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Joyce asserted that he had deliberately used a "style of scrupulous meanness" in Dubliners. This blends well with his diagnostic purpose in the book. The bare style of "Grace"- "They succeeded in turning him over. His hat had rolled a few yards away and his clothes were smeared with the filth and ooze of the floor on which he had lain, face downwards. His eyes were closed and he breathed with a grunting noise." The drunk’s abject condition is conjured up by the terse description, with no value terms or florid adjectives. This is Joyce’s chosen style in "Dubliners" interspersed with ironic humor.
Another stylistic element lending complexity to the book is the imagery. Eveline’s panic fear of going away with her sailor is described thus: "All the seas of the world tumbled about her heart. He was drawing her into them: he would drown her." In "Clay", the Hallow eye game, played by the children with Maria, has Maria, blindfolded, picking the saucer of clay symbolizing death-in this case emotional death and lovelessness.
On the structural side, each story is carefully crafted, besides being fitted, into the total pattern of experiences in "childhood, adolescence, maturity and public life" all revealing the effects of a creeping moral paralysis. As this paralysis becomes more pervasive in adults, the narrative style too moves from the first person in the "childhood" stories to an increasing level of critical withdrawal. Only in ‘A Painful Case’ and ‘The Dead’ does the writer appear to put aside his detachment and enter into the character’s sufferings.
Another vital feature in Joyce’s writing is his use of epiphanies. These were to him "the most delicate and evanescent of moments" in which one experiences "a sudden spiritual manifestation whether in the vulgarity of speech or of gesture or in a memorable phase of the mind itself ("Stephen Hero"). Thus during the most trivial or sordid events, the character might have a sudden insight into his situation. This is not true of all the stories. For instance, in Eveline or Grace or Counterparts, we, the readers have an increasing awareness of why the character is acting in some way. While in "The Dead" Gretta Conroy, on hearing a song badly rendered by a singer with a sore throat, finds her long ago love for a tragic young boy coming to fresh life. Her revelation about this to her husband, Gabriel shatters the even tenor of their marriage. Duffy in ‘A Painful Case’ is similarly disturbed when he reads the news item about Emily Sinico’s death. It stirs up all his unresolved feelings about her, until he suppresses them yet again but is left feeling that he has been "outcast from life’s feast." Such epiphanies occur in each of the "childhood" stories, where the child’s normal view of life is disturbed by some incident, which disillusions him, and is a step towards a more adult understanding. The same device occurs in After the Race, A Little Cloud and Clay.
As David Daiches has said, Dubliners presents "carefully etched pictures of Dublin life which were meticulously realistic in detail and atmosphere and at the same time, were so organized that each detail became symbolic and each story had a symbolic relation to the other stories."
1. Do you think "Dubliners" can be called a fragmentary novel? Discuss.
2. Do you agree that the design of "Dubliners" is "tightly oppressive"? Explain.
3. Bring out the autobiographical element in "Dubliners."
4. Is "Dubliners" a wholly pessimistic work? Discuss.
5. Explain the progress from childhood to maturity in the three "childhood" stories in Dubliners.
6. Discuss Joyce’s treatment of women in "Dubliners."
7. "The Dead" is one of Joyce’s best works. Discuss
8. Is alcoholism a metaphor for colonial subjugation in
9. Examine the combination of realism and symbolism in
10. Examine the relevance of Joyce’s "Dubliners" today.
COMMENT ON THE STUDY OF LITERATURE
The study of literature is not like the study of math or science, or even history. While those disciplines are based largely upon fact, the study of literature is based upon interpretation and analysis. There are no clear-cut answers in literature, outside of the factual information about an author's life and the basic information about setting and characterization in a piece of literature. The rest is a highly subjective reading of what an author has written; each person brings a different set of values and a different background to the reading. As a result, no two people see the piece of literature in exactly the same light, and few critics agree on everything about a book or an author. In this study guide, we have tried to give an objective literary analysis based upon the information actually found in the novel, book, or play. In the end, however, it is an individual interpretation, but one that we feel can be readily supported by the information that is presented in the guide. In your course of literature study, you or your professor/teacher may come up with a different interpretation of the mood or the theme or the conflict. Your interpretation, if it can be logically supported with information contained within the piece of literature, is just as correct as ours. So is the interpretation of your teacher or professor.
Literature is simply not a black or white situation; instead, there are many gray areas that are open to varying analyses. Your task is to come up with your own analysis that you can logically defend. Hopefully, these booknotes will help you to accomplish that goal.