There are many aspects of Irish life that are discussed in James Joyce’s works. The role of religion in shaping social conventions, love relationships and moral structure is a preoccupying element of Joyce’s stories. Joyce’s characters in the Dubliners are described as short-tempered, having thwarted loves and intense class and self-consciousness. Many of the characters in Dubliners, seek escape and adventure, ponder the significance of death and react to the confinement of routine. Why are Joyce’s characters this way? This paper is an attempt to probe these elements of Joyce’s works.
Religious beliefs and unbelief are central, so much to as to become a character of sorts. Joyce’s persons have religious thought and organizations to join in as it is a tangible and responsive entity. It is odd that many of the characters do not seek out religion or family as the answer to their problems. Farrington of Counterparts demonstrates the dangerous potential of escapism and the actions and components which define his purported normalcy. The word counterpart means a person or thing holding a position or performing a function that corresponds to that of another person or thing in another place. The title itself suggesting the subject being a part of something else but Farrington doesn’t see himself as a part. Farrington’s work mirrors his social and home life in repetition and it is suggested that this repetition causes his anger to worsen (SparkNotes). However, Farrington, with his explosive physical reactions, shows more than any other character the ramifications of perceived normalcy. On the surface he is a family man and a worker bee with all the props available to him to project the aforementioned images. He is however without understanding how to be a complete human being which might cause his violence.
I do not believe repetition results in violence but a lack of empathy, community and introspection. In his off time, he doesn’t lend himself to betterment or gathering with his family but he escapes exhibiting antisocial behavior with binge drinking and excessive spending. He could go home and spend time with his family or he could use his time to pray or introspect about his place as a man, father and husband. He doesn’t do these things preferring role playing (a strong man), drunkenness (avoidance) and lashing out (reprisal) at an innocent, his son. He lashes out as if it is others who have failed him but doesn’t bother to look within. This story illuminates the importance of choices. Why doesn’t he introspect, pray or spend time with his family? All these options are available, but he chooses to do bad.
The way religion is portrayed by Joyce is significant. In Grace Father Tom Burke is mentioned. He was a famous and popular Irish Dominican priest whose homiletic style was everything but gracious. His sermons were marked by vulgar metaphors and unabashed xenophobic Irish nationalism. Joyce calls into question the loftier ideals associated with religion even mentioning him. In Grace the characters discuss their view of religion. Cunningham’s wife thinks of his going on a religious retreat, Religion for her was a habit, and she suspected that a man of her husband’s age would not change greatly before death However, Mr. Cunningham was a capable man; and religion was religion. The scheme might do good and, at least, it could do no harm (148).
Catholicism is weaved throughout the Dubliners as a consequence of its importance to Irish society. Joyce’s stories focus on middle-class Catholic Dubliner who is simultaneously alienated and inundated with the religion of his/her home. Religion being defined as a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, especially when considered as the creation of a superhuman activity usually involving devotional and ritual observances, the Dubliners have that convention presented solidly. The things that seem to elude the characters is true faith and a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs. Religion as the ritual observance of faith seems lacking.
Religion and loss of religion are major themes in Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and the Dubliners. Stephen when the Belvedere priest encourages him to join the priesthood decides to learn his wisdom apart from otherswandering among the snares of the world. The characters in Joyce’s work have been provide the basis of religious reflection but opt out choosing to play fast and loose and go it alone with varying results.
At the same time Joyce seems to incorporate the idea of the sacred as attainable outside of religious thought. Joyce mentions simony in The Sisters contemplates the word paralysis or the loss of the ability to move and sometimes to feel anything. But our narrator likens it to gnomon and simony in its strangeness stating But now it sounded to me like the name of some maleficent and sinful being. It filled me with fear, and yet I longed to be nearer to it and to look upon its deadly work (1).
In a more detailed talk of these strange words, the issue of simony and gnomon in one form or another arises. Simony is buying or selling of something spiritual or closely connected with the spiritual. It is any contract of this kind prohibited by divine or ecclesiastical law. The name is taken from Simon Magus (Acts 8:18), who attempted to buy the power of conferring the gifts of the Holy Spirit from the Apostles.
Simony, in the form of buying holy orders, or church offices, was virtually unknown in the first three centuries of the Christian church, but it became familiar when the church had positions of wealth and influence to bestow. From that time prohibitions and penalties were reiterated against buying or selling promotions to the episcopate, priesthood, and diaconate. Later, the offense of simony was extended to include all traffic in benefices and all pecuniary transactions on masses (apart from the authorized offering), blessed oils, and other consecrated objects. After the 16th century, it steadily disappeared in its most flagrant forms with the disendowment and secularization of church property. Gnomon in its original Greek means one that knows or examines, these seemingly unimportant words might offer an explanation of Joyce’s worship at the altar of theosophy, coopting ideas essential in religious practice as important to the secular enjoyment of life. Perhaps the perversion of the spiritual nature of love with money (simony) and a lack of examination or knowledge of these important things(gnomon) is a preoccupation of Joyce and his character.
The view of Mr. Duffy of A Painful Case of the sacred upon reading of Mrs. Emily Sinico’s death, What an end! The whole narrative of her death revolted him, and it revolted him to think that he had ever spoken to her of what he held sacred (106). Mr, Duffy in earlier conversation reveals what he thinks is sacred, He thought that in her eyes he would ascend to an angelical stature; and, as he attached the fervent nature of his companion more and more closely to him, he heard the strange impersonal voice which he recognized as his own, insisting on the soul’s incurable loneliness (103).
“A Painful Case” that forces the reader to examine their assumptions about the story’s sexual politics before they can propose judgments of its characters. Duffy’s alienation takes on a sort of ethical responsibility because his love interest is married. Whether believing Duffy to be narcissistic in reading of “A Painful Case” exposes the ethically problematic nature of Duffy’s inactions even they are brought about by neurosis and societal repression. Duffy’s interactions with Mrs. Sinico grounded in integrity instead of sexual desire whereas he represents narcissism in inauthentic amorous encounters. This comparison stresses the affirmation of the loved one and an acceptance of her/his individuality as a condition for love. In contrast to the narcissistic tendency to use the love object as a mirror for the self, love entails the “responsibility of two separate people, a “promise” that establishes an equal, reciprocal connection between them but of course is an impossibility for Duffy.
The mark of many of Joyce’s characters is the inability to connect with others successfully. This might be in a marriage as with Little Chandler of A Little Cloud or some other relationship. There are not much actual connections just a series of roles, responsibilities and expectations. In absence of mature example of marriage and other relationships, Joyce’s work indicates his efforts to work out tenets of love. The Dubliners provides a fascinating and peek into Joyce’s evolving attitudes toward love in the contexts of marriage his literary fascination with it. In Joyce’s works he seemed to find marriage either domineering or deceptive. In The Boarding House Joyce shows marriage as either oppressive in the case of Mrs. Mooney or a deceptive contract born of a con of sorts with Polly and Mr. Doran’s union. Marriage is alluded to as a ploy of sorts bred of convenient timing and social ignorance. Joyce shows Mrs. Mooney weighing the odds thinking, she had all the weight of social opinion on her side: she was an outraged mother. She had allowed him to live beneath her roof, assuming that he was a man of honour, and he had simply abused her hospitalitynor could ignorance be his excuse since he was a man who had seen something of the world (58).
Other times marriage is portrayed as a warm blanket providing comfort for its characters. In A Mother the marriage is described very sympathetically, the narrator states, At some party in a strange house when she lifted her eyebrow ever so slightly he stood up to take his leave and, when his cough troubled him, she put the eider-down quilt over his feet and made a strong rum punch. For his part, he was a model father (128).
Author Janine Utell provides an intriguing and well-argued analysis of Joyce’s evolving attitudes toward love.
Illicit desire becomes a space in which to explore questions of autonomy, selfhood, and value; it is a revolutionary move against conventional utilitarian understandings (or lack thereof) of the erotic. It is precisely this revolt that Joyce is staging in his work: a revolt against conventional frameworks of marriage that stifle desire, restrict individuals, and keep men and women from seeing the person they love and recognizing that person as autonomous and separate (3).
The voice’s message that “we cannot give ourselves … we are our own” (103) not only shows that Mrs. Sinico’s emotional attachment to Duffy will be rejected because it requires an indulgence that Duffy is incapable of giving; it also reveals the alienation intrinsic in his interpretation of love and his interactions with others. He can use “the fervent nature of his companion” (102) to strengthen his self-love, but his insistence that he is his own isolated being renders him incapable of returning her devotion. In order to achieve genuine community and to realize the idea of community, we must create the social conditions that facilitate this, the mutual confirmation of human beings by one another. To demonstrate the importance of this loving dialogue in the idea of community this section explores the implications of Duffy’s refusal of Emily Sinico. It argues that the interactions between Mrs. Sinico and Duffy represent a conflict between two different methods of loving their fellow Dubliners.
However, by reading the political content of their conversations with respect to Buber, we discover that Duffy’s inability to affirm Mrs. Sinico’s otherness is indicative of a greater societal alienation that undermines his collective aspirations. To that end, recognizing that the love Emily Sinico offers Duffy is not simply the embrace of an individual, but rather an opportunity to transform that affirmation of humanity into a larger social interchange that would enable him to bring about the transformation that he might desire.
Dubliners concerns itself primarily with wider questions of sympathy and the reading process. The idea of sympathy is a frequently addressed in the literary works themselves and there are many similarities between sympathetic feeling and our approach to reading texts; this realization prepares the way for new insights into narrative interpretation. Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and Dubliners seems a fitting choice for a text against which to read ideas of understanding and sympathy. The complexity in the narration of these stories problematizes Joyce’s engagement with sympathy, both in his depiction of his characters and his positioning of his narrators. The stylistic structure of short stories is more complex than is generally afforded Joyce’s earliest writings, prepositioning even in comparison to his more challenging texts. Stephen Dedalus in Ulysses states the case,” A man of genius makes no mistakes (228). Joyce’s characters errors are volitional and are the portals of discovery.
Joyce, James. Dubliners. Amazon Classics. Kindle Edition.
Utell, Janine. James Joyce and the Revolt of Love: Marriage, Adultery, Desire. New York: Palgrave. 2010.
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