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James Joyce’s book Dubliners, is composed of several intriguing short stories. Joyce’s main emphasis is to send a “wake up call” to the people of Dublin about the appalling conditions of Ireland. In a letter to his publisher Joyce tells him that he “seriously [believes] that [the publisher] will retard the course of civilization in Ireland by preventing the Irish people from having one good look at themselves in my nicely polished looking-glass” (qtd. in Beja 33). Joyce proves his assertion through his use of characters and situations in the short stories “The Boarding House,” “A Little Cloud,” and “The Dead.” In addition, autonomy and responsibility play a major role of how the characters act and react to certain situations that connect to the hard times of Ireland. In Dubliners, characters often face situations that are portrayed as “light and dark.”
In “The Boarding House,” Mrs. Mooney’s actions and interactions are primarily portrayed as being manipulative. She is a “dark” person and Joyce uses examples to support this. Joyce describes Mrs. Mooney as a person that is stern and is “all business.” Mrs. Mooney’s characteristics imply that she is someone to fear. In addition, Mrs. Mooney’s boarding house is run with much order. Joyce states that Mrs. Mooney “governed her house cunningly and firmly, knew when to give credit, when to be stern and when to let things pass,” which a viewer can acknowledge that Mrs. Mooney is a “dark” and fierce women when it comes down to taking actions on others (56). Furthermore, Mrs. Mooney has such a stern and superior control over the tenants that Joyce states that the “young men spoke of her as The madam,” which means a lady of respect (57). They know that Mrs. Mooney is one lady to be feared.
In “The Boarding House,” Mr. Doran’s actions with Polly caused him to be fearful of Mrs. Mooney. Joyce explains how Mr. Doran’s feelings about receiving consequences from Mrs. Mooney are “dark.” Joyce exaggerates the depth of Mr. Doran’s nervousness towards receiving his sanctions were so fierce that “he felt his heart leap […] in his throat” (61). Mr. Doran’s actions are so fearful that he acts as if he is being tried for murder. Mr. Doran’s fears of the consequences are so “dark” that
He longed to ascend through the roof [of the Boarding House] and fly away to another country where he would never hear again of his trouble.
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Even though it is Mr. Doran’s responsibility to receive consequences for his actions, Mrs. Mooney causes the sanctions to be “dark.”
In “A Little Cloud” Little Chandler is trapped like many others in the city of Dublin, which is depicted as being “dark.” Joyce describes Little Chandlers inner conflict of desperately escaping the entrapment of staying in the City of Dublin. In addition, Little Chandler is convinced that “there was no doubt about it: if you wanted to succeed you had to go away” (68). Joyce stresses that Little Chandler is eagerly yearning to escape Dublin that “every step brought him nearer to London” (68). Little Chandler’s desperation to escape is so severe that every thought that comes to his mind is connected to be another reason to leave Ireland. Unlike Gallaher who has traveled all around Europe, Little Chandler has never left Ireland except to go to The Isle of Man (71). Little Chandler starts to ponder his “dark” situation, wondering if he
Could […] not escape from his little house? Was it too late for him to try to live bravely like Gallaher? Could he go to London? (79)
Furthermore, Little Chandler’s responsibility to support his family is the main reason why he cannot escape the “dark” and entrapping city of Dublin.
In “A Little Cloud,” Ignatius Gallaher is a person of success and self-pleasing characteristics. Gallaher is a “light” person and Joyce uses many examples to illustrate this. Gallaher is described as a “friend whom he had known under a shabby and necessitous guise [who] had become a brilliant figure on the London Press” (65). Gallaher’s success is more rewarding than others, which is depicted as being “light” because Joyce describes Gallaher’s youth as being a person who in his youth is restless and non-caring. In addition, Joyce explains that “there was always a certain … something in Ignatius Gallaher that impressed you in spite of yourself” (67). Joyce explains Gallaher’s “light” personality that consists of natural characteristics, which contributes to Gallaher’s latter success. Since Gallaher success caused him to travel all over the world, Gallaher describes to Little Chandler the beautiful scenes of the different places he has been. Joyce is trying to show that Gallaher wasn’t known to be most diligent person, but he made the autonomous decision to leave Dublin. Since Gallaher left Dublin his life became full of “light” and now he is successful, fulfilling, and adventurous.
In “The Dead,” Miss Ivors is a lady who has a nasty attitude towards others. Miss Ivors is a “dark” person and Joyce uses examples of her biased opinions about Dublin. Mrs Ivors shamefully confronts Gabriel because he writes for The Daily Express (188). Furthermore, Mrs. Ivors calls Gabriel a “West Briton,” for doing so. Joyce uses this example to show how Miss Ivors is appalled that Gabriel doesn’t write for a traditionally Irish newspaper. Miss Ivors strongly favors Ireland, which Joyce describes as being “dark.” In addition, Miss Ivors asks Gabriel “why [does he] go to France and Belgium […] instead of visiting [his] own land” (189). Miss Ivors has much pride for the “dark” country of Ireland and she defends Ireland by debating with Gabriel about why he would go to any other country. Miss Ivors feels that it is her responsibility to stay true to her country, but Ireland is depicted as being “dark,” therefore, Miss Ivors’ attitude and personality is “dark.”
In “The Dead,” Gabriel’s misconception of his relationship with his wife is portrayed as being “dark.” Joyce uses examples of “darkness” to express Gabriel’s emotions. Gabriel’s “tears [gathered] more thickly in his eyes and in partial darkness […] his soul [… dwelled] the vast hosts of the dead” (224). Joyce uses the dark imagery to illustrate how Gabriel feels after he realizes that his wife really does not love him. In addition, after Gabriel’s realization he observes “the flakes, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the lamplight” (225). Gabriel’s state of mind is “dark” and therefore he presents this mood by describing snow, which is something that is “light,” as being “dark. Gabriel felt that “his soul swooned slowly as heard the snow falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead” (225). After Gabriel’s realization, he feels that the snow is a “silver and dark” blanket that covers everything. Joyce’s use of imagery is parallel to the “darkness” of Gabriel’s emotions spreading over him. Even though Gabriel knows that his wife’s true love is for Michael Furey, he will make the decision to stay with his wife because he feels responsible too.
In Dubliners, Joyce produces many examples of characters and situations that are connected to being “light” and “dark.” In addition, these examples are often derived from characters and the state of affairs in Dublin Ireland through themes of autonomy or responsibility. Joyce believed that his thoughts of Dublin, Ireland must be heard by the people of Ireland for the sake of the country and, more specifically, the city of Dublin. Joyce successfully conquers this goal by presenting these several short stories that are composed in the book Dubliners. Also, considering the grey times in Ireland‘s past history affected many people in different ways. Joyce’s focus is to help enlighten the Dubliners’ realization of the conditions of their society and that it is in need of change. One may infer that Joyce felt the responsibility to write this book Dubliners, to make a change in the horrendous circumstances of society in Ireland.
Beja, Morris. “One Good Look at Themselves: Epiphanies in Dubliners.” James Joyce’s Dubliners Notes and Critical Essays. Boston: Pearson, 2002