Dubliners by James Joyce: A Review
In college, I had an Irish Literature course, so naturally, I’m over Irish Literature for the rest of eternity. However, a little book has been glaring at me on my bookshelf for the past few years and it finally tricked me into reading it in its entirety. Dubliners by James Joyce is a bundle of short stories of which I only read two during my college course.
When authors create short stories and put them into a collection, my first instinct is to discover why the author chose the stories and why in that particular order. I’m not convinced that any author would spend so much time writing stories and then throw them haphazardly between two covers.
Before my brain kicks into analysis gear, I’ll give a small opinion on Dubliners. I really did not like Joyce when I took my Irish Lit class. In fact, I thought all Irish literature was pretty boring. However, now that I’m a few years older, or perhaps because I can freely focus on one book at a time as opposed to 15, I absolutely loved Dubliners. It felt a little like I was watching many people’s lives happen from an observer’s point of view. I felt both very close to the varying main characters and very closed off at the same time. The imagery that Joyce conveys with tiny words and phrases is truly magnificent. He made me feel grossed out by a dusty room and allowed me to smell the vinegar peas in a small café.
The first thing I noticed about the short stories, aside from the obvious fact that they all are about Ireland, was the mystery that James Joyce leaves strewn about in each story. Every story concludes so that the reader must make his or her own interpretations. I liked that because Joyce gave just enough detail to make you think the worst possible scenario. But, at the same time you say to yourself, “noooo, that can’t be what happened, that’s too weird/gross/surprising/unnatural.”
For instance, in “The Sisters”, a priest dies and people talk about how he was getting weird in his old age. His weirdness extends to his “unhealthy” relationship with a young man. The second story tells about two boys who skip school and meet an old man. This old man talks about how he loves little girls and then excuses himself to be in private. Both instances, the reader can assume what is implied but it’s also very weird/gross. This makes you second guess your inferences.
As I said above, Joyce is fantastic at compiling fragments of language to give the reader a sensation. I noticed this most prominently in the “The Sisters” about the perverted priest. It’s not that Joyce flat out paints the scene or describes anything in excessive detail, it’s more the casual word selection that produces a strong idea. For instance, take a look at these examples. On the left are pieces from Joyce. The right is my substitution to show how small adjectives would completely change your opinion.
“dribbled…over…his ancient priestly garments” vs. “spilled over his priestly robes”
“lips were so moist with spittle” vs. “lips were damp”
“dusky golden light” vs. “muted sunlight”
“discoloured teeth…his tongue lie upon his lower lip” vs. “yellowed teeth…his tongue rested on his lip”
I think if these descriptions of the priest would have been left out, it would have changed my whole view from perverted priest, to just priest. That’s powerful writing.
While most of the stories were mysteriously ended, there were also a couple in between that seemed to have no mystery or real plot. For instance, “After the Race” was just a narrative of a rich man’s hobbies and a party he attends. Nothing really happens and it concludes after the party. I think Joyce added these in to show that not every person has mystery to their lives.
I took away so much from Dubliners. It led me to ask why more modern authors do not write in this style. My only answer is that we are so overly stimulated by technology and things to keep us busy, that a story about someone going to church and what they experienced would bore most people. We like the fast-paced, high action novels. Nevertheless, Joyce’s writing is exceptionally inspirational to any writer.
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