James Joyce

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James Joyce World Literature Analysis

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Joyce is a master of style, and readers can find a different one for each of his major works. In Dubliners, he adopts a narrow and (for Joyce) conventional realistic approach. In addition, each story is told in the style of the protagonist; the narrator does not impose a style. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, however, uses a much richer and more romantic style, since it is told through the consciousness of an emerging artist. Stephen Dedalus meditates on words and finds that he is attracted not by their meaning but by their sound and rhythm. In such scenes as Stephen discovering his vocation upon the beach and his declaration of his artistic purpose, the style is raised to a very lofty plane. When Stephen creates his villanelle, both the poem and the commentary are in the vein of high Romanticism. Ulysses is much more varied; there is the intellectual style of Stephen and the plain style of Bloom, but readers find midway into the book that stylistic experimentation dominates the book. There is, for example, a chapter, “Sirens,” done in musical prose rhythms and filled with allusions to music. There is the parody style of “Cyclops” and the history of English prose style from Anglo-Saxon to the twentieth century in “Oxen of the Sun.” It seems as if plot and character are subordinated to style as the end of the book approaches.

There are a few important themes evident in the major works. One is women’s betrayal. Joyce was fascinated by betrayal and returned to it many times. In A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, for example, he uses the betrayal of Stephen’s beloved as a necessary prelude to his flight from Ireland in order to become an artist. Women help him find his vocation and are the subject of his art, but their betrayal is necessary for his freedom. In Ulysses, women are once more unfaithful. Molly Bloom betrays her husband and Stephen discusses Anne Shakespeare’s betrayal of her husband, William. In addition, Stephen’s mother is haunting him and preventing his growth.

Another important theme in Joyce is Dublin (or Ireland in general); it is a place that is described as a net, a trap that imprisons or restrains the characters. Nearly all of them long for some escape but none really succeeds in finding it. Even Stephen Dedalus, Joyce’s alter ego, is forced to return to the Dublin he had left behind to become an artist. Others dream about a fuller life, but all such dreams are dashed. If there is a spiritual liberation of the country, it can come only through the artist, who alone has the vision to renew the people.

Joyce is unusual in that he never repeats himself. He works on a genre until he exhausts the possibilities for his art. He undertakes the genre of the short story and perfects the mode. Indeed, much of modern story technique is based on Joyce’s “epiphany,” a depiction of the essence of the character and the situation, and his objective narration. He then tries the novel of education and perfects the study of a sensitive individual consciousness. The growth of that consciousness from baby talk and mere sound to the villanelle and poetic prose is dazzling. Joyce then turns to a novel based on a Greek myth and re-creates that novel. Now the novel can break the plot or subordinate it to style; it also becomes a truly encyclopedic work containing theology, social commentary, and fantasy, as well as the more usual novelistic interests of plot and character.

Dubliners

First published: 1914

Type of work: Short stories

This collection comprises satiric pictures of life in Dublin that expose the paralysis of will of each of the protagonists in the collection.

Dubliners is not a collection of short stories that were written at various periods and with various themes. It is clearly meant to be a unified work of art. Joyce said that he chose Dublin as the setting because it was “the center of paralysis.” Yet he also stated that his purpose was to depict “the eventual spiritual liberation of my...

(The entire section is 4,087 words.)