Symbolism Used in James Joyce's Dubliners

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Tommy Campbell
Fr. Williams
Eng 241
26 February 2011
Symbolism

Symbolism is a powerful tool used by people every day to force people to look past the obvious and find the deeper meaning. Symbolism is used by authors, musicians, priests, and many others. James Joyce, a well-known Irish author, uses symbolism repeatedly throughout his collection of short stories published in 1916. In these stories, titled Dubliners, Joyce uses symbolism not only to enhance the stories, but to also show the hidden, underlying message of each story without coming out and saying it directly. Joyce’s stories are centered on the problems of Dublin and through his use of symbolism Joyce is able to focus attention on what problem each story is addressing. James Joyce, author of Dubliners, uses symbolism effectively to enhance the stories.

The first story in Dubliners deals with the problems of the Catholic Church. “The Sisters” is about a priest, Father Flynn, who goes crazy because of the incredible stress placed on him by the rule-centered church. A note publicly announcing the priest’s death read “July 1st, 1895 The Rev. James Flynn (Formerly of S. Catherine’s Church, Meath Street), aged sixty-five years. R.I.P.” (Joyce 4). Joyce associates Father Flynn with S. Catherine’s Church because St. Catherine was torn apart physically and Father Flynn was torn apart mentally, because of the rules and strict guidelines he was expected to uphold. Making this connection enhances the story because it shows the reader that if the priest can’t handle the rules placed on him by the church, how was an average person supposed to. The date is also symbolic because July 1st is The Feast of the Most Precious Blood of Christ. The breaking of the chalice during Mass was the cause of his death. Fr. Flynn’s sister said “It was that chalice he broke....That was the beginning of it…That affected his mind” (9-10). At his wake the priest his holding the chalice in his hands, which symbolized the evil church was the cause of this man’s death and reiterating the main theme of the story.

“An Encounter” is the next story and its major theme is appearance versus reality, meaning things are not always what they seem. The story is about a few boy’s decision to play hooky from school in order to have an adventure. The boys meet an old man who is nice on the outside, but is actually very evil. Just before the boys come across the old man on their adventure “the sun went in behind some clouds…” (16). The sunny, innocent day turns dark symbolizing that something bad is about to happen. Joyce uses the weather in many of his stories to foreshadow events that are about to happen. This technique adds to the stories because it helps the reader know that something is about to happen and as a result they pay closer attention to what it is that Joyce is referring to. When the boys meet the old man he was “dressed in a suit of greenish-black…” (16) and had a “pair of bottle-green eyes” (19). Green is the color of Ireland and Joyce associates it with evil. By making a connection between the color of Ireland and the evil old pedophile, Joyce is really associating the evilness with all of Ireland, which is the major theme of Dubliners. Joyce is very good at giving hints about certain characters. For example, when the boys were talking with the pedophile they noticed “he had great gaps in his mouth between his yellow teeth” (17) and being gap toothed symbolized someone who was sexually promiscuous. Techniques used by Joyce, changing the weather and the man being gap-toothed, all enhance the stories because they provide hidden information that brings to light the themes of each story.

In the next story, “Araby”, the major theme is infatuation versus love. Joyce begins the story by informing his readers that “North Richmond Street, being blind” (21) was the street the boy’s school was on. The term ‘blind’ is referring to the street, meaning it was a dead-end street, but it also...
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