Joyce in his letter to Grant Richards said, I chose Dublin for the scene because that city seemed to me the centre of paralysis. The first thing that one has to engage with is, why Joyce felt that Dublin was the centre of paralysis. What were his reasons for thinking and feeling that Dublin was suffering from this paralytic state? It is important not to overlook some of the main issues that Dublin was facing at the time Joyce wrote Dubliners. Joyce wrote this book during the Irish Literary renaissance. One of the main reasons for this renaissance was for the Irish to show that they could be independent from Britain. Joyce wrote Dubliners at a time when Ireland was under the British rule, the Irish were governed and had no independence. The novel, Dubliners was a way to show the people of Dublin what they seemed to be missing, they were not aware of this paralytic state they had fallen into. Throughout the book most of the main characters in the stories has an epiphany; this was Joyce’s way of helping the people of Dublin become aware of this state they had fallen into and help them snap out of this paralysis. This was one of the main reasons Joyce wrote about Dublin and the paralytic state. The people of Dublin according to Joyce were not able to move forward, they were being hindered from making progress. Joyce was trying to show them that if they did not make a change and move on then they will forever remain in this paralytic state with no future. This idea is reinforced by Joyce himself, when he was writing the letters to Richards; he mentions that his intention is not only to write a satire about Ireland but to liberate his country. Joyce also emphasised the point that the people of Ireland need to have a good look at themselves in order to see that they are stuck in this paralytic state. Joyce believed that Dubliners would be that foundation which will make the Irish public see their inadequacies. (Paul Delany, Joyce’s Political Development and the Aesthetic of Dubliners.) The essay will engage with this theme of paralysis in Joyce’s Dubliners. It will not only engage with the theme of paralysis but also some of the other underlying themes as well; the themes of religion and family. The theme of paralysis is clear throughout Dubliners, this feeling of paralysis is felt by all the characters in each of the stories. This idea and theme of paralysis in Dublin and Ireland can be seen as Joyce’s personal view of the city when he lived there, or it can be Joyce’s view of the other people living in Dublin from the outside. This essay will look at two stories from Dubliners, The Sisters and Eveline. It will engage with the stories and look at how each of the two stories tie in with the theme of paralysis. This essay will discuss how the main protagonists paralysis links back to the main issue at the heart of Dublin. All of Joyce’s characters have the instinct to bring a change in their lives, to move above and beyond this paralytic state they have been stuck in.
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Each of the stories hints at paralysis, the theme of paralysis is evident from the very start in The Sisters. Each story has aspects of paralysis some subtle and some are in plain black and white. For instance in The Sisters, the reader is made aware of the paralysis from the very first page in the story; “Every night as I gazed up at the window I said softly the word paralysis.” (Joyce, J. Dubliners, p1). One can clearly see that Joyce wastes little time in introducing the theme of paralysis; by doing this it leaves no doubt in the reader’s mind that this is Joyce’s intention. The very first line of the story is written in capital letters, this shows that Joyce is getting straight to the point. “THERE WAS NO HOPE for him this time:”, (Joyce, J. Dubliners, p1). This very first line sets the scene for the rest of the story, Joyce begins with this line to show that there may have previously been hope for Father Flynn; but now it is too late now there is no hope for him. In baseball a third strike means that the batter is out; he has no more chances. This same principle can also be related to Father Flynn and the Catholic Church. It can also be seen as Joyce’s way of telling the readers that the Church has no hope there is nothing that can be done, it is too late and that the people of Dublin need to wake up and see that they are living in a vicious circle. This circle that they are living in can’t be undone unless they strike out and make a change for themselves. In this first story ‘The Sisters’, a boy who lives with his aunt and uncle starts to assess his relationship with a priest, Father Flynn. After having his third stroke Father Flynn is left paralysed. The boy walks past the priest’s house to see if two candles have been lit, which would signify that the priest had died. One night when the boy comes down for supper he hears of the news that Father Flynn has passed away through Old Cotter who is a family friend. Whilst the boy who remains nameless throughout the story is eating his supper he observes the conversation his uncle and Old Cotter are having. Old Cotter speaks of the reservations which he had about the priest, “there was something queer, something uncanny about him” (Joyce, J. Dubliners p.1). Old Cotter questions the relationship between the boy and the priest, “I wouldn’t like children of mine, to have too much to say to a man like that.” (Joyce, J. Dubliners p.2). The same night the boy has a dream in which he sees the old priest confessing. The boy later has a moment in which he has an epiphany, he feels that the priests death has freed him, “I felt even annoyed at discovering in myself a sensation of freedom as if I had been freed from something by his death”. (Joyce, J. Dubliners p.3). In this story it is easy to see the theme of religion along the theme of paralysis. It can also be said that the boy in the story represents Ireland and Father Flynn is a representation of the Catholic Church. The boy can be seen as being paralysed because of the control and influence Father Flynn had over him. He was subservient to the priest, the boy mentions how we would run small errands for the priest, “I who emptied the packet into his black snuff-box”.(Joyce, J. Dubliners p.3).
The main reason Joyce seemed to be attacking the church was mainly because Joyce felt that the church had too much control over the people of Dublin and Ireland in general. This point is backed by the fact that the boy feels free once the priest passes away. He no longer feels trapped and paralysed. So, why did Joyce feel that the church was one of the reasons for the paralysis of the Irish people? Religion was a really important part of Ireland at the time Joyce wrote Dubliners; this was also the time that Ireland was trying to break away from the British rule. Joyce felt that the affiliation between Ireland and the Church hindered the possibility of Ireland becoming free from Britain. Joyce is quoted as saying that, “The soul of the country is weakened by centuries of useless struggle and broken treaties, and individual initiative is paralysed by the influence and admonitions of the church.” (Paul Delany, Joyce’s Political Development and the Aesthetic of Dubliners.p257). Here it is clear to see that Joyce feels that the people of Ireland are being held back by the church, not only Ireland as a whole but each individual person living in Ireland. These people are being shackled by the Church, these individuals are being hindered by the Church to achieve great things and reach their true potential. This point is supported by the boys paralysis in the story, the boy feels a sense of freedom once Father Flynn dies. The boy has an epiphany he sees that he is no longer paralysed by the priest. Joyce’s motive for this story was so that all the readers would also have an epiphany and would see, that much like the boy in the story they are also shackled and paralysed by the state and predominantly the Church. Joyce uses the boy in the story to symbolise the future generations of Ireland; the boys and girls who could lead Ireland to great things.
It is clear to see that the boy is paralysed by the priest. How is the priest paralysing the boy? The boy is paralysed through the teachings of Father Flynn. The readers are made aware that the boy and Father Flynn spent considerable amount of time together, “The old chap taught him a great deal”. Joyce is showing the readers that the boy is paralysed by the teachings of the priest; albeit he is learning much but this is paralysing him from living his childhood. By spending a great deal of time together the boy is being moulded in a way that the Church wants him to live and behave; the boy is losing his own free-will. What does Father Flynn’s death in the story signify? As mentioned before, Father Flynn can be seen as a personification of the entire Catholic Church; his death enables the boy to feel free, to become free. This is Joyce’s way of telling the people of Dublin that they can also become free, but they have to sever their relationship with the Church.
The second story this essay will engage with is, ‘Eveline’. This story can be seen as the one which is the most direct when it comes to engaging with the theme of paralysis. In this story the main protagonist, Eveline can be said to be one of the very few characters in the novel who actually comes the closest to breaking free from her paralysis. The story is about a girl called Eveline, living at home with her father. Eveline has a lover named Frank, she had the chance to start afresh with him by leaving the city. Throughout the story Eveline is fighting with the idea of whether to leave or to stay. Like most of the other characters Eveline also has an epiphany, she finally decides to go with Frank, this brings a great deal of joy to her; knowing she can start a new life with someone she loves to leave the hard punishing life behind. This all changes once she has to act on her decision, when the moment comes to board the ship with Frank she freezes. Eveline’s paralytic state is best described by the final few sentences in the story. The sentence, “She set her white face to him, passive, like a helpless animal”. (Joyce, J. Dubliners p.26). This line epitomises the state of paralysis perfectly, Eveline becomes so paralysed that she loses the ability to even show emotions. To some extent she can be seen to go into a robotic state were she is unaware of anything going on around her. If Eveline decided to go with Frank this would have been the biggest decision she has made in her whole life; why does she decide to go what is keeping her from going, what is paralysing Eveline? Is it simply the prospect of change is scaring her? Scared of what may happen if she chooses to make a change in her life? By deciding not to go, Eveline remains paralysed by her old life, she has the chance to break the shackles of the city and to begin a new life. Is she simply just scared to leave, scared of change? It is possible to simply think that she is scared of change but there is also the other underlying theme in this story, which is family. Eveline’s refusal to make a change can be seen as the result of her feeling the need, feeling the responsibility of taking care of her father. She made a promise to her dying mother to take care of her siblings and her father, to keep the family together. Her duty to her father supersedes her longing for a new life. Eveline is paralysed by her family, city, environment; she is also paralysed by the potential guilt she would feel is she did decide to leave her family. She is paralysed by her surroundings, even when she believes in herself to bring about change she still remains paralysed. This is exactly what Joyce was trying to show the readers, the people of Ireland. Joyce was trying to show them that they will forever remain stuck with their paralysis until they actually make a change. Simply wanting to make a change is not enough, Joyce feels that they need to act upon their dreams and aspirations for a better life. At the end of the story Eveline is depicted to the readers as a, “helpless animal”. This shows the reader that Eveline has been stripped of her human emotions, the paralysis has sapped her of all human capabilities. Joyce further highlights Eveline’s miserable existence and paralysis by giving her a means of escape in the story but then taking that away from her. She is given a chance of escaping but Joyce in his style of “scrupulous meanness” decides to show the readers that she is not able to leave even when she is given the chance to do so. (Delany, P. Joyce’s Political Development and the Aesthetic of Dubliners).
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To conclude, the main aim of this essay was to engage and discuss the theme of paralysis including the themes of religion and family; to see how Joyce engages with these themes in the two stories and what was his reasons and aims for doing this were. Joyce achieves his aim of showing the Dubliners that they are paralysed; he does this by showing the paralysis of Dublin through fictional characters but with a great deal of realism; he chooses to do this in order to show the severity of the paralysis.
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