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Religion in James Joyce's Dubliners

By AnneyStinson Oct 24, 2011 688 Words
English Literature

Dubliners essay

"Discuss Joyce's treatment of religion and it's importance within the collection of short stories."

Dubliners is a collection of short stories in which the author, James Joyce, presents the lives of several individuals from all ages living in Dublin during the Victorian era. Among several themes that are treated throughout the story, one that we find really often is religion. Indeed, religion played a significant part in the lives of the people at the time, but not in a positive way: religion is often described as suffocating, corrupted, and keeping the characters from escaping their situation. Especially with the priests figures, Joyce presents a strong criticism of religion, and the way it was used in society at the time to control the people.

The first appeareance of religion takes place in the first story, The Sisters: here, the religious figure is Father Flynn, an old priest who just died. We learn that he turned mad because of breaking a chalice: one of the sisters describes finding him: "sitting up by himself in his confession-box, wide-awake and laughing-like softly to himself". Yet, the boy in the story seems unable to break free from the way he was trapped by the priest by religion: even if he feels relief when the priest dies, Flynn's figure follows the boy in his dreams: But the grey face still followed me. It murmured; and I undestood that it desired to confess something. I felt my soul recieding into some pleasant and vicious region; and there again I found it waiting for me." Here, we can see that not only the priest is haunting him, but there also is a sense of perversion and sinisterness; we feel that the relationship between the two characters is unhealthy. We also see how incompetent is the priest here: while he's suppose to bring the boy guidance, the priest is the one who asks for confession.

In An Encounter, there is also a notion of religion, represented by Father Butler: he's the one who symbolises unfair authority, by keeping the boys from reading the comic books that help them mentally escaping. Indeed, he refers to their book as "rubbish", and says he's "surprised" that boys like them, "educated" are reading "such stuff". This shows religion as a figure of austerity and entrapment, leaving no room for dreams and escape. Religion controls ideas and opinion, and the priest, here, inspires fear to the students: "everyone's heart palpitated" when he took the book from the young boy. We can see here how religion influences the young boys, but not in a positive way.

In another story, if the priest doesn't seem authoritary, he certainly is corrupted: indeed, in Ivy Day in the Committee Room, Father Keon makes a quick appearance in the room, saying he's looking for Mr Fanning, for a "little business matter". All in the way he's described seems corrupted: his voice, "discreet, indulgent and velvetly", as if he wanted to use his voice in order to seduce whoever he's talking to, but also his expressions; when his eyes expresses a feeling, his mouth expresses another one: "he opened his very long mouth suddenly to express disappointment and at the same time opened wide his very bright blue eyes to express pleasure and surprise." His face is also described in order not to seem trustworthy to the reader: it has "the appearance of damp yellow cheese", yellow being the colour of sinisterness and corruption. The whole character is gloomy, and evocates corruption and unhealthiness. Here again we see how wrong a vision Joyce has of religion.

Ahh these elements show that James Joyce sees religion in a quite pessimistic way, with corrupted and authoritary priests, which are the major figure of religion throughout the stories. But the author also shows that religion itself only bringing doom and sinisterness to the characters, instead of helping them escaping and finding peace. But all in all, religion is a central topic within Dubliners, and Joyce seems to be quite interested in it.

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