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Tuesday, May 27, 2008

About Joyce’s Paralysis IV

Another of Joyce’s fallen men is Mr. Doran of “The Boarding House”. Forced to marry his landlady’s daughter, Mr. Doran descends down the stairs: “Going down the stairs his glasses become so dimmed with moisture that he had to take them off and polish them. He longed to ascend through the roof and fly away.”
Mr. Doran wishes to escape from the pressure he is exposed to, nevertheless, as Mr. Kernan of “Grace”, so does he finds himself at the bottom of the stairs. Frightened that he would lose his job, he marries a woman he does not love.

There are occasions in the lives of Joyce’s characters when the wish for life awakes in them and their readiness to act, so uncommon for a modern hero. The only character that is offered a concrete positive chance for a new start is Eveline. When a young sailor offers her marriage and a new life in Buenos Aires, all of her being cries out: “Escape! She must escape! Frank would save her. He would give her a life, perhaps love, too.”

When another Dubliner, Little Chandler of “Little Cloud”, compares his life to a life of a friend, Gallaher, who has left Dublin and became a journalist in London, he feels that he, too, has to escape from his “minute vermin-like life”. The boy of “An , ” hungers for “wild sensations, for escape.” The very name of Mr. Dornan of “The Boarding House” is derived from the Irish word for exile. Joyce makes their wish to escape equal, if not identified, with their wish to live. However, all of his characters, in the end, find themselves at “the bottom of the stairs” and once again, they join the world of the living dead.

The moment the characters become aware of their helplessness, of their inability to act, paralyses reveals itself to its victims and that moment marks the climax of the stories. When Little Chandler, after seeing his friend Gallaher, returns to “his little house”, one of the many images of enclosure in the book, he realizes that he cannot escape from his life: “It was useless. He couldn’t do anything. The wailing of the child pierced the drum of his ear. It was useless, useless! He was a prisoner for life.” Furthermore, as the twp boys on “An Encounter” never reach the Pigeon House, so does Eveline never reach her Pigeon House, Buenos Aires. Instead, she is portrayed frozen, grabbing the iron railing, at the end of the story: “She gripped with the both hands at the iron railing… She set her white face to him, passive, like a helpless animal. Her eyes gave him no sign of love or farwell or recognition.”

The image of the iron railing is the one that recurs throughout the book. When Greta Conroy of the story “The Dead” shares her life secret with her husband, Gabriel Conroy, there is an iron bed railing between two of them. At that point, Gabriel Conroy realizes that he has never been a part of his wife’s life, at least, not in the sense he though he was. His wife tells him that, long ago, a boy of seventeen died, loving her. The deepest experience of his wife’s life now becomes the deepest experience of his own life. Though the young boy was only seventeen, though he was a gasworks boy, he was capable of love, love, he, Gabriel Conroy, a university professor, would probably ever feel. He finds himself guilty of lacking love entirely and he feels that his identity is gone: “Generous tears filled Gabriel’s eyes. He had never felt like that himself toward any woman, but he knew that such a feeling must be love… His own identity was fading out into a gray impalpable world: the solid world itself, which these dead had one time reared and lived in was dissolving and dwindling.”

Another Dubliner, Mr. James Duffy of “Painful Case”, becomes aware of the miser of his own life. He denies love to the only woman who has seemed to love him: “Why had he withheld life from her? Why had he sentenced her to death? He felt his moral nature falling to pieces… he felt that had been an outcast form life’s feast… He felt that he was alone.”

In the city of 300 000 people Joyce’s Dubliners feel alone, like in much smaller Westwood Ohio of Sherwood Anderson.

Perhaps, the most devastating critique of this society is that it is the one in which love, true feelings and compassion for others do not exist. In “Two Gallants” and “The Boarding House” lust has taken the place of love. However, Mr. Doran does not mind Polly’s grammar, but: “She was a little vulgar, sometimes she said I seen and if I had’ve known. But would grammar matter if he really loved her?

Calculating Mrs. Kearny of “A Mother”, on the other hand, respects her husband: “in the same way she respected the General Post Office, as something large, secure and fixed.” Another wife, Mrs. Kernan of “Grace” seems reconciliated with her destiny: “There were worst husbands,” say she of her husband, “he had never been violent since the boys had grown up.” Eveline, at one point, does not want to accept such a life; she does not want to “be treated as her mother had been.”

When Maria of “Clay” is asked to sing William Balfe’s song I Dreamt that I Dwelt, she omits the second stanza, the one that sings about love: “But no one tried to show her her mistake; and when she had ended her song Joe was very much moved.” Joe detects the meaning of her omission. “Very much moved” by it, he asks for the missing corkscrew, probably for another bottle in which to drown his understanding of the loveless world they live in.

In that Irish life Joyce finds both, his theme and an expressive medium. The author explains his intention to write Dubliners as his wish to give his county-fellows “one good look at themselves in his nicely polished looking glass.” At its core, we have pointless inaction – which he defines using the term paralysis on the every first page of Dubliners. The city is the heart of the moral, intellectual and spiritual paralysis. The opening trilogy concerning youth in Dublin, the stories of adolescence and mature life reveal individual paralysis, which widens to collective paralysis in the tree stories of public life that deal with political, religious and artistic spheres of the city’s life. In the last of the stories “The Dead” individual and collective paralysis become one. Using his artistic tools: wholeness, harmony and radiance, Joyce achieves perfect integrity of his work, in part and as a whole. The dominant theme is expressed not only through the actions of his characters, but also through his attention to detail, recurrence of images, the circular structure of the stories, the language itself. The author identifies the sources of Irish paralysis as the Roman Church and Westminster; however, the main course is in the very inhabitants of Dublin, of Ireland – who are capable only of actions that reaffirm their dependence and inability to be governed by their free will. There is no meaning or purpose to such existence.

And even though it seems that in that world everybody knows everybody else, so Lenehan of “Two Gallants” knows Holohan of “A Mother” and Kernan of “Grace” knows those in “Ivy Day in a Committee Room” and the parents of Jimmy of “After the Race” go to a mass in one of the other stories, a husband, Gabriel Conroy, finds his own wife to be a stranger. In that world, Johnny, the horse, forever circles the statue while the mill operates ceaselessly. And, yet, Dubliners does not feel like a cynical book. Joyce perceived it as a first step in the liberation, and as Walt Whitman once said – to have great poets you have to have great audience.

About Joyce’s Paralysis I
About Joyce’s Paralysis II
About Joyce’s Paralysis III

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