “Joyce showed the same reductive impulse in choosing a medical term, paralysis, to sum up, the spiritual condition of Dublin” (3). The paralysis is a metaphor for the doomed and self-defeating life of Dublin. In fact, there was no progress in Ireland and people had no courage and energy to leave their country. For Parrider, “Joyce’s portrayal of Dublin family life has an uncomfortable sociological accuracy” because it reflects the position of early twentieth-century Ireland as one of the poorest countries in the civilized world, with a population depleted by the Great Famine and by mass emigration.

In the three stories, Joyce’s characters are surrounded by family, yet still feel isolated and unhappy. The article “The work of James Joyce” affirms that “Joyce grants himself the latitude to explore the potential for heroism and love and devoted family life in the modern world” (Susan V. Scaff 2). The reader realizes that while making decisions, we are influenced by our family and friends. In “Araby”, the narrator grew up in an Irish Catholic society in Dublin, he alienated himself from friends and family which caused loneliness and despair. He lives with his aunt and uncle, rather than with biological parents. Separation is a common characteristic with the Modernist and Joyce’s own tendency to have children living with someone other than parents as a symbol of the child’s isolation in Dubliners. Also, the absolute epitome of frustration comes from his uncle when he arrived late at home delaying the one chance of going to Araby. Eveline’s choice whether to go with Frank is not her own but is rather determined by her family. Her father prevents her from doing what she wants to do and never allows her to make choices. He is a very abusive and heavy drinker which makes her ‘sometimes feel herself in danger of her father’s violence’ (Joyce 602). Thus, Eveline is immobilized in part by the fear of her father who still threatens her. Jimmy’s father is the reason he will never succeed in life on his own. He encourages his son to be surrounded by friends and to spend money. According to “Alienation in James Joyce Dubliners”, Jimmy is “part of cruel games that leave individuals alone, isolated, and at odds with themselves and the world” (Blake G. Hobby 2). Thus, Jimmy has no value of money, he never accomplished himself and has never been successful.

As reported in “The Work of James Joyce”, “the family relationships bring tension and misery to the characters” (Susan V. Scaff 6). Joyce’s characters need to escape because they do not flourish and fulfill themselves within their families. For Blake G. Hobby, “the paralysis conveys the alienation of Joyce’s characters” (1), so they feel isolated and helpless. As they fail to escape, the reader may think that they will never be fully happy in the future.

Finally, “Araby”, “Eveline”, and “After the Race” have similarities because Joyce shows the same consequences on the characters’ behaviors, due to the sociopolitical context and the religion in Ireland. The author conveys his personal opinion by showing his support for the independence of Ireland and expressing his rebellion against the Catholic Church. Besides, according to Neil Murphy, “because of the ordinariness of their lives, they suggest a kind of universal social malaise” (5). Even though the characters are not social outsiders, they need to escape, and they become paralyzed, just like Irish people at that time. The country is symbolically dying because of the English occupation, and thus, the population is also dying. Joyce really worked on representing these issues with symbols, so the reader needs to analyze further to understand the message.


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