According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, paralysis is "a state of powerlessness or incapacity to act." In the short story "An Encounter" from the collection Dubliners by James Joyce, the author uses the theme of paralysis in several ways. It manifests in a lack of growth, lack of change, and ongoing state of sameness. The narrator is paralyzed by a dull, boring life of school and play. He longs to break out of his routine and experience real adventure. He believes that if he can do something different and real, even if only for a day, he will break out of the paralysis that he is experiencing.
He makes an arrangement with two friends named Mahoney and Leo Dillon to meet one morning and take a ferry out to see a place called the Pigeon House. Dillon doesn't show, indicating that his paralysis within his surroundings is so acute that he cannot even briefly break free. The narrator and Mahoney, though, walk together to the wharf, harassing younger children and eating snacks along the way.
However, once they cross over on the ferry they don't make it as far as the Pigeon House. Instead, they meet an old man with gross yellow teeth who seems to be a pedophile. He talks with the boys about girls and sweethearts, and then about the necessity of whipping young boys. At one point he leaves, behaves strangely, and then returns. The old man is caught in his own form of paralysis as he waits for death to overtake him.
As for the narrator, when he leaves the old man, he realizes that he somewhat despises his friend Mahoney. The excursion has not given him the liberation that he craves. His state of adolescence, his school, and the city that surrounds him still have him in the ongoing grip of paralysis.