52 in 52 Week 49: Dubliners by James Joyce
I really enjoyed this book. It contains fifteen different stories with four divisions:
Childhood - Three
Adulthood - Three
Mature men and women - Four
Public Life - Four
"The Dead" - the last story that summarizes it even though the characters are not related to the other stories.
I found this book much more accessible than Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man (Even though I saw much of Joyce's brilliant writing, I didn't particular care for the book and its main character.). I would recommend this as an introduction to Joyce over Portrait.
From Invitation to the Classics, p. 308,
At first view, the stories appear to be almost formless. In "Araby," for instance, the story appears to be an anecdote about young love. But Joyce uses the tradition of courtly love, specifically the Arthurian legends with their spiritual extensions, to inform almost every line. The narrator is at once seen as a twelve-or thirteen-year-old Irish boy, a representative of the knight who quests through a hostile world for his Holy Grail, and the courtly lover whose "adoration" of a Lady lifts him to a higher spiritual plane. Here Joyce uses the tradition of romance or courtly love to mock it. But his mockery has a serious purpose in its service of the final line's diagnosis of the boy's spiritual state. He is "a creature driven and derided by vanity"; these romantic traditions are nothing but adolescent pretension -- a vain spiritualizing of desire.
In Dubliners, Joyce intended to write a "moral chapter" on his race. "Araby" exemplifies this purpose, in that its treatment of contemporary experience and the traditions that inform and interpret that experience exposes what Joyce saw as moral poverty. He set out in Dubliners to render his neighbors' lives and his own with such "scrupulous meanness" that their spiritual paralysis would be revealed.
Joyce spoke of his stories as "epicleti." In the Orthodox Church, the "epiklesis" is the prayer for the Holy Ghost to transform the elements into the body and blood of Christ. "Epicleti" implies transformation but also judgment for when we see things in their true nature we cannot help being repelled or attracted and thus instructed. Joyce wrote to his brother, "there is a certain resemblance between the mystery of the mass and what I am trying to do . . . to give people a kind of intellectual pleasure or spiritual enjoyment by converting the bread of everyday life into something that has a permanent artistic life of its own . . . for their mental moral, and spiritual uplift."The above shows Joyce's brilliance and a "method to his madness."
Joyce also borrowed from the Christian term "epiphany" -- a showing forth or revelation -- to describe the moments of insight he wanted to capture in his work. In "Araby," the narrator articulates what he learned through his "epiphany," but in other stories we must examine the evidence for ourselves. In this way, the stories become interactive.
Story after story in Dubliners, using similar methods, fills out our understanding of the spiritual poverty and moral bankruptcy afflicting Joyce and his contemporaries. . . .
The stories are an unremitting exploration of the deathly life these Dubliners are living. The collection's finale. "The Dead," explores the same theme and then qualifies it . . . Joyce allows Gabriel (the main character) a profound epiphany. And in this moment of identification, Gabriel sheds his superiority and realizes his common humanity . . . Gabriel saw a new vision of life.
The stories are beautifully written but disconnected yet connected because of our common humanity. Invitation identifies that theme as a "awakening to spiritual paralysis," and I believe this is accurate. Don't we all need that; some more than others! It is best not to try to figure all the stories out until you are done. Just let his beautiful writing take you away to the streets of Dublin. I think you will like it.
Also, here is a cute review of a girl who took a picture of reading Dubliners in Dublin! Wish I could have done that! How fun:
Now for the questions in Invitation to the Classics (Feel free to skip). My answers are pretty lame in that I need to really mull over the questions for a while! This is where I can like a story, but I cannot always articulate what I learned from it. I am trying to grow in this area! Thus why I am posting my answers.
(1) When reading Dubliners, notice that many of the stories take the form of short trips or journeys. Why would Joyce use this form? How does the form connect with the Western tradition in literature?
From the excellent Teaching Company class, The Art of Reading, I learned that all literature has one of two kinds of master plots (recurring narratives or stories): Stranger comes to town or hero takes a journey. So each main character take a journey toward more awareness of the world or awareness of self, especially Gabriel in "The Dead."(2) If the characters are suffering from a spiritual and moral paralysis, where are they going? Why?
The first story that comes to mind in this respect is "Eveline" who wants to flee her abusive home by going with her lover to a new life in a new land. Yet, she is paralyzed in the end.
The characters are seeking the West!
(3) Particularly in reference to "The Dead," does Joyce recommend journeying East or West? What values are associated with each direction? - Definitely WEST!
Although the west is associated with death and the graveyard where his wife's former love is now buried, east and west comes to symbolize the two directions his search can take, the east symbolizing the "old, traditional, and effete; the west, the new, primitive, and vital" (Murphy 469). In his journey west, Gabriel would leave all the self-doubt and challenges to his masculinity attributed to the women in his life behind him. He would leave the "fictional" view of himself and his life behind and search for his true, "whole identity." In his journey westward, Gabriel thinks he will find all he is lacking in Dublin and find the key to his identity and existence (469-70). (From: http://www.unc.edu/~mgarofal/jamesjoyce.htm)(4) What might Joyce's characters do to overcome their paralysis? Does he offer them any option?
Be brave. They change their thinking. One attempts to let go of the horrible familiar in order to risk a better life ("Eveline"). Another lets go of egoism and romanticism in his life and marriage, in order to enjoy and accept the reality of "what is, is" in our life. I am thinking of "The Dead" in this respect.(5) Why have the moral implications of Joyce's work been so neglected when he himself saw his work in analogous terms to Christian worship?
(6) How does judging an author's work to be true, but not the whole truth, affect our literary appreciation?
I think many people of faith, "throw the baby out with the bath water" rather than "spoil the Egyptians' (take what is universally true for all of humanity from a book and leaving the parts that conflict with our beliefs behind).
I like Joyce's writing, but I don't agree with all of his points, especially in Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man. Stephen's spiritual journey was unsavory at point, which would turn most followers of Jesus off. I could plow through it, but it didn't mean I needed to take refuge in the "whole truth" of the Word of God for a while!