Dubliners is a collection of short stories written by James Joyce. In that collection there are several themes which are common to many short stories as well as the use of some of Joyce's narrative techniques. The extract we are given is taken from the short story "Clay". "Clay" relates the story of Maria, who works at a laundry. In the extract she is having a Hallow's eve evening at Joe's house, who is one of her friend. We will see what is particular in that short story? In order to answer that question we will focus our first part of study on the themes which are present in the extract and then on the narrative techniques which are used by the author.
So we will first study the main themes which are present in the extract.
Firstly, there are some clues which tell us that religion is omnipresent in the passage. For example the name of the main character Maria may refer to the Virgin Mary. Then, Joey pronounces the name of "God" line 2 and to finish with, Maria gets "the prayer-book" at the game line 20. We can notice that although there are references to religion we do not find any religious persons in that short story contrary to other short stories for example in "araby" where even if we do not see living religious persons a priest lived on the house where the main character lives "The former tenant of our house, a priest, had died in the back drawing-room". (James Joyce Dubliners p.19)
Another theme which can be found on the extract is death. When Maria picked her first object in the saucer she "felt a soft wet substance with her fingers" line 15-6. We do not know exactly what she has taken but it might be some clay because they have the same properties. In the game the item that the people get announces something about their future. Since the atmosphere becomes very cold right after she got that item ("there was a pause for a few seconds line 16-7) we can wonder if that item has not an ill omen and even if it does not announces death because Maria is quite old. Death is usually present because a person died in the short story. We can take an example in "the Sisters" where a priest has died "There was no hope for him this time" (James Joyce Dubliners p.3)
Then when we see the words:"There was a pause for a few seconds" line 16-7 we may wonder if all the people in the room, at the moment when Maria took her first item, were not struck by a sudden paralysis. Paralysis is another key theme in the whole collection. It can manifests directly (when someone has died for instance) or indirectly (like in "Araby" where people are struck in their conditions and cannot evolve. In his book, Joyce seems to give a description of a town which is struck with paralysis because in each short story the theme of paralysis is present and is manifested in different ways.
So we saw that in the short story "clay" we could find many key themes of the whole collection. Now we will focus on the narrative techniques which are used in that short story.
To begin with, in every short story in Dubliners there is a connection with the title and the story itself. The title may refer to an important character, a physical or mental tray or a place. For example the title "Araby" refers to the oriental market. Here in "Clay" we do not find any clear references to some clay. But the clay could refer to the item that Maria picked in the saucer. So even if there are no clear references, the clay is still found in the story and is very important. The clay is a substance you can mould in order to produce another substance. Thus if the clay refers to the whole short story, it could be compared to a material that the author might have used to produced his other stories.
Then, normally in the short stories of Dubliners, the main character as an epiphany, which is a moment where the character has an illumination about something. For example, in "Araby", when the little boy arrives to the bazaar, he realises that he will never be able to buy the gift for Mangan's sister because he arrived too late and that life is harder than he thought. But, in "Clay", Maria has not a real epiphany when she got the item, she just thinks that "it was wrong that time" line 19, she has no recognition, nothing becomes clear to her. This is another exception in the narrative techniques that Joyce usually uses in the other short stories.
In "clay", the story is told through the eyes of the narrator but we do not know who the narrator is, it is not Maria because the story is written using the third person narrative. Thus the narrator is external to her but at the same time we are told her feelings, what she thinks. For example at the first line of the extract "Maria thought she would put in a good word for Alphy" So it is difficult to define who the narrator is which is a constant in all the short stories of Dubliners
To conclude, we have seen that in that story, the main themes were present even if they were not as well expressed as in the other short stories as the narrative techniques that Joyce used. There are many other main themes in Dubliners even if they are not in "Clay" for example frustration like in "Araby" where the boy is frustrated because he could not buy his gift for Mangan's sister. The idea of evasion is also found in many of his short stories. So if there seems to be no connections between the stories, they are all connected in some ways