Joyce at the age of two
If the dominant theme of the paralysis assures wholeness of the book (as noted by so many readers and critics by now), so does structure assures its harmony. In one of his letters Joyce talks about the great care in arranging his stories. The fifteen stories proceed from the individual, only the first tree are told in the first person, to general; from youth to an approximation of maturity. The critic Florence Walzl says that Joyce’s statements and practices indicated that he was strongly aware of the Roman division of the life span and that it was one of the reasons that motivated him to arrange his stories in progressive stages corresponding to the stages of life. According to the Roman division of life span, childhood (puertia) lasted to the age of seventeen; adolescence (adulescentia) from seventeen through the thirtieth year; young manhood (juventus) from thirty- one to forty-five and old age (senectus) from forty-five on.
In accordance to this division, the opening trilogy “The Sisters”, “An Encounter” and “Araby” are about early youth in Dublin. “Eveline”, “After The Race”, “Two Gallants” and “The Boarding House” are included into the second division – adolescence. The stories “Little Cloud”, “Counterparts”, “Clay”, “A Painful Case” belong to the third division of the life span, maturity.
The revelation of paralysis starts as individual paralysis through these tree stages. “Ivy Day in the Committee Room”, “A Mother” and “Grace” depict Dublin public life from aspects of politics, culture and religion. In these stories the author widens individual paralysis to collective one. The opening trilogy about youth is balanced by the trilogy about public life. However, the last story “The Dead” was not the part of the original version and was added later. In this story Joyce melts individual with collective as subliming and effectively ending of the book of the short stories. The spreading out of the central book’s essence in this last story – is accentuated by the imaginary of snow enveloping the whole of Ireland. The way Dubliners are composed reveals his great concern for order in his art. Chronology of the stories and age distinction are of the general importance for the overall circular structure of the book, which serves the purpose of accentuating the general state of society.
Having all this in mind, the question that arises is what assures the radiance of the book, since it is the third aspect of Stephen Dedalus’s, or to say, Joyce’s requirement for any work of art?
If we have a radiant body here, what makes it radiant then?
Perhaps Stephen Dedalus can help here, again. In A Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man Dedalus overhears, one day, a conversation between a boy and a girl in one of Dublin’s streets. The conversation, just a detail of Dublin’s life, has no obvious value. Nevertheless, as the Magi on January 6, the feast of Epiphany, saw nothing more but a baby in a manger, they saw something more than just a baby, so did Stephen Dedalus see something more in the conversation he overheard, which seemed just a trivial detail of Dublin’s street life. Stephen Dedalus continues:
We recognize that it is that thing which it is. Its soul, its whatness, leaps to us from the vestment of its appearance. The soul of the commonest objects, the structure of which is so adjusted seems to us radiant. The object achieves its epiphany.
But all “babies” look kind of same. How can one recognize one from another? It takes the sharpness of the mind and the power of a writer such as Joyce to underline the difference.
An early inspiration for Dubliners was the work of Norwegian dramatist, Henrik Ibsen. Joyce, a polyglot, learnt Norwegian in order to read Ibsen. What he received from Ibsen was a very important, if not essential instruction for his writing: …”A measure of dramatic life” that Ibsen talks about is actually Joyce’s radiance. So is the case when he takes seemingly quite ordinary details and situations of Dublin life and makes them radiant.
Writing rather realistic stories, depicting some moments from the everyday life in Dublin’s lower-middle class at the beginning of the twentieth century. And at the same time the achievement of transcending of particulars of the life in Dublin and dealing with universal human nature. What Joyce does in stories is, according to him, converting bread into art, the critic Harry Lavin says about the process the following: “His treatment of detail is copious and concrete, but they seem to be there to fill in an outline, to support a theory, or to illustrate the principle.”
Though the plot of his stories may appear simple, and some even seem plotless, his stories are far from that. The critic William Tindal gives the following example:
To the simple reader deceived by surfaces, Joyce’s stories may seem simple, but they are not so simple as they see. To the ingenuous reader, those stories, though complicated enough, may seem more complicated than they are. Simplicity is the reader’s Scylla and ingenuity his Charybdis.
In other words, “Eveline” is not just a story about a girl who is offered a chance for a new start. Neither is “Clay” just a story about an old woman who has her night off. “A Little Chandler” is not just a story about a return of an old friend, not is “The Dead” a story of an annual family and friend’s meetings. Those stories reflect people who are unable to make any kind of positive change for themselves.
Joyce did not fail to identify the source of the misery – the people were captured between the Scylla of British political domination and the Charybdis of Roman Catholic Church.
In “Eveline”, Eveline Hill talks about a field where she used to play when she was a small girl: “Than a man from Belfast bought the field and build a houses in it – not like their little brown houses, but bright brick houses whit shining roofs.”
In “Two Gallants”, Corley prostitutes for a golden sovereign, the sign of the royal power and ultimate authority. Maria’s purse, on the other hand is from Protestant’s
Belfast, which only emphasizes Maria’s dependence. When distracted by politeness of an older British officer, Maria loses her plum cake on a tram. It seems that Ireland has been losing its cake for to long.
Furthermore, the image of the missing priest is the one that recurs in several stories. In the first of the stories “The Sisters”, a priest is dead. In another one, “Eveline”, there is a yellow priest’s picture, but no priest appears. Yellow, not only brown, was also Joyce’s color of death and paralysis. In “An Encounter”, Father Buttler is missing. It seems that with an image of an missing father, a missing priest Joyce wants to say that God is somewhere else, but certainly not in Ireland.
Since there is belief that Ireland is godforsaken country, there are many fallen men. It can be said that Thomas Kernan of “Grace” is a fallen man, who has stumbled in his faith. However, he is really a fallen man, since he fell down the stairs one night in a bar when he got drunk. The story of “Grace” portraits Dublin from its religious aspect. Although Mr. Kernan’s friends seem determined to set him on the right way, his wife has a little faith in that: “After a quarter of century of married life she had very few illusions left. Religion for her, was a habit and she suspected that a man of her husband’s age would not change greatly before death.”
According to Stanislaus Joyce, the fall of Thomas Kernan, his repentance and rehabilitation follow the progress of Dante through Hell, Purgatory and Heaven. Once again, we witness Joyce’s love of parallel and parody, Divine Comedy becomes “Human Comedy”.
About Joyce’s Paralysis I
About Joyce’s Paralysis II
About Joyce’s Paralysis IV