Search for Meaning in James Joyce's Dubliners

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Search for Meaning in James Joyce's Dubliners

Throughout Dubliners James Joyce deliberately effaces the traditional markers of the short story: causality, closure, etc. In doing so, "the novel continually offers up texts which mark their own complexity by highlighting the very thing which traditional realism seeks to conceal: the artifice and insufficiency inherent in a writer's attempt to represent reality.(Seidel 31)" By refusing to take a reductive approach towards the world(s) he presents on the page - to offer up "meaning" or "ending" - Joyce moves the reader into complex and unsettling epistemological and ontological realms. Meaning is no longer unitary and prescriptive, the author will not reveal (read impose) what the story "means" at its close and therefore we can't definitively "know" anything about it. Instead, meaning, like modernism, engenders its own multiplicity in Joyce's works, diffuses into something necessarily plural: meanings. An ontological crisis is inextricable from this crisis of meaning and representation. In Joyce's stories the reader is displaced from her/his traditionally passive role as receptor of the knowledge an author seeks to impart, and "positioned as both reader and writer of text, in some ways playing as integral a part in constructing the work as the author does.(Benstock 17)"

In the novel's opening story, "The Sisters," Joyce elevates this concern with writing "reality" from sub-theme to theme: the story is an extended meditation on textuality just as much as it is the story of a boy and a priest. By beginning with a metatext Joyce brilliantly opens up the entire collection for a different kind of reading, one based on noticing rather than overlooking literature's limitations. With...

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...eems not only "hard," as in difficult or complex, but viscerally painful to attempt to capture some meaning or truth about the real through the medium of words on a page.

Works Cited:

Benstock, Bernard. Critical Essays on James Joyce. G.K. Hall & Co. Boston, Massachusetts: 1985.

Joyce, James. Dubliners. Washington Square Press. New York, New York: 1998.

Seidel, Michael. James Joyce: A Short Introduction. Blackwell Publishers, Inc. Oxford, UK: 2002.

Works Consulted:

Fairhall, James. James Joyce and the Question of History. Cambridge University Press. New York, New York: 1993.

Garrett, Peter K., ed. Twentieth Century Interpretations of Dubliners. Prentice-Hall, Inc. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: 1968.

Torchiana, Donald T. Backgrounds for Joyce’s Dubliners. Allen & Unwin, Inc. Winchester, Massachusetts: 1986.
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