A Painful Case: Questions and Answers
1. Mr. Duffy lives in Chapelizod, in legend associated with the great romance of Tristan and Isolde. Comment on the irony of this.
2. The reader is surprised to find a copy of Wordsworth’s poetry on Duffy’s shelf. Why?
3. Why is his liking for Mozart described as a dissipation?
4. Duffy collects quotations and communicates with Emily through them. What’s the significance of this?
5. Why does Duffy insist that they meet at her house?
6. Why has it never occurred to Duffy to publish his ideas?
7. When he first learns of Emily’s death, Duffy feels no responsibility. Why not?
8. Where does Duffy go to think about Emily, and why is this ironic?
9. Why does Joyce describe Duffy’s reading of the obituary as in Secreto, like a priest?
10. Explain the significance of the very last word of the story.
1. It’s ironic because Duffy is incapable of any love, let alone one as intense as that between Tristan and Isolde.
2. Wordsworth, probably one of the greatest Romantic poets of all time, expressed a desire to become more attuned to one’s emotions through an understanding of one’s environment and the natural world. Duffy is completely out of touch with his environment.
3. It is a dissipation in Duffy’s eyes, not Joyce’s. Duffy sees any enjoyment as somehow base.
4. It means he’s unable to speak directly and honestly to her or express his own emotions.
5. He wants to meet there to avoid even the hint of under-handed behavior.
6. Publication implies a dialog with others, which involves a recognition of others. Duffy’s has been previously incapable of this.
7. It’s inconceivable to Duffy that he is responsible for the well-being of another human. This emphasizes how detached his life is.
8. He visits a secluded spot in Dublin called Magazine Hill. It’s ironic because this is where lovers go to be alone with each other.
9. Duffy’s celibate life has resembled a priest, but it’s ironic because he has no spirituality.
10. Duffy is doomed to spend the rest of his life alone. It’s too late for him to have “learned his lesson” and move on.