Realism in Joyce's Dubliners

Topics: Dubliners, James Joyce, Ulysses Pages: 9 (2943 words) Published: May 2, 2013
William Buttlar
ENG 200

Style and Substance: An examination of Joyce's unique form of Realism

There are not many individual who can claim to have completely redelevoped a style of writing, but James Joyce was not like most individuals. As an introverted yet observant youth, Joyce formed a highly progressive (while unpatriotic) view of his hometown of Dublin (Levin, 11). When considering that “[the] history of the realistic novel shows that fiction tends toward autobiography” (Levine, 41), it is no surprise that these observations and feelings that would eventually serve as the inspiration to the general setting of Dubliners. Dubliners is a collection of short fiction by Joyce, set exclusively in Dublin with protagonists born and raised in the city. Many consider the novel to be a prime example of “realism” (a style of writing that tends to reject symbolism in favor of realistic representation of daily life) because it “[functions] as a window on reality” in Dublin (Yee, 20). However, as author Frank O'Connor famously noted, Joyce's writing is more than realistic setting and characters, but a “direct correspondence between substance and style”. Examining two of Joyce's works from Dubliners, “Araby” and “After the Race”, we start to see a pattern of what constitutes the “substance” and “style” of Joyce's work; the “substance” being Joyce's representation of the inescapable reality of Dublin for each character, and the “style” being a focus on symbolism highly unlike that of any other realist author at the time. It is this combination of realism and symbolism, as well as the autobiographical tendancies of Joyce, that make his version of Dublin's inescapable reality so poignant. Dublin is, according to Joyce, the “centre of paralysis” for the entire country (Levin, 30). “Paralysis” can be seen as a representation of the protangonists' inability to move from or escape their own reality, as well as the stangnace of the society of the time. While the reasons behind this paralysis are never made specifically clear by Joyce, it is accepted that cultural stagnace, the effects of the religious community, family values, and the general state of Ireland in comparison to the rest of the world are referenced within the stories of Dubliners (Walzl, 158). The inescapabilty of this paralytic reality is shown mainly by the character's reactions to their epiphanic discovery of it; both “After the Race” and “Araby” have a clear point in which the protagonist realizes that he is trapped by the reality of Dublin, but does nothing to fight agaisnt it. Ironically, their acceptance of this reality only strengthens the bonds that keep them immobile. This inescapable reality is clearly represented in the events of “Araby”; it is, in the most basic description, a story of youth trying to break from the monotony of everyday life, but instead “becomes a cog in a paralyzed society” (Walzl, 167). The protagonist's desire to escape or transcend his life is made clear by his fixation on the exotic elements that appear in it (specifically, the bazar Araby and Mangan's sister). However, the society that renders the boy “paralyzied” shatters his fascination of the exotic, as “he realizes the unreality of his adolescent feelings … [His] inability to buy even a trinket for the girl and his perecption of the inanity of the flirtation he has just witnessed climax in an epiphanic vision, not of light, but of darkness” (Walzl, 175). The boy's acceptance of his existance “as a creature driven and derided by vanity” (Joyce, 40), traps him in the paralytic reality that does not permit him to even imagine escape (Gifford, 37). While the “substance” of Joyce's Araby is brought forth mainly by the character's reality, it is the symbolism of the setting that cements the idea that the reality of the character's life is inescapable. The story is set on “North Richmond Street”, a “quiet” neighborhood with “sombre” house that possesed a “imperturbable faces”...
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