The Search for Truth or Meaning in James Joyce's Dubliners

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The Search for Truth or Meaning in Dubliners Several of James Joyce's stories in Dubliners can read as lamentations on a frustrating inability of man to represent meaning by external means, including written word. When characters in "Araby," "Counterparts," and "A Painful Case" attempt to represent or signify themselves, other characters, or abstract spiritual entities with or through words, they not only fail, but end up emotionally ruined. Moreover, the inconclusive endings of the three stories correspond with the fates of their characters. The short texts of Dubliners imply that representing the "real" is frustrating, if not impossible. Early in Dubliners, Joyce establishes the theme of emotional investment in representation. In the third story in Joyce's volume, the childhood tale "Araby," the young narrator and protagonist reveres words-written or verbal signifiers-as vessels for containing spiritual meaning. The mere utterance of Mangan's sister's name (which, incidentally, is never revealed in the story) serves "as a summons to all [the narrator's] foolish blood" (25). Words are repeated by the narrator to elevate and rescue his senses. He describes himself "murmuring O love! O love! many times" (25) in the drawing-room of his dead priest friend. While the fact that the narrator uses words to connote external meanings is not unusual, his reverence and actual utterance of the italicized (highlighted) "O love!" demonstrate a conception of language that seems to transcend its normal connotative signifying functions. The use of words as calls-to-action or soul-summoning devices suggests that the narrator sees words as semi-autonomous signs-in-themselves. The name of the story itself and the bazaar-within-t... ... middle of paper ... ...e definable entity. Rather, "A Painful Case", like the other two stories in Dubliners elides notions of "the real," contextualizing the problems and insufficiencies of representation within its narrative. In "Araby," "Counterparts," and "A Painful Case," characters search for meaning in representation and end up angry, violent, and alone. The empty pessimism of these three conclusions suggests that literature's function may not be to articulate a coherent truth or meaning. Rather, literature when coming "close to life", is inconclusive, complex, and non-representational. Works Cited Joyce, James. Dubliners. Signet Classic Edition. New York: Penguin Books USA Inc., 1991. Woolf, Virginia. "Modern Fiction." The Norton Anthology of English Literature, Ed. David Daiches and Jon Stallworthy, 6th ed. New York: W. W. Norton and Company, 1993. (2:1921-26)

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