Instructor Ramon Guel
19 July 2015
James Joyce: Paralysis and Epiphany
The paralysis of life has bared the understanding of Joyce’s literary “epiphany” for many readers. James Joyce’s technique of using his characters to blatantly show readers how life could stagnate, or find “paralysis,” leaving them unopened to the great epiphanies before them was no less than genius. Joyce frequently built his plots through the real life “paralysis” of his characters, drawing readers in with the hope of a resolution to the characters dilemmas. Most readers, however, found themselves greatly disappointed in this respect. There was no big “ta da,” no beautiful happy ending, only an “epiphany”. The question is whose epiphany, the characters or the readers? The goal of this paper is to provide understanding and acceptance of James Joyce’s literary works through an explanation of the history, interpretation, and significance of “paralysis” and “epiphany.”
In order to understand James Joyce’s meaning of paralysis there is a need to examine life in Dublin during the late nineteenth century into the early twentieth century. During this time, Dublin was a diverse city full of contradiction and tension. The city had little work, low wages, and rampant mistreatment of workers. Most of Dublin’s population was extremely poor and destitute. In addition to the poor living and working condition, Dublin suffered from a divided government and a divided populous. Dublin was the first city of Ireland; however, it was strongly under British rule, causing the city to have two main societies, the British upper class and the oppressed Irish lower class, which were constantly at odds. This created vast undertones of anger and discord, which ultimately lead to the formation of an extreme nationalist militant group determined to through the British out. The Dublin of James Joyce’s childhood was a city divided and on the brink of a war. (The National Archives of Ireland) Adding to all of the societal and cultural factors of life there were also spiritual factors contributing to the paralysis of Dublin’s inhabitants. Although Dublin had a diverse religious background, the majority of its citizens were devout Roman Catholic and followed a strict religious regiment. The children went to Catholic schools and the families followed Catholic doctrine. However, the citizens received little if any help from the church during this era. In addition to all of this, they were expected to follow the strict doctrine of the church, doctrine that forbade them from taking action against their oppressors, forbade them from anything that could possibly harm their church or family, and forbade any attempts to leave their position in life. They were taught that God was their only salvation and that if he chose to he would deliver them from their hardships. This caused the majority of the citizens to mindlessly go about their lives, praying for God to change things, and effectively prevented them through fear from taking steps to make changes themselves. (The Vatican) These factors created turmoil and undertones within the city, which lead the majority of the population to stagnate or paralyze. The citizens became what Joyce referred to as the “living dead,” which is quoted by Gerard Hannan, writer for the Irish Media Man Web site, as meaning “people who live meaningless lives of inactivity are the real dead” (Hannan). Dublin contained a society full of individuals who went about their daily lives not because of desire, but out of pure robotic need to follow an expected routine. It was a thriving city on the surface, but underneath it was actually full of individuals who had lost hope of a better future. It was a city full of individuals who were unwilling or unable to escape their own self-imposed prison of existence. The significance of this was never lost on Joyce and he used the paralysis of his Dublin to write powerful literary stories designed...
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Hannan, Gerard. irishmediaman.wordpress.com. 28 March 2014. Web. 19 April 2014.
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The James Joyce Center Dublin. The James Joyce Center. 3 November 2012. Web. 19 April 2014.
The National Archives of Ireland. census.nationalarchives. n.d. Web. 19 April 2014.
The Vatican. Catechism of the Catholic Church. n.d. Web. 19 April 2014.
Williams, Bob. members.optusnet.com. n.d. Web. 19 April 2014.
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