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Search for Meaning in James Joyce’s Dubliners

Search for Meaning in James Joyce’s Dubliners

Throughout Dubliners James Joyce deliberately effaces the traditional markers of the short story: causality, closure, etc. In doing so, “the novel continually offers up texts which mark their own complexity by highlighting the very thing which traditional realism seeks to conceal: the artifice and insufficiency inherent in a writer’s attempt to represent reality.(Seidel 31)” By refusing to take a reductive approach towards the world(s) he presents on the page – to offer up “meaning” or “ending” – Joyce moves the reader into complex and unsettling epistemological and ontological realms. Meaning is no longer unitary and prescriptive, the author will not reveal (read impose) what the story “means” at its close and therefore we can’t definitively “know” anything about it. Instead, meaning, like modernism, engenders its own multiplicity in Joyce’s works, diffuses into something necessarily plural: meanings. An ontological crisis is inextricable from this crisis of meaning and representation. In Joyce’s stories the reader is displaced from her/his traditionally passive role as receptor of the knowledge an author seeks to impart, and “positioned as both reader and writer of text, in some ways playing as integral a part in constructing the work as the author does.(Benstock 17)”

In the novel’s opening story, “The Sisters,” Joyce elevates this concern with writing “reality” from sub-theme to theme: the story is an extended meditation on textuality just as much as it is the story of a boy and a priest. By beginning with a metatext Joyce brilliantly opens up the entire collection for a different kind of reading, one based on noticing rather than overlooking literature’s limitations. With…

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…eems not only “hard,” as in difficult or complex, but viscerally painful to attempt to capture some meaning or truth about the real through the medium of words on a page.

Works Cited:

Benstock, Bernard. Critical Essays on James Joyce. G.K. Hall

Divine Comedy – Indignation and Sin in Dante’s Inferno

Righteous Indignation and the Sin of Intemperate Anger in the Inferno

Allora stese al legno ambo le mani;

per che ‘l maestro accorto lo sospininse

dicendo: ‘Via costà con li altri cani!’

Then he reached out to the boat with both hands; on which the wary Master thrust him off, saying: “Away there with the other dogs!”

Dante’s and Virgil’s scorn seems at first glance to echo the sin of intemperate anger which infects the foul waters of the Stygian marsh. Filippo Argenti, the weeping sinner who emerges from the mire, is eternally punished for his anger. However, the pilgrim’s denunciation of Filippo is not only permitted, but lauded by Virgil with the praise given Jesus: “Blessed is the womb that bore thee!” (VIII, 43-44) Even the pilgrim’s further, seemingly sadistic request to see Filippo attacked by his brethren is granted and accepted as appropriate. This seeming discrepancy in behavior can be reconciled by understanding the underlying motivations of the speakers. The pilgrim and Virgil travel with Divine sanction through Hell. The pilgrim’s entire being learns to become entirely subject to the will of God. Virgil’s journey is in obedience to the three angelic women who are Dante’s patronesses: Our Lady, St. Lucia and Beatrice. However, Filippo Argenti is described by Virgil as “full of arrogance” (VIII, 46) Filippo Argenti’s primary concern is Filippo Argenti. The essential element that separates the pilgrim from the sinners in the marsh is his subservience to God. Due to their divergent natures, the treatment of Filippo Argenti by the pilgrim and Virgil reflects the supreme triumph of the righteous over evil and serves as a warning to the reader.

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…ind of the reader is what method or process was required for the pilgrim to acquire this self-abasing attitude. One key element appears to be the realization of his inability to survive without God’s assistance. The failed attempt to climb Mount Purgatory serves as a moment of revelation. After being driven back by the embodiment of his faults, he receives divine assistance in the person of Virgil, who is the medium by which the grace granted by Our Lady is dispatched. The example of docility towards the divine will is a challenge to each reader to cry out in the words of the Psalmist “Not to us Lord, but to your name give the glory.” (115:1) The reader is called to shift allegiance, as it were. In order to achieve the redemption promised “in the fullness of time,” it is necessary to identify with the self-denying pilgrim rather than the self-edifying sinner.

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