Social, intellectual, and cultural paralysis; together, they constitute the main theme of Dubliners, Joyce's renowned collection of short stories. As both a man and artist, Joyce didn't feel at home in early twentieth-century Ireland, with its cultural conservatism and domination by the Catholic Church, and he expressed his alienation through his writings, most notably in Dubliners.
In the first of the short stories under discussion, "Eveline," we see the title character paralyzed by the prospect of joining her lover in Australia. Eveline has nothing to look forward to in Ireland, what with her abusive home life and lack of economic opportunity.
And yet, when presented with a great chance to start over in a new country with her lover, she doesn't take it. Instead, she remains rooted to the stop by the quayside while her boyfriend sails off into the distance to begin a new life without her.
The schoolboy narrator of "An Encounter" is also paralyzed by life in early twentieth-century Ireland. As he becomes more mature, he realizes that his life is lacking adventure. It is this realization that leads him to take a day off school with two boys, his friend Leo Dillon and a boy called Mahony. As the narrator tells us, he does this "to break out of the weariness of school-life for one day at least."
In the event, however, the narrator is unable to escape for very long on account of a very unpleasant encounter with a creepy old man. It is implied, but not stated, that he is a pedophile. His sudden unwelcome appearance in the story immediately dissolves all sense of adventure and brings the narrator crashing down to earth, back to the world of paralysis from which he'd wanted to escape and yet in which he still must live for the foreseeable future.