What is the main theme of "A Painful Case" and how do you describe that theme?

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favoritethings | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Senior Educator

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This story deals with a character, Mr. James Duffy, who has an opportunity for a real, human, relationship but abandons it because he abhors anything that feels disordered or messy.  One cannot control all dimensions of a relationship because it involves another person and the "entangling" of one's thoughts and feelings and life with theirs.  When he breaks off his relationship with Mrs. Sinico, a woman who has grown to love him, he says that "every bond [...] is a bond to sorrow."  However, when he learns of her death two years later, he experiences a number of emotional responses: he is, at first, "revolted" by the story of her death, and he feels that a connection to her has "degraded him."  He thinks that she must have been "unfit to live."

Although, the longer he considers her life, the more he begins to feel "ill at ease," to see that her life must have been terribly lonely and that "His life would be lonely too until he, too, died, ceased to exist, became a memory -- if anyone remembered him."  Mr. Duffy begins to realize that no one will remember him, that the order and control he used to believe were so desirable, so necessary, has not only lead to the death of poor Mrs. Sinico but has, ultimately, rendered him an "outcast from life's feast."  Therefore, the major theme of this story is that one must engage with others, one must allow oneself to be vulnerable in order to be important to someone and get all there is out of life as well as to be remembered and cherished in death.  In the end of the story, Mr. Duffy finally gets what he seems to have wanted in the beginning but which is so frightening to him now: "He could hear nothing: the night was perfectly silent [....].  He felt that he was alone." 

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M.P. Ossa | College Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

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In Dubliners by James Joyce, the story "A Painful Case" deals with a man who is seriously stuck in his ways and in the way he wants his life to go. However, it is precisely his inability to be flexible and his inability to change what leads him to lose his one chance at love and happiness.

Hence, the main theme is the need to accept change as an essential survival skill.

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