Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Dubliners (1914) is a collection of fifteen James Joyce stories, of which “A Painful Case” is the eleventh. It follows “Clay,” with which it shares the theme of lovelessness. Like all the works in the volume, “A Painful Case” dramatizes what Joyce saw as an emotional and moral paralysis afflicting his native city. Duffy’s inability to admit changes into his daily routine or feeling into his life is the centerpiece of the story, which describes two painful cases: a man who denies love and a woman who vainly searches for it. Although Roman Catholicism was pervasive in Irish spiritual and temporal life at the time, its reach does not extend to these characters, and Joyce’s comment that Duffy lives “his spiritual life without any communion with others” signals his rejection of the church. Among Duffy’s books is Friedrich Nietzsche’s Also sprach Zarathustra: Ein Buch für Alle und Keinen (1883-1885; Thus Spake Zarathustra, 1896), an anti-Christian tract about a self-sufficient superman who needs neither social interaction nor romantic love. Also, at one point in their relationship, Mrs. Sinico, with an almost maternal solicitude, becomes Duffy’s confessor. In Catholicism, however, women cannot play this role. Such an ironic or inverted treatment of Ireland’s religion is a recurrent thematic motif in other Dubliners tales.

Like all of these stories, “A Painful Case” progresses toward what the author called an “epiphany,” a sudden realization or rude awakening to the truth about oneself or one’s world....

(The entire section is 646 words.)