Epiphanies In Dubliners Essay, Research Paper
Most observers and literary critics consider Joyce s Dubliners a masterful sequence of multiple objective epiphanies, due to the manner in which Joyce reveals the city of Dublin itself, perceived in all of its troubling spiritual and ethical paralysis. An epiphany occurs when there is a sudden manifestation of the essence or meaning of something, when a moment of insight about a situation arises instantaneously with great magnitude. Epiphanies, moments of sudden insight about situations, arise frequently in Dubliners, which has been described and analyzed by critics as a series of fifteen epiphanies.
However, the stories in the Dubliners actually go much beyond this keen insight about a particular dilemma. The characters constantly show a sudden burst of enlightenment, coupled with the frustrating awareness of their powerlessness to do anything about it. In Dubliners, one of the ways these epiphanies are provoked is by the clash of the visual with the acoustic. This is a common technique of Joyce. Throughout his works, from Dubliners to Finnegan s Wake, Joyce developed his themes through a series of epiphanies, a series of related moments of sudden insight and understanding. The core meaning of Joyce s works is provided primarily by his constant portrayal of a certain universe in a certain order. Sudden experiences are seen as significantly illuminating, and the character of the story realizes the truth about himself and the situation he is in. But that is not all: the reader is shown the whole process, which ultimately becomes an epiphany for the reader.
Focusing upon a more specific analysis of the epiphanies in Dubliners, I will argue that most of the epiphanies, coupled with frustration, are provoked by the clash of the visual with the acoustic.
Interestingly, in Dubliners Joyce utilizes the metaphor of the labyrinth of the eye. Minotaurs prevent the Dubliners from perceiving what they are, with the exception of rare epiphanies when the eye collides with another of the senses, such as the ear. At that moment the minotaur is metaphorically slain, resulting in a dramatic alteration of the visual perception of the character and a sudden, insightful awareness of their real predicament. But frustratingly, this is always accompanied by paralysis.
Joyce enhances the labyrinth metaphor by creating a sense of darkness that haunts the whole collection of short stories in Dubliners, suggesting total confusion. This technique is accompanied by the aimless and symbolic wandering of characters in the evening through the twisting Dublin streets, which all too often lead nowhere or result in the wanderer driven and derided (Joyce 35) into a dead end, as happens in Araby.
As noted briefly, paralysis, a living death or complete deadening of the senses, is a dual element along with epiphany, and seems to be the existential condition of Dubliners. Like most of Joyce s stories, this paralysis is faithful to his themes, and portrays impotence (in the form of weakness and sexual hesitation), frustration, and ultimately, death. His city is the soul of moral, spiritual, and intellectual paralysis, and everyone is a victim. Paralysis is present in Dubliners from beginning to end and becomes gradually more powerful and universal: it begins as individual paralysis through a triad of states, childhood, adolescence and mature life, before expanding to collective paralysis in the three stories of public life so as to pervade the artistic, religious and political cultures of Dublin.
The events in Araby provide an example of the clash of the visual with the acoustic, resulting in a sudden moment of insight. In Araby the narrator loves books to such an extent that he behaves like the protagonist of a romance novel, safeguarding his love like a sacred chalice through the sordid underworld of Dublin. Her image accompanied [him] even in places the most hostile to romance (Joyce 31). He carries this innocent vision of the world with him, derived from the romantic novels of Walter Scott, but he too is destined to realize that the fervently pursued world of his dreams is an illusion. In the fair scene, for example, the boy overhears an inane exchange: O, I never said such a thing! O, but you did! O, but I didn t! Didn t she say that? Yes. I heard her. O, there s a fib (Joyce 35)! This brief reported conversation resembles some of Joyce s earlier epiphanies even though it is not included in the collection. It is worth noting, however, that this is much more than simply recorded conversation, because it reveals so clearly the improvement of the author s artistic skill, as well as his maturity at the time he wrote Dubliners.
Triggered by conversation, an epiphany of discovery and awareness instantaneously altered the boy s sense of perception. In other words, the boy realizes the vacuity of the speakers as well as the aimlessness of his own expectations. He suddenly understands, but is helpless to do anything about it. Interestingly enough, this epiphany takes place when the light was out (Joyce 35) suggesting that at the moment of the acoustic confrontation, literal sight is replaced by insight. The narrator is altered at this moment into a paralyzed creature driven and derided by vanity (Joyce 35).
In Eveline, Joyce suggests that Eveline is stifled by the dust of Dublin and overwhelmed in the same way as Father Flynn is when he passes out while reciting his daily prayers with his mouth open (Joyce 10), literally suffocated by the abnormal point of view of the eye in isolation. The world enveloping Eveline is a visually confined space that provides her a dimension of false security in which she takes shelter.
On the other hand, the acoustic world embodied by Frank offers no real point of reference or specific perspective because it involves a simultaneous relationship and is so disturbing. Whatever is aural in Eveline s visually partitioned environment is either broken or taken from her home. For example, Frank comes from a distant unknown country (Joyce 37) and the organ player is forced to go away. In addition, Eveline s visual world is connected with the Catholic Church and appears to encourage a limited visual understanding of the real world. What makes her dilemma even more poignant is that at the beginning of Eveline she has everything she needs to be the winner instead of the victim.
All her senses are active and she can perceive both worlds. She is able to distinguish the visual, compartmentalized, inhibiting world of her home and family from the acoustic all-inclusive world of Frank. Yet at the end, she rambles on like her own mother, who dies mumbling unintelligible remarks. Eveline ends up passive, like a helpless animal (Joyce 41), surrendering to the visual. Her vacant stare reveals no real recognition at all, simply because of becoming overwhelmed in the visually confining streets of Dublin.
Interestingly, most of the Dubliners are badly losing their struggle with the minotaur of paralysis because they have never experienced an epiphanic revelation. Father Flynn and Eveline are perhaps the best examples of this. Father Flynn is a paralyzed Catholic priest who has become spiritually crippled after failing in his vocation. He is a prisoner of his career choice and unable to cope with his duties. Because Eveline is the only character who is offered a realistic and positive opportunity to leave, her case is even more striking. She has all the potential to carry out her decision and yet, at the moment of breaking her ties with Dublin and her family, she becomes indecisive, with no sign of love or farewell or recognition (Joyce 41).
In essence, The Dead marks the spreading-out paralysis at every level to universal dimensions, depicted by the symbolism of the snow being general all over Ireland (Joyce 211). Individually, the partygoers are physically alive but fail to live in any meaningful way. Politics, art, and religion are all presented as equally paralyzed. For example, Joyce suggests that politics are dead and have sunk to the parochial and fanatic nationalism of Miss Ivors. Religion is also but a shadow of its former self, devoid of power and life, as symbolized by the monks lying lifeless in their coffins. Art is portrayed as just as dead and uninspiring, represented in this story by the singing of Bartell D Arcy, who was not in voice tonight (Joyce 212).
In Dubliners, Joyce evokes in essence a fallen world that features sterile fragmentation and an abnormal isolation of the senses. The citizens of Dublin depend solely on the eye for comprehension but still do not see clearly. This is illustrated in The Dead when Gabriel s eyes, irritated by the floor which glittered with beeswax under the heavy chandelier, wandered to the wall above the piano (Joyce 186). In fact, The Dead, which is both the ultimate synthesis and climax of Dubliners, seems to be offered by James Joyce as a single epiphany of multiple meaning, such as death in life, life in death, and evocation of the dead. Significantly, the Morkan party in The Dead takes place on January sixth, which is of course the Christian feast of Epiphany. This is a perfect choice for the final story of such a book. The irreverence of Joyce s depiction of Epiphany Day is perhaps the most crucial element of The Dead, as well as a reminder that it is a spiritual death that is the very foundation of the paralysis of which the Catholic Church is the main cause.
Joyce offers a mock reduplication of the original Epiphany in The Dead. Gabriel Conroy arrives on a cold night from the east. The offer of gold is reflected when he took a coin rapidly from his pocket (Joyce 178), as a generous gift for Lily. Such interesting parallels, whether or not Joyce intended them, are certainly sardonic. In effect, Christianity as a dynamic force has degenerated into a satire of itself.
In conclusion, epiphanies, in the form of moments of insight about situations, arise frequently throughout James Joyce s Dubliners. The characters constantly become enlightened, but are coupled with the frustrating awareness of their powerlessness to do anything about it. In Dubliners, most of the epiphanies are provoked by the clash of the visual with the acoustic.