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A PAINFUL CASE
The protagonist, James Duffy, hates the city, and chooses to live in the suburbs of Chapelizod "as far as possible from the city of which he was a citizen." Yet he can’t cut himself off from Dublin and is compelled to go there to work. It is also there that he meets Emily Sinico, who presents a threat to his isolated existence.
LIST OF CHARACTERS
A middle aged cashier living in self-imposed exile.
A once beautiful woman, lonely and emotionally starved, who tries to reach out to him.
So disinterested in her that he is quite happy about the friendship and unmoved by it.
James Duffy, a repressed cashier at a private bank in Dublin, his intellectual and cultural capacity goes far beyond the limits of his job. He lives in self-imposed loneliness.
Mrs. Emily Sinico, a married woman past her prime, she is emotionally and sexually starved and strikes up a friendship with Duffy. Both share a love of music. He cuts off contact on finding he can’t handle her expectations.
Long after they have parted, Duffy reads about her death, possibly a suicide, under a local train. He is racked with guilt and with disgust at so "sordid" a death.
Duffy goes through much soul-searching following Emily’s death. Finally, he clamps down on this process, and is more repressed and alienated than ever before.
The mood is ironic, right from the description of Duffy’s room to his meetings with Mrs. Sinico. She herself is seen from the outside but sympathetically. Yet the attitudes of her husband, of Duffy, or even the court, to her are satirically reported. Yet Joyce, does not condemn Duffy, but shows him to be incapable of warmth and commitment.
James Duffy is a Dubliner, but doesn’t wish to be one. He lives by choice in the suburb of Chapelizod "because he wished to live as far as possible" from the city of which he was a citizen and because he found all the other suburbs of Dublin "mean, modern, and pretentious." He lives in an old somber house, barely furnished, with all his possessions precisely arranged. He has worked as cashier in a private bank for many years, but his intellectual interests go far beyond his job, including socialism, Nietzsche, and Hauptmann. He has even translated Hauptmann’s "Michael Kramer" from the German.
Duffy hates any kind of "physical or mental disorder" and lives "at a little distance from his body, regarding his own acts with doubtful side-glances." His daily routine is disciplined and precisely worked out. There are signs of romanticism in him, such as his love of Mozart’s music and his joining briefly the Irish Socialist Party.
On one occasion he is at the opera house besides two ladies, when one of them strikes up a conversation with them. They meet again at other performances, and become friendly. She is Mrs. Emily Sinico, an attractive middle-aged woman with one grown up daughter and a husband who is a captain in the merchant navy. After initial walks together he insists on meeting at her house, to avoid any suggestion of stealth. Her husband encourages him, believing he is his daughter’s suitor! Mrs. Sinico is a year or so younger than Mr. Duffy. She is full bosomed, with an oval face and dark blue eyes, which reveal "a temperament of great sensibility." Mr. Duffy finds her a sympathetic audience and freely holds forth on his social, political and literary views. He tells her of his dismal experience in the Irish Socialist Party, where the workmen are "too timorous" and interested chiefly in their wages. "No social revolution, he told her, would be likely to strike Dublin for some centuries." They are so absorbed in their talk that they sometimes sit in the dark, forgetting to light the lamps. Duffy’s is primarily a one-sided communication, and her company is "like a warm soil about an exotic" to his ego. As for Mrs. Sinico, her marriage is one where her husband "had dismissed his wife so sincerely from his gallery of pleasures that he did not suspect that anyone else would take an interest in her." Duffy meanwhile is oblivious of her emotional or sexual needs, until one day in the dark, she "caught up his hand passionately and pressed it to her cheek." Duffy is horrified, and her reaction "disillusions" him. He writes fixing a meeting and tells her they must part "as every bond is a bond to sorrow." She trembles so much, that he leaves in haste, and she sends back his books and music by post.
Duffy is shaken, but goes back to "his even way of life." He writes less and stops visiting concerts for fear of meeting her. His routine is as rigid as ever. He has written one sentence after his parting from Mrs. Sinico, "Love between man and a man is impossible because there must not be sexual intercourse and friendship between man and woman is impossible because there must be sexual intercourse."
One evening while reading the newspaper over supper, an item shocks him. It reports the death of Mrs. Emily Sinico, who has been knocked down by a train while crossing the tracks of Sydney Parade Station. An inquest has taken place at which her husband has stated that his wife has been "rather intemperate in her habits" for the last two years. Her daughter’s statement discloses that her mother has regularly been going out at night "to buy spirits." The Coroner says it is "a most painful case" and returns a verdict of "accidental death" with no blame attached to anyone.
Mr. Duffy re-reads the whole report. He is deeply disturbed at first. Then he feels "revolted-to think he had ever spoken to her of what he held sacred." He feels disgust at "the details of a commonplace vulgar death." His verdict is that "she had been unfit to live, without any strength of purpose, an easy prey to habits, one of the wrecks on which civilization has been reared." Thus he "had no difficulty now in approving of the course he had taken." Yet though he absolves himself, he is not at peace. He goes for a walk and sits over punch at a pub. He thinks of her loneliness, "night after night, alone in that room." This reminds him that "His life would be lonely too until he, too, died, ceased to exist, became a memory-if anyone remembered him." He walks in the Park his mind full of questions which will not subside-"Why had he withheld life from her? Why had he sentenced her to death? ---He had sentenced her to ignominy, a death of shame." The presence of future lovers around him, behind the Park’s bushes makes him feel "He gnawed the rectitude of his life; he felt that he had been outcast from life’s feast." He sees a goods train moving-its laborious drove" seems to be repeating her name. Then he halts beneath a tree and calms himself-he "allowed the rhythm to die away." "He began to doubt the reality of what memory told him." Gradually he finds "He could hear nothing: the night was perfectly silent."