June 01, 2023

#08-314: Dubliners

Street scene, Dublin, 1900s (Wikimedia)

Note: Dubliners is the most accessible of James Joyce's fiction, and contains 15 superb short stories.

Get Ready: What phase of life are you in (adolescence, middle age, etc.)? What challenges do you face that are typical of that age?

The Irish expat writer James Joyce is known primarily for four works of fiction (plus some non-fiction, some poetry, and a play). Half of his four prose works are impenetrable: Ulysses and even more so Finnegan's Wake. However, the semi-autobiographical A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is a fairly good read.

But against these three novels my favorite of his works is Dubliners, a collection of 15 short stories set, as you may guess, in his native city of Dublin. It is the first and most accessible of all his works.

Dublin at the time the stories are set was unsophisticated. Isolated from England and the continent, and peopled by what Joyce in Portrait called "an unfortunate priest-ridden race" (meaning it was dominated by the Catholic Church), it still produced the genius of Joyce and many others.

The stories in Dubliners are freestanding, but they are printed in a logical arrangement: The first story, "The Sisters," features a young boy. Next come schoolboys, a first love, an elopement, college life, a marriage, careers, motherhood, addiction, and finally the last story, "The Dead," which conveys an epiphany about life and death.

In fact, if anything unites the stories besides being set in Dublin, and the more-or-less chronological arrangement of the stories, it's this idea of epiphany: The main character of each story comes to a crucial realization about her or his life. To take one example, in "Araby" a boy is infatuated with his friend's sister and tries to prove himself to her, only to realize that his idealized version of love is impossible, and, in the end, fruitless.

Prior to this epiphany there is often a moment of paralysis. The boy in "Araby" gets to the point of obtaining the prize for his lady love, but then freezes up, leading to his failure.

A similar pattern can be seen in the penultimate story, "Grace," which begins with a drunken man passed out at the bottom of some stairs: he is literally paralyzed. His friend takes him home, where he is bedridden--still immobilized--until a group of friends convince him to attend a Catholic retreat, where he has a moment of religious awareness.

Every story in Dubliners is a gem.


Practice: Match the term to its definition below:

  1. accessible
  2. elopement
  3. fruitless
  4. idealized
  5. impenetrable
  6. infatuated
  7. paralyzed
  8. penultimate
  9. peopled
  10. retreat

  1. occupied; lived in
  2. next to the last
  3. unable to move
  4. a religious gathering
  5. easy to understand
  6. impossible to understand
  7. useless; unproductive
  8. running away to get married
  9. believed to be perfect
  10. in a kind of immature love

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for June 1, 2023

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice: 1. e; 2. h; 3. g; 4. i; 5. f; 6. j; 7. c; 8. b; 9. a; 10. d