In drawing a conclusion from reading Dubliners, what is Joyce's theory of life? Do we have a purpose to serve? Would it matter if we did?

As seen in Dubliners, Joyce's theory of life is that it is no longer possible to believe in God, and without such faith, life is empty. No one has a mission, and the missions people try to give themselves inevitably end in failure or disappointment.

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Joyce's theory of life is perhaps best summed up by George Orwell in his essay "Inside the Whale":

What Joyce is saying is "Here is life without God. Just look at it!"

Orwell is specifically discussing Ulysses when he makes this remark, but it also holds good for Joyce's earlier work, including Dubliners. These stories show the peculiar worldview of a lapsed Catholic for whom life is not just pointless but sickeningly pointless. The inhabitants of Dublin to whom Joyce introduces the reader are living in the hollowed-out shell of a society to which faith once gave purpose and meaning.

Joyce does not believe that anyone has a purpose to serve, and his characters do not accomplish their purposes when they have them. The stories are full of disappointment, frustration, and paralysis. The narrator of "Araby" finally gets to the bazaar, but it is nothing like the paradise that he imagined, and the story ends in bitterness. The eponymous protagonist of "Eveline" does not get to Buenos Aires, but the reader knows perfectly well that nothing but disappointment could have awaited her when she arrived there. At the end of "A Painful Case," Mr. Duffy is a lonely outcast, but his terror of intimacy is so great that this is the only possible fate the reader can imagine for him. Any attempt to make life meaningful ends in cynicism and nihilism.

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