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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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

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 his Dubliners, 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.

jameadows eNotes educator| Certified Educator

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. 

dule05 | Student

James Joyce was one of the most important modernist writers, who not only wanted to express the effects of modernity in a textual form, but in all other aspects as well.

As far as the form is concerned, while we may not encounter a stream-of-consciousness style in Dubliners, different narrative points of view, the abundance of flashbacks and ability to get an insight into the mental world of protagonists, their thoughts, fears and dilemmas are some of the most important features that made Dubliners truly innovative at the time compared to the works before the collection.

In addition, modernist characters no longer consider political, social and religious institutions as reliable means to evaluate the meaning of life, and therefore turn within themselves to discover the answers. In each story in Dubliners, we can see the internal conflict characters experience which tells us that they no longer feel they can live by the traditional norms and beliefs that were imposed upon them by the culture and society.