James Joyce : Dubliners (Summary)

I last week completed James Joyce's short stories collection called "Dubliners". This is the second of Joyce's work and much simpler in prose and interpretation than what I read in his earlier "A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man". The collection (of around 15 stories) revolves around what the writer does best. Capturing the moods, the frustration and the anxieties and the small escapes of ordinary Dublin folk. The collection follows a particular pattern wherein the initial stories main protagonists are children and later stories delve more into adolescent and then maturity. Each story is a portrait about the character the story is based on. It is at the same time a caricature of the life of those times in Ireland. The characters in the skin of Ireland and Ireland being viewed from the experiences of the character. In a sense, the overall Irish setting is never far from the storyline even though the view is far from healthy. In fact it is of city in near paralysis.

The stories are fleshed in great detail and the context is simple and mundane. It is not the stories that are being told, instead it is the lives of those characters that are being lived and it’s not filled with some crazy idea or fancy plot. It is just plain living. Stories of failed businessman, of dreamy college student, of clever boarding house lady owner, of drunkards and small time thieves. One gets the glimpse of overall early nineteenth century Ireland in these stories and its despondent take on the city. The struggles of the land, the rising Irish nationalism versus Unionist status-quo, the large scale migration, the religious fervour/piety, the Christian divide, the overbearing influence of church, the cold and ever-raining weather, the stillness of the place are very much part of each story's fabric. And in this stillness, the ordinary folk seem content (not necessarily happy) with the isolated Dublin, while the rest of the continent (Europe) has raced past them. It is where all the opportunities lie now. The city as if decaying at its margins with escape (either from the city or from the drudgery or despair of their circumstances) one of the recurring themes of many stories. The stories describe people of all walks of society in near realistic details, in all their shortcomings and emotions, in all their sagging faces and grimaces with Dublin and its streets and its landmarks in the backdrop. In most of the stories the characters comes with a sudden realisation (as Joyce calls as "epiphanies") wherein the sudden revelation shows them the hopelessness of their situation or smallness of their lives. It's not that their conditions have changed, it’s just they became self-aware of their situation with these experiences. In some they face moral choices/conflict, in others a life defining moment. Whether they are changed or not by their experiences is something that the author has left to the reader to decipher. Below is the last stanza from the final story in the collection called "The Dead"
His soul had approached that region where dwell the vast hosts of the dead. He was conscious of, but could not apprehend, their wayward and flickering existence. His own identity was fading out into a grey impalpable world: the solid world itself, which these dead had one time reared and lived in, was dissolving and dwindling... His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.

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