James Joyce’s Dubliners is a collection of short stories that offers a brief, but intimate window into the lives of a variety of characters, many of whom have nothing in common beyond the fact that they live in Dublin. Men and women of all ages, occupations and social classes are represented in this collection. The stories in Dubliners are often about the ways in which these individuals attempt to escape from the numbness and inertia that their lives yield, and the moments of painful self-realization that follow these attempts. “Araby”, “The Dead” and “A Little Cloud”, stories included in Dubliners best portray the idea of the endeavours one must go on to find themselves.
During the time Dubliners was written, Ireland was in deep political turmoil following the death of Charles Parnell, the Nationalist leader who had rallied much of the county in support of Irish independence. Joyce subsequently incorporates the feelings of exhaustion, emptiness and numbness into his characters as a result of this political upheaval. “Araby”, “The Dead” and “A Little Cloud” are remarkable not only for their reaction of Dublin in the early Twentieth century, but also for their brilliant understanding of human character in its moment of revelation.
“Araby” chronicles a young boy’s disclosure from the moment he experiences an intense emotional and physical attraction toward a girl, for the very first time. The boy, whom remains nameless throughout the story, feels passionately drawn to his friend Mangan’s sister. One day, she asks him if he is going to Araby, a local bazaar. Unable to attend, Mangan’s sister urges the boy to go. Hypnotized by her presence, the boy promises that if he goes he will bring something back for her. After a sleepless night, the boy dwells on his feelings for Mangan’s sister and the possibilities of giving her something from the Araby bazaar.
He asks permission from his uncle to go, and he receives it; but his uncle seems distracted and comes home extremely late on the night of the bazaar. Notwithstanding the hour, the boy’s uncle lets him go. He ventures aboard the train to Araby, but when he arrives it is almost closing time, and most of the stalls are empty. The bazaar grows darker, and the boy looks up into the abyss, feeling wounded by vanity and overcome with anguish and fury.
The boy’s passionate, uncontrollable feelings for the girl blindside him, and he can do very little but feel them and follow them. “My body was like a harp,” he says, ” and her words and gestured were like fingers running upon the wires.” Joyce essentially sucks all the life out of this boy, so that he becomes a puppet, and his strings the passion he feels for this girl, leading him to Araby. In the context of his awakening feelings, the boy’s frustration with his absentminded uncle takes on a new urgency; he suddenly longs to escape his household into a new and confident independence, to follow his feeling for Mangan’s sister into the adult world.
But when he arrives at the bazaar, which represents for the boy a new world of independence and adulthood, he is too late to look in most of the stalls, and he is unable to buy any of the vases and bottles he sees. The young English men and women show no interest in him, and, as the lights go out, he feels miserably out of his element and burns up with “anguish and anger”– specifically at the thought of returning to Mangan’s sister empty-handed after his promise to get her a gift and more generally at his perceived incompetence to move confidently in the adult world. The despairing epiphany he experiences in that moment is echoed in many of the stories throughout Dubliners.
“A Little Cloud” deals with the dissatisfaction a frustrated poet named Chandler feels with his life. When the day comes to meet his charismatic friend Gallagher, who left Dublin to become a prominent London businessman. Excited, he goes to meet Gallagher at an expensive bar, to where he has never been before but about which he has often fantasized. Chandler feels out of place amid the lavish surroundings of the bar, but Chandler soon put his at ease. They end up casually chatting. Suddenly, Chandler begins so been somewhat envious of his friend.
Chandler, in his mere attempt to act petulant, insists that Gallagher marry soon. Gallagher claims he will only marry for wealth. Chandler goes home and feels vaguely unhappy with his wife, Annie. She does out to run an errand, heaving him with their infant son. As the child begins to cry, Chandler tries to console him. Annie comes in and angrily takes the baby away from her husband, asking, “What have you done to him?” As she soothes their son, Little Chandler feels a flush of remorse and shame.
Like “Araby”, ” A Little Cloud portrays the failure of a character’s attempted escape, followed by a moment of shame. Joyce illustrates the frustration many Dubliners felt with their lives in Ireland through Chandler’s character. Gallagher symbolizes freedom, as he lived in England; the prosperous country. Chandler seizes upon the return of Gallagher as an occasion for thrill and aspiration amid his life of pedestrian routine; he even thinks Gallagher could arrange to have some of his poems published. Inside the bar he has fantasized about but never actually seen, seems to promise a great new outlook for him, and he thinks about poetry and passion with a renewed sense of insistence.
The ultimate failure of Chandler’s optimism comes harshly when he returns home. He attempts to hold on to his poetic feeling by reading Byron while holding his baby; but when the baby begins to howl and his wife returns home angrily, he is forced to give up the attempt to integrate a passionate emotional life with his marriage and job. His moment of remorse, shame, and self-hatred at the end of the story comes from the sudden realization of all that coupled with the knowledge of his own ridiculousness. At heart, Chandler is a man clinging desperately to an illusion, and when that illusion explodes in the face of Gallagher’s visit, he is forced to confront the unpleasant reality of his situation.
In “Eveline” young woman named Eveline attempts to escape life with her alcoholic father by eloping to Argentina. She thinks over her past on this street, in this house, and in this room, where she has tried to hold her family together following her mother’s death and her father’s descent into alcoholism. She has agreed to leave her home with a young sailor named Frank, who plans to take her to Buenos Aires, and she feels enticed, frightened, and saddened by the thought all at once. She remembers when she and Frank were courting; her father had quarrelled with her suitor, and they had had to meet in secret, as they were leaving in secret now. She has written two letters, one to her father and one to her brother Harry, explaining her decision to leave.
She remembers when she missed work recently due to an illness; her father was kind to her, reading aloud from a book of ghost stories and making her toast over the fire. She remembers her mother’s death and her promise to hold the family together as long as she could, and she feels overwhelmed by the urge to escape. At the appointed time, Eveline goes to meet Frank at the station where they can board the boat to Buenos Aires. As the crowd surges into the boat, Eveline draws away from Frank, miserable and unable to bring herself to leave with him.
Like many of the characters in Dubliners ,and Dublin in general, in Joyce’s view, Eveline is trapped by familial, social, and economic pressures into an extremely imperfect situation. On her mother’s deathbed, Eveline promised to hold the family together, but now her father has slipped into excessive drinking and abusive behaviour, one of her brothers has died, and she is forced to work a miserable job in addition to keeping the house.
The moment of possible escape, which appears in so many of Joyce’s stories, is, for Eveline, a literal, physical escape: She can leave her drunken father and go away to Argentina to marry Frank. The background story, which precedes the final lines of the story is essentially designed to convey the weight of the pressure working on Eveline: her family, her history, and her home all compel her to stay, but she feels an overwhelming desire to leave. The story’s final outcome is characteristic of all of the stories; no one in Dubliners ever achieves escape.