In what ways can Dubliners be defined as a modernist text? What characteristics of modernism can be found in James Joyce's Dubliners?

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First published in 1914, Dubliners is James Joyce’s collection of fifteen short stories which depict life in the Irish middle class.

A key theme throughout the collection is the social paralysis present in Ireland that Joyce believed stifled cultural progression. This social paralysis came at a time of rising Irish nationalism which is reflected in the work.

Modernist texts aim to capture and illustrate the nature of the individual compared with overwhelming social and cultural trends in a naturalistic way. Joyce juxtaposes the downtrodden Dubliners with the British citizens. He realistically portrays the hatred the Irish felt toward the British. Characters throughout the collection are described as being emotionally and spiritually dead, which reinforces the effect on the individual.

Aside from the subject matter, the work is also modernist in its form. Modernist texts deconstruct the traditional five-stage story structure of exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution. Many of the individual stories completely disregard this structure in their lack of clear resolutions. Also, Joyce employs an interesting technique with regard to the connection between the stories. Many of the early stories are narrated by children, while the later stories are narrated by progressively older people. This structure mirrors how a humans ages from childhood to adulthood.

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Dubliners is modernist in both content and style. Its content relates to the spiritual deadness and emotional paralysis of its characters; these are common themes of modernist texts. For example, the story "The Dead" ends with snow blanketing Dublin, symbolizing the deadness of its people. The snow falls "upon all the living and the dead," connecting the living to the dead. The main character, Gabriel, is described as "living dead," as he is emotionally and spiritually disconnected. Spiritual deadness is a feature of modernism.

The stories in Dubliners feature modernist techniques, such as dilution of plot and shifting of narratives. The stories often have a dilution of plot resulting from a lack of a start, climax, and resolution in the way traditional stories do. Instead, the stories end without a firm conclusion. In addition, in stories such as "Araby," much of the meaning of the story comes from the dialogue, and speakers add perspective that the main narration cannot. This shift in perspective is another feature of modernism. 


Shen Yuan and Dong Hong. "The Modernistic Features in Joyce’s Dubliners." Studies in Literature and Language Vol. 12, No. 2 (2016): pp. 28-32 DOI:10.3968/8173. 

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James Joyce's Dubliners follows the thematic concerns of Modernist literature as summarized by the sociologist Georg Simmel:

The deepest problems of modern life derive from the claim of the individual to preserve the autonomy and individuality of his existence in the face of overwhelming social forces, of historical heritage, of external culture, and of the technique of life.

T. S. Eliot further described Modernism in his discussion of Joyce's Ulysses

... It is simply a way of controlling, of ordering, of giving a shape and a significance to the immense panorama of futility and anarchy which is contemporary history.

Certainly, in...

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hisDubliners, Joyce diagnoses the human misery of the Irish who live in the capital city.  In addition, he identifies the source of much of this condition as that Anglo-Irish Protestant Ascendency which served as the bulwark of British power in the land.  With these social forces, Joyce portrays the tragic Irish paralysis which prevents his characters from breaking their stultifying conditions.

Providing the reader insights into the individuals of his work, Joyce employs the distinctive Modernist technique of stream-of-consciousness or internal monologues, at least.  The daily life of the individual residents of Dublin is paramount to the vision of life and the spiritual condition of the Irish as a whole.  As Terence Brown of Trinity College has written,

It was, Joyce believed, the artist's duty to expedite that uttering forth, that manifestation, through his placing of such epiphanic moments in a context that allowed the reader to discern their possible significance. ...some of Dubliners' Dubliners achieve comedic fictional apotheosis and occupy a text where variegated perspective and a mythic method would bring to full term the embryonic Modernism of the precociously experimental and achieved book.

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