Dubliners eText - Reading Pointers for Sharper Insight

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Reading Pointers for Sharper Insight

To better understand and appreciate James Joyce's Dubliners, consider the following:

  1. Although Joyce uses different characters and plotlines in each of the short stories included in Dubliners, they are all connected.

  2. Each story takes place somewhere in Dublin, Ireland, and Joyce refers to many specific places. Including these place names in his stories adds verisimilitude to the novel because each story is realistic and could actually happen.

  3. Joyce uses a great deal of slang throughout each story, which is another element that adds verisimilitude to Dubliners.

  4. As a whole, these stories trace life in the city of Dublin from innocence to maturity. As you read, be aware of the extent to which each story is in one of the following three categories:

    • childhood

    • adolescence

    • maturity

  5. Throughout Dubliners, Joyce uses many symbols, but he uses two colors consistently:

    • yellow

    • brown

    These two colors symbolize decay and paralysis, a major motif in all the stories.

    In “The Dead,” the last and most famous story in Dubliners, Joyce includes three different symbols:

    • snow

    • ice

    • fire

    Pay close attention to these symbols and how they affect the story, the characters, and the outcome.

  6. Joyce employs the following motifs in Dubliners:

    • paralysis: Paralysis is a motif that is mentioned in the first paragraph of the first story; then it is strengthened and alludedto in every story that follows. Figurative and literal paralysis is the result of many different factors, but Joyce specifically attributes them to the English occupation of Ireland, the Catholic Church's dominance in thought, custom, and behavior, and the conflict between Catholics and Protestants.

    • decay: Decay is a motif that is closely connected withparalysis. Because his yellow and brown colored symbols represent both decay and paralysis, these two motifs almost become synonymous; however, the thought of decay is much more descriptive, and it illustrates not only a type of paralysis from moving, but also death, which is much more severe—much more permanent. Decaying is the result of the paralysis.

  7. As you read Dubliners, pay close attention to the various thematic connections. Several universal themes that can be seen throughout the stories:

    • the effects of corruption: Corruption is emphasized through the individual characters, within the church, and throughout the different social communities in Dublin. The effects of corruption are directly related to the moral decay Joyce sees within much of humankind.

    • the attempt to embark on a journey or quest and the result:In many of the stories, a journey is taken; it may be spiritual, emotional, or physical. The quests and journeys are usually obvious to the reader, but notice how nearly all of them are left incomplete or “paralyzed” by specific events in the plot.

    • the art of discovery: The protagonist in each story makes some kind of discovery. Whether the discovery is about the individual, others, or the surrounding world, it may be a moment of clarity or even dread for the character.

    • experiencing epiphanies: The discovery made typically leads to an epiphany, which is an important revelation or discovery that changes a person's outlook, opinion, or understanding of life. Joyce uses this literary device as a thematic concept in much of his writing. Epiphanies, for Joyce, are spiritual changes that take place within the individual; they typically carry negative connotations because the realizations can involve a loss of innocence. In Dubliners, the epiphanies tend to reveal troubling or upsetting knowledge about the future, loved ones, or the individual that were not clear before.