Joyce's 'the Sisters'

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This paper is an attempt to analyse the short story ‘The Sisters', by James Joyce and to establish some of the multiple possible relations with the other stories in Dubliners.
‘The Sisters' is the first short story in Dubliners. If we divide the stories according to the stages in life in Dublin –‘childhood, adolescence, adulthood and public life' –, ‘The Sisters' belongs to the period of childhood, as well as ‘An Encounter' and ‘Araby'. The first paragraph sets the tone not only of ‘The Sisters', but also of the whole collection of stories: ‘There was no hope for him this time. (…) I said softly to myself the word paralysis.' In the first paragraph we can relate some words as semantically linked. Such words are: dead, corpse, idle and paralysis. All of them mean ‘absence of movement'. Although the word ‘idle' in this context means ‘empty and casual', since it refers to the priest's words, playing with the polysemy of this word, and if we connect the word to the story as a whole, it can also mean ‘inactive, at rest'. We are suddenly plunged into a universe of hopelessness. Disheartened, paralysed, such is the way Dubliners are portrayed. Dublin itself may be regarded as the personification of misery and despair, as well as the main character throughout all the stories. The Irish –and their souls– are described as a community which is paralysed. In ‘The Sisters' paralysis, the most recurrent theme in all stories, is personified, acquiring the status of a character: ‘I said softly to myself the word paralysis. (…) But now it sounded to me like the name of some maleficent and sinful being.' In this story, there is plenty of movement on the part of the narrator, especially walking: ‘Night after night I had passed the house.'

‘The next morning after breakfast I went down to look at the little house in Great Britain Street.' ‘I went in on tiptoe.'
‘When we rose and went up to the head of the bed I saw that he was not smiling.' ‘I walked away slowly along the sunny side of the street, reading all the theatrical advertisements in the shop-windows as I went.' ‘I groped my way towards my usual chair in the corner.'

‘As I walked along in the sun I remembered old Cotter's words.' Nevertheless, he finishes in a room with three ladies who are awake. There is a corpse and the sisters are looking after their brother, a priest. Thus, we can deduce that the movement is rather ineffective and stasis and arrest end up succeeding. According to some critics, the three women represent the three graces –Aglaia (Beauty), Ephrosyne (Gharm) and Thalia (Grace)–, patrons of pleasant and graceful intercourse. Furthermore, ‘Grace' is the title of another story in the collection. Ironically, there is a gap between what the three graces represent and what happens in the story. Not only in ‘The Sisters', but also in the rest of the stories, intercourse between people is empty and leads nowhere. It is impossible to be in a state of grace in Joyce's Dublin; life there is incompatible with salvation . Now let us analyse the following passage:

'Well, so your old friend is gone, you'll be sorry to hear.' 'Who?' said I.
'Father Flynn.'
'Is he dead?'
'Mr Cotter here has just told us. He was passing by the house.' I knew that I was under observation, so I continued eating as if the news had not interested me. My uncle explained to old Cotter. 'The youngster and he were great friends. The old chap taught him a great deal, mind you; and they say he had a great wish for him.' 'God have mercy on his soul,' said my aunt piously.

Old Cotter looked at me for a while. I felt that his little beady black eyes were examining me, but I would not satisfy him by looking up from my plate. He returned to his pipe and finally spat rudely into the grate. 'I wouldn't like children of mine,' he said, 'to have too much to say to a man like that.' Mr. Cotter is playing cat and mouse with the boy. He announces Father Flynn's death and passes judgement on the...
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