Monday, February 21

Dubliners by James Joyce

This represents the first fourteen out of 15 stories of Joyce’s collection, Dubliners; I’ll post separately on the last and most famous, ‘The Dead’.  There is only so much that needs to be said about such a famous collection, so I’ll just pick out a couple of points that I found particularly interesting:

The stories progress in terms of the life stage of the main character, with children in the first two stories (‘The Sisters’ and ‘An Encounter’), youths in the next three, and so on.

A theme that comes across strongly is Irish nationalism, and a floundering sense of national identity.  Several strongly nationalistic characters are shown, and although this is generally not the focus of the story, it is clear that Joyce wanted to show a realistic and contemporary view of life in the city.

Another salient aspect of the stories is the strong sense of location, with landmarks and culturally familiar buildings (e.g. churches, universities) as well as pubs, houses and many street and suburb names from all over Dublin.

Characters are shown in a realistic and often quite negative way, although the narration is generally neutral.  Young characters are portrayed sympathetically, while older ones are often shown as drunkards, religious hypocrites, etc.  Where younger characters have flaws, like the spendthrift ways of young Jimmy Doyle in ‘After the Race’, this is generally shown to be not entirely their fault.  However it is clear that in all of the stories, Joyce considers the short event or series of events described to be highly significant in the characters’ lives - a turning point or  moment of truth.  Of course, the younger characters have more time on their side.

Dubliners is easy to read, and most of the stories are quite short.  It is nothing like the dense, surreal text of Ulysses, and makes for a good introduction to Joyce’s work.

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