The Topic of Paralysis. Parallels between “The Sisters” and “The Dead” as Beginning and Ending of James Joyce’s „Dubliners"

An Investigation


Term Paper, 2005
15 Pages, Grade: 1,7

Excerpt

Contents

1. Introduction

2.1. An Analysis of “The Sisters”’s Central Topic
2.2. An Analysis of “The Dead”’s Central Topic

3.1. “The Sisters” and “The Dead” as beginning and ending of Dubliners as a cycle
3.2. Parallels and Similarities between “The Sisters” and “The Dead”

4.1. Paralysis in “The Sisters”
4.2. Paralysis in “The Dead”
4.3. Paralysis as Joyce’s criticism towards his home town Dublin

5. Conclusion

6. Works Cited

1. Introduction

In this essay I want to analyse and compare the two short stories “The Sisters” and “The Dead” from James Joyce’s Dubliners, the analysis of the theme of paralysis being a second focus. The first story of the Dubliners collection, “The Sisters”, opens the Dubliners sequence and explicitly introduces the topic of paralysis, one of Joyce’s major concerns and a direct criticism in view of his home town Dublin. Therefore the topic of paralysis suggests further investigation, especially concerning the content of “The Sisters”. In this essay I will ignore the earlier version of “The Sisters”, which was printed in The Irish Homestead in 1904, to avoid confusion and to concentrate on Joyce’s revised version, which was published in 1914 as the beginning of the Dubliners collection. Moreover the revised Dubliners version is better suited to be discussed in my essay, because of the fact that I want to take the general concept of paralysis within the whole collection of Dubliners into consideration. Nevertheless I will not take into account the contents of the other short stories from Dubliners, because I want to concentrate on the comparison between “The Sisters” and “The Dead”, in order to avoid digressions and to keep my main focus in mind. “The Dead” I chose for investigation, because several parallels to “The Sisters” and similarities concerning the contents suggest to understand “The Dead” as a final coda or summary to the Dubliners collection. Another reason for my choice of the two stories is founded on personal considerations: if I compiled a collection of short stories, I would put the best story at the ending as a climax and finale, and the second best at the beginning to arouse the reader’s interest and curiosity. I assume that Joyce pursued a similar strategy.

First I want to give a brief overview of common understandings and analysis of the central aspects and main characters of the two short stories, followed by an interpretation of the first and the last story of Dubliners as beginning and ending of a cycle. Next I want to show some more conspicuous parallels between “The Sisters” and “The Dead”, especially referring to the topic of paralysis. On the one hand I investigate paralysis as a theme within the short stories and as a characteristic of the storys’ main characters, and on the other as Joyce’s criticism towards his home town Dublin.

To find relevant secondary literature for my essay I searched the online journal archive Jstor, the university library Magdeburg and the world wide web via the search engine Google.

2.1 An Anlaysis of “The Sisters”’s Central Topic

Since “The Sisters” starts the Dubliners collection and introduces the major topic of paralysis, I want to present come critics’ ideas about the essence of “The Sisters”.

Richard Brown claims that the main aspect of “The Sisters” is the fascinating sensibility of the friendless, parentless, little boy, who tells the story through his own naïve perceptions.[1]

Thomas Connolly goes beyond that and brings up the idea that the story’s topic is the boy’s reaction to the death of his old friend, Father Flynn.[2] Florence Walzl has a similar opinion and states that “The Sisters” deals with a boy’s first awareness of death, which becomes more painful through the disillusionment in his mentor, the cleric. She sees reasons for the boy’s disillusionment in the details the boy learns of the priest’s past, which make him lose his faith in the values the cleric has presented.[3] Another similar view is that the story’s focus is the boy’s awareness that the priest wanted him to take his place and that the boy has a desire to understand what their relationship meant.[4] All these interpretations have in common that the relationship between the unnamed boy and the priest plays an important role. This human relationship is regarded as the story’s crucial theme by Thomas Dilworth, who claims in his essay that this very relationship is troubled by missing love.[5] He sees a proof for his thesis in the fact that that the boy does not express any warmth or affection for the priest.[6] Thomas Connolly presents some more details about the boy’s contradictory feelings towards his mentor: while the priest was alive, the boy had been attracted to and repelled by him. In the beginning of the story the boy is angry about Old Cotter’s remarks on the priest, which indicates his attraction, and on the following morning the boy feels some kind of relief. Moreover the boy’s final state of mind when visiting the dead priest’s sisters, is rather calm and objective.[7] Gerhard Friedrich presents an interesting generalization in his essay “The Perspective of Joyce’s Dubliners”, where he maintains that “all normal human relationships – those of family, country, and religious communion – have in ‘The Sisters’ suffered serious and bewildering dislocation.”[8] A completely different approach that hints to the complexity of “The Sisters” is expressed by Ulrich Schneider, who suggests that may be difficult to identify a central topic in a story that has more than one focus. To support his theory of versatility, he says that one of the most conspicuous characteristics of “The Sisters” is ellipsis in dialogue.[9]

2.2 An Analysis of “The Dead”’s Central Topic

Florence Walzl makes clear that “The Dead” was written later in time and that it is supposed to act as a coda for the whole collection, since it has a different concept of construction.[10] With more than 15,000 words it can also be classified as a novella, and because of its complexity and versatility it is difficult to define its central aspect. But similar to the idea mentioned by Florence Walzl, Joyce’s act of adding “The Dead” to the Dubliners collection can be seen as providing the cycle with a final summary.[11] Gerhard Friedrich mentions that applied to the content of the last story, the final title “The Dead” seems to act as a tombstone above a buried world, especially with regard to the characters.[12] Most obviously the title refers to the dead Michael Furey, Gretta Conroy’s former love. His importance is emphasized and even indicated before he is ever mentioned in Gabriel’s speech, in which Gabriel reminds his listeners to “cherish in our hearts the memory of those dead and gone and great ones whose fame the world will not willingly let die”.[13] In this sense the title refers to those who affect our lives most strongly after they are gone, "The Dead".[14] The topic of the heroic and selfless death of Michael Furey also includes the allusion that a death faced courageously creates a greater impression upon the living, than a death, which is caused by progressive decay. Gabriel is faced with this idea when he thinks of Michael Furey and his aunt Julia. While Michael had died with passion, Gabriel’s aunt Julia will fade away slowly. Impressed by this comparison, Gabriel ponders on the question whether it will be his fate as well, to die an insignificant death.[15]

Next to the relation between the living and the dead as a central aspect, the ‘society of the living dead’ can be seen as a significant theme as well. After he is told by his wife about her former lover Michael Furey, the main character Gabriel Conroy finds out in his final insight that he belongs to the living dead, because he has never enjoyed living to the full.[16] Gerhard Friedrich also mentions that “penetrating self-realization” is an important aspect of the story.[17] The character of Gabriel Conroy is more thoroughly portrayed than many of the characters in Dubliners, which becomes especially clear at the end of the story, where Joyce presents a dialogue between Gabriel’s consciousness and unconsciousness, his sexual desire for his wife on the one hand and his sense of responsibility on the other.[18] The sensitive Gabriel tries to fulfil the social responsibilities given to him by his aunts and feels a need to conform to people whose “grade of culture differed from his”.[19] But although Gabriel sees the roots of evil more clearly than any other character in Dubliners, he still belongs to the society of the living dead.[20] With regard to the final scene, where Gabriel endeavours to control his sexual desire for his wife, who is deeply in thoughts about her former love, the story can also be seen as a parable of love versus lust, personified by the two characters of Michael Furey and Gabriel Conroy.[21] On a more obvious level, the relationship between Gabriel and Gretta seems to be in the story’s foreground as well. Gabriel’s final insight clarifies that Gabriel and Gretta have been living beside one another in ignorance.[22] The representative character the pair of Gretta and Gabriel is emphasized by the fact that they are the only married couple represented at the Misses Morkan’s annual dance.[23] But although their marriage is filled with secrets, Joyce expresses aspects of romance and love in their relationship.[24] It is interesting to know that the triangular of Gretta, Gabriel and Michael can be seen as a parallel to Joyce’s real life. When Joyce returned to Dublin because of his mother’s illness, a former friend played on Joyce’s jealousy and boasted of having been the first lover of Nora Barnacle, Joyce’s wife. Although this was not true, “The Dead” is based partly on Nora’s early experiences, since she did have a young admirer “who died of consumption”.[25] It is evident that in both “The Sisters” and “The Dead” relations play an important role. In the following chapter I want to take into consideration the relations between these two stories.

“The Sisters” and “The Dead” as beginning and ending of Dubliners as a cycle

Florence L. Walzl points out that “all Joyce’s major works are time cycles with linked beginnings and endings”.[26] Besides, it does not seem to be a coincidence that Dubliners begins with the words “There was no hope” and ends with the word “dead”. This indicates that “the cycle of disaster could not be broken, but that it has been completed and confirmed.”[27] This connection makes clear that death plays an important role in both the stories “The Sisters” and “The Dead”. An emphasis on the topic of death can also be seen in the last story’s title “The Dead” on the one hand, and on the other by the fact that death is a central aspect of the first story, which is a child’s perspective to the adults’ awareness of the dead. This emphasis on death suggests that Joyce aimed to represent “the whole range of humanity and its mortality”[28], since the Dubliners collection begins with a child’s view of death in “The Sisters” and concludes with an “adult’s sense of tragic loss and human mortality” in “The Dead”.[29] The idea of the topic of death as a frame around the collection I also found somewhere else: “when characters make an effort to escape their conditions, they often end up in prisons of their own making. This kind of dead end is best illustrated by the fact that the book is framed by the death of a priest in the first story, and the death of a childhood sweetheart in the last.”[30]

[...]


[1] Richard Brown. “James Joyce: A Post-Culturalist Perspective”. London: Macmillan Education LTD, 1992. 6

[2] Thomas E. Connolly. “Joyce’s ‘The Sisters’ – A Pennyworth of Snuff”. College English 27 (1965), 189-195. 190

[3] Florence L. Walzl. “The Liturgy of the Epiphany Season and the Epiphanies of Joyce”. PMLA 80 (1965), 436-450. 444-445

[4] Mary T. Reynolds, ed. “James Joyce – A Collection of Critical Essays”. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1993. 75

[5] Thomas Dilworth. “Not ‘Too Much Noise’: Joyce’s ‘The Sisters’ in Irish Catholic Perspective”. Twentieth Centrury Literature 39 (1993), 99-112. 99

[6] Thomas Dilworth. “Not ‘Too Much Noise’: Joyce’s ‘The Sisters’ in Irish Catholic Perspective”. Twentieth Centrury Literature 39 (1993), 99-112. 109

[7] Thomas E. Connolly. “Joyce’s ‘The Sisters’ – A Pennyworth of Snuff”. College English 27 (1965), 189-195. 190

[8] Gerhard Friedrich. “The Perspective of Joyce’s Dubliners”. College English 26 (1965), 421-426. 422

[9] Ulrich Schneider. “James Joyce – Studien zu Dubliners und Ulysses”. Erlangen: Universitätsbund Erlangen-Nürnberg e.V., 1997. 66

[10] Florence L. Walzl. “The Liturgy of the Epiphany Season and the Epiphanies of Joyce”. PMLA 80 (1965), 436-450. 448

[11] William Füger. “James Joyce: Epoche – Werk – Wirkung“. München: C. H. Beck Verlag, 1994. 129

[12] Gerhard Friedrich. “The Perspective of Joyce’s Dubliners”. College English 26 (1965), 421-426. 423

[13] Friedrich, Gerhard. “The Perspective of Joyce’s Dubliners”. College English 26 (1965), 421-426. 424

[14] Michael J. Godfrey. “The Sisters.” Joycean. 10 Jan 1992. Nov 18 2005. <http://joycean.org/index.php?p=38>

[15] Michael J. Godfrey. “The Sisters.” Joycean. 10 Jan 1992. Nov 18 2005. <http://joycean.org/index.php?p=38>

[16] Florence L. Walzl. “The Liturgy of the Epiphany Season and the Epiphanies of Joyce”. PMLA 80 (1965), 436-450. 449

[17] Gerhard Friedrich. “The Perspective of Joyce’s Dubliners”. College English 26 (1965), 421-426. 425

[18] Daniel R. Schwarz “James Joyce – The Dead – Case Studies in Contemporary Criticism”. New York: Bedford Books, 1994. 102

[19] Patrick Parrinder. “James Joyce”. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1990. 60

[20] William Füger. “James Joyce: Epoche – Werk – Wirkung“. München: C. H. Beck Verlag, 1994. 145

[21] Gerhard Friedrich. “The Perspective of Joyce’s Dubliners”. College English 26 (1965), 421-426. 426

[22] Gerhard Friedrich. “The Perspective of Joyce’s Dubliners”. College English 26 (1965), 421-426. 425

[23] Patrick Parrinder. “James Joyce”. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1990. 55

[24] “Dubliners - James Joyce.” Penguin Reading Guides. 18 Nov. 2005. <http://www.penguinputnam.com/static/rguides/us/dubliners.html>

[25] James Joyce and Andrew Goodwyn, ed. “Dubliners”. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995. 225

[26] Florence L. Walzl. “The Liturgy of the Epiphany Season and the Epiphanies of Joyce”. PMLA 80 (1965), 436-450. 438

[27] William Füger. “James Joyce: Epoche – Werk – Wirkung“. München: C. H. Beck Verlag, 1994. 145

[28] James Joyce and Andrew Goodwyn, ed. “Dubliners”. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995. 228

[29] ibd.

[30] “Dubliners - James Joyce.” Penguin Reading Guides. 18 Nov. 2005. <http://www.penguinputnam.com/static/rguides/us/dubliners.html>

Excerpt out of 15 pages

Details

Title
The Topic of Paralysis. Parallels between “The Sisters” and “The Dead” as Beginning and Ending of James Joyce’s „Dubliners"
Subtitle
An Investigation
College
Otto-von-Guericke-University Magdeburg
Grade
1,7
Author
Year
2005
Pages
15
Catalog Number
V128377
ISBN (eBook)
9783640352616
ISBN (Book)
9783640352715
File size
470 KB
Language
English
Tags
Investigation, Parallels, Sisters”, Dead”, Beginning, Ending, James, Joyce’s, Short, Story, Collection, Dubliners, Considering, Topic, Paralysis
Quote paper
Jascha Walter (Author), 2005, The Topic of Paralysis. Parallels between “The Sisters” and “The Dead” as Beginning and Ending of James Joyce’s „Dubliners", Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/128377

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