Discuss the theme of paralysis in the short story “The Sisters” in Dubliners by James Joyce.

In “The Sisters,” the theme of paralysis speaks to Joyce’s analysis of the church’s influence on people’s lives. The boy says “paralysis” while watching the dying priest and compares it with the term “simony in the Catechism.” This links the term to religion, as does the way the priest's decline was linked to an incident with the chalice. Ultimately Joyce seems to suggest that religion can cause a sort of personal and social paralysis. He explores this idea throughout Dubliners.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

James Joyce’s short story “The Sisters” is the first from his collection called Dubliners. It is a story about a boy confronting the loss of his mentor, Father Flynn.

Father Flynn suffered several strokes, which left him physically paralyzed. While the Father is dying, the boy frequently walks past his window to check on him and each time says the word “paralysis.” He compares the word to the word "simony in the Catechism." This line establishes a link between the concept of paralysis and the subject of religion.

This link is developed through the story of Father Flynn. Consider the tale of how the Father dropped the chalice and how it impacted him emotionally. His personal and social decline was linked to religious ritual, which suggests that the Church plays a role in people's emotional and physical decline. Joyce explores the Church’s impacts on people’s livelihoods like this in other short stories in Dubliners, such as “Araby” and “Grace.”

Other characters in the story also experience forms of paralysis. For example, consider how the boy and his aunt are not able to speak after visiting Father Flynn after his death. Their inability to speak in this moment also speaks to the idea of religion impairing people’s actions. It also underlines the significance of what the boy learns about death. This is the moment in his life when he realizes that an individual's death can have little meaning in the adult world.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
Soaring plane image

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial