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By the turn of the twentieth century, Ireland passed through a period of stagnation and paralysis. Joyce believed that Irish society, culture and people froze in place for centuries by two forces: the Roman Catholic Church and England. The result was that Ireland became one of the poorest, least-developed countries in all of Western Europe. Because of that, images of paralysis as a key motif recur throughout the short stories collection - Dubliners.
Joyce's collection focus on the life of the folk of Dublin, stricken by the "paralysis" at certain stage of the story. He creates a "mirror" for the inhabitants to see the reality of how things really are.
The first story of Dubliners, "The Sisters" introduces Joyce's theme of paralysis immediately from the beginning. Within this story paralysis is connected to a priest, Father Flynn, as seen by the main protagonist, a young boy who had been his pupil. The boy reflects, as he passes the house of Father Flynn, that the word paralysis had always seemed strange but recently it reminded him of the name of some kind of evil and sinful being. He feels frightened by paralysis and its impact on a human being. However, he admits that he is somewhat interested in it. The boy expresses his interest again after the death of the priest. He wishes to have a look at the Father Flynn again, when he sees the card announcing the priest's death, but he is too frightened. However, the strange interest still remains on his mind.
Joyce demonstrates, through the boy's fear, an opinion on the paralysis as something dark and unacceptable. Previously, for the boy, the word paralysis had not held as much meaning for him and it was only recently that the word evoked fear. It depicts author's acknowledgement of his own recent fear of the word as he made the connection between it and Dublin. The boy's interest in paralysis reflects Joyce's as he attempts to view its effects on each stage of life.
By connecting paralysis to Father Flynn, Joyce is slightly accusing the church of being the seed of the paralysis. The conservative Catholic Church in Ireland was against â€žchange" in many different areas, taking over majority of leadership in the government, and led to the continuation of the paralysis Joyce recognized in the Irish folk. Mr. Cotter and Jack, the boy's uncle note through their conversation that they do not agree with the young boy's involvement with the paralytic priest. They demonstrate their distrust with the church in the clergy by questioning its influence. Mr. Cotter later points out that children are too impressionable under the strong influence.
Another story, "Eveline" tells of the daughter of an abusive, alcoholic father that has the chance to leave her home and country with her lover, Frank. The story begins with her sitting at her front room window at dusk reminiscing about her life at home and whether she will miss it or be missed. She thinks to herself that everything changes, she wants to go away, leave her house, as the others did. At this point in the story it is clear that Eveline is having second thoughts about leaving with Frank to start a new life. Ironically, she never leaves in the end. She knows that everything around her changes, however, she herself does not. Eveline remains paralyzed while the rest of the world moves around her. She reflects about her past when she was sitting in her room and dusted it once a week for years. The memory of dusting it once a week for so many represents a stereotypical, unchanging life. She remains paralyzed in her life style.
Eveline represents the hope for some type of move from the stagnation that her life represents, even though the hope never comes through. She represents the people of Ireland showing some type of hope for the future. On the other hand, Joyce shows his lack of faith in this generation by having Eveline fail to take the opportunity in the end.
In the closing story of the book, â€žThe Dead" protagonist Gabriel thinks about the events of the day only to accept how absurd his entire life has been. From the speech he gave at the party, to the narcissistic way he acts around his aunt and friends, to the vulgar drunks praising him. Miss Ivors accuse him for being a West Briton and it proved to be true. She wears the mantle of the Irish Nationalist, calling him out on his absurd existence, which is the essential point at the center of the story that connects the beginning, middle, and end.
By the end of the story, Gabriel is finally able to connect with Ireland, the place he rejected throughout the entire storyline, only to realize Ireland itself is in trouble and paralyzed. The relationship between Gretta and the dead lover, and Gabriel's subtle turn towards Ireland that moves him closer to Miss Ivor's position is related to each other and Joyce suggests that past is always more emotionally satisfying than the present. Furthermore, he connects this to paralysis by the fact that the past is dead. Gretta is mourning for a dead lover right in front of her husband. Miss Ivors is speaking a dead language when she leaves the party and says a Gaelic sentence that nobody understands anymore. You can't ever go back.
In conclusion, throughout these stories, Joyce thinks on the one hand, that Church may play a significant role in the paralysis of his homecountry. He is demonstrating his beliefs in the uselessness of the Catholic Church in Irish society. On the other hand shows the Irish people their own image. Joyce went through several troubles in order to get his work published. He wished that this work will provide enough proof that the publishers would be worried over the reaction of the Irish people at such honest portrayal of their society and themselves. Dubliners demonstrates that Joyce can create a great (although critical and accurate) portrayal ot reality of the society.
JOYCE, James. Dubliners. Penguin Popular Classics. Penguin Books, 1996. ISBN 978-0-14062-344-4.