Symbolism Used in James Joyce’s Dubliners

Custom Student Mr. Teacher ENG 1001-04 9 January 2017

Symbolism Used in James Joyce’s Dubliners

Symbolism is a powerful tool used by people every day to force people to look past the obvious and find the deeper meaning. Symbolism is used by authors, musicians, priests, and many others. James Joyce, a well-known Irish author, uses symbolism repeatedly throughout his collection of short stories published in 1916. In these stories, titled Dubliners, Joyce uses symbolism not only to enhance the stories, but to also show the hidden, underlying message of each story without coming out and saying it directly.

Joyce’s stories are centered on the problems of Dublin and through his use of symbolism Joyce is able to focus attention on what problem each story is addressing. James Joyce, author of Dubliners, uses symbolism effectively to enhance the stories. The first story in Dubliners deals with the problems of the Catholic Church. “The Sisters” is about a priest, Father Flynn, who goes crazy because of the incredible stress placed on him by the rule-centered church. A note publicly announcing the priest’s death read “July 1st, 1895 The Rev. James Flynn (Formerly of S.

Catherine’s Church, Meath Street), aged sixty-five years. R. I. P. ” (Joyce 4). Joyce associates Father Flynn with S. Catherine’s Church because St. Catherine was torn apart physically and Father Flynn was torn apart mentally, because of the rules and strict guidelines he was expected to uphold. Making this connection enhances the story because it shows the reader that if the priest can’t handle the rules placed on him by the church, how was an average person supposed to. The date is also symbolic because July 1st is The Feast of the Most Precious Blood of Christ.

The breaking of the chalice during Mass was the cause of his death. Fr. Flynn’s sister said “It was that chalice he broke…. That was the beginning of it…That affected his mind” (9-10). At his wake the priest his holding the chalice in his hands, which symbolized the evil church was the cause of this man’s death and reiterating the main theme of the story. “An Encounter” is the next story and its major theme is appearance versus reality, meaning things are not always what they seem. The story is about a few boy’s decision to play hooky from school in order to have an adventure.

The boys meet an old man who is nice on the outside, but is actually very evil. Just before the boys come across the old man on their adventure “the sun went in behind some clouds…” (16). The sunny, innocent day turns dark symbolizing that something bad is about to happen. Joyce uses the weather in many of his stories to foreshadow events that are about to happen. This technique adds to the stories because it helps the reader know that something is about to happen and as a result they pay closer attention to what it is that Joyce is referring to.

When the boys meet the old man he was “dressed in a suit of greenish-black…” (16) and had a “pair of bottle-green eyes” (19). Green is the color of Ireland and Joyce associates it with evil. By making a connection between the color of Ireland and the evil old pedophile, Joyce is really associating the evilness with all of Ireland, which is the major theme of Dubliners. Joyce is very good at giving hints about certain characters. For example, when the boys were talking with the pedophile they noticed “he had great gaps in his mouth between his yellow teeth” (17) and being gap toothed symbolized someone who was sexually promiscuous.

Techniques used by Joyce, changing the weather and the man being gap-toothed, all enhance the stories because they provide hidden information that brings to light the themes of each story. In the next story, “Araby”, the major theme is infatuation versus love. Joyce begins the story by informing his readers that “North Richmond Street, being blind” (21) was the street the boy’s school was on. The term ‘blind’ is referring to the street, meaning it was a dead-end street, but it also has a different, deeper meaning.

Joyce uses the word to also describe the boy’s feelings towards a girl and to his dead-end relationship with the girl he is infatuated with. From the opening sentence Joyce gives his readers and idea of what to expect from his stories. Examining the term gives a deeper meaning that enhances the story. At the boy’s home, “The wild garden behind the house contained a central apple tree and a…rusty bicycle pump” (21). The apple-tree symbolizes Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, self-deception followed by self-knowledge. The bicycle pump symbolizes the kid’s pumped up, full of hot air, fascination with the girl and then being deflated.

The apple tree and bicycle pump are clues to the outcome of the story. The boy also discovers three important and symbolic books in his house. The Abbot is about the worship of a special lady, The Devout Communicant is about worship and The Memoirs of Vidocq is a detective story that usually ends with the truth being revealed. All three stories are hinting at what will happen to the boy at the end of the story. The boy goes to Araby, a market of goods from all over the world, to buy the girl a gift in order to prove his love to her, but when he finally gets there the market’s closing in ten minutes.

The boy “heard a voice call from one end of the gallery that the light was out” (27). Joyce frequently uses light to symbolize an epiphany or realization. In this case, the boy realizes the girl does not really have feelings for him as he had convinced himself to believe. The light provides the reader with the moment the boy finally realizes he was “a creature driven and derided by vanity” (28). The light is the changing from self-deception to self-knowledge. “Eveline” is the story of a girl who is torn between leaving to start a new life and staying in Dublin with her father.

In her home was a “broken harmonium” (30), which is used by Joyce to symbolize there is no harmony in Eveline’s home because of her drunken, abusive father. A photograph of a priest “hung on the wall above the broken harmonium” (30). Whenever Eveline would ask her father about him he used to say, “He is in Melbourne now” (30). The priest is symbolic because he was able to do what Eveline can’t, escape Ireland. While waiting for the man she is leaving with Eveline “could hear a street organ playing…remind her of the promise to her mother, her promise to keep the home together as long as she could” (30-31).

The organ playing reminds Eveline of her mother and she does not want “that life of commonplace sacrifices closing in final craziness” (31). She knows that she must escape with Frank, but when it comes time to get on the boat “she gripped both hands at the iron railing” (34). The symbolism of Eveline holding on the metal bars paints a clear picture of someone in jail; trapped in Ireland. Next is the story, titled “Two Gallants”, of two arrogant men who have no respect for women and only use them as a means to their happiness.

Joyce uses symbolism in the story to talk about the poor treatment of Ireland and also the poor treatment of these girls by the two men, Corley and Lenehan. Before the two men met up with the innocent girl the weather changed from a nice day to cloudy, symbolic of something bad that is about to take place. At one point during the story when the men were walking down the road “a harpist stood in the roadway, playing to a little ring of listeners…His harp too, heedless that her coverings had fallen about her knees, seemed weary alike of the eyes of strangers and of her masters hands” (48).

The harp is symbol associated by the people of Ireland with their country. The term ‘strangers’ was a code word used by the Irish for the British. The quote is making reference to the rape of the harp by saying it was “unaware that her coverings had fallen about her knees” (48). Joyce is talking about the rape of Ireland by the British, but he is also describing the girls being played, like the harp, by Corley and Lenehan. The symbolism connected with the harp helps uncover Joyce’s feelings towards Britain and the many men of Ireland who act as Corley and Lenehan do.

Without the symbolism of the harp we would have never known about Joyce’s feelings towards these important topics. The title, “Two Gallants”, is also important. The term gallant means to be brave, courteous, and chivalrous, but in the story Corley and Lenehan don’t act as two gallants should. Joyce does this on purpose because most men of Dublin act as Corley and Lenehan do, and Joyce wants us to know that these two men, and the men of Dublin, did not treat women with respect, as one should. “Ivy Day In the Committee Room” deals with Irish politics. Ivy is an evergreen and symbolizes loyalty to Ireland and loyalty to the ideas of Parnell.

The poem read by Joe Henchy at the end of the story, titled “The Death of Parnell” (131), makes the connection to what the title is referring to. In the poem, Parnell is described as Ireland’s “Uncrowned King” (131). It goes on to read “Shame on the coward caitiff hands/ That smote their Lord of with a kiss/ Betrayed him to the rabble-rout/ Of fawning priests – no friends of his” (132). That part of the poem is talking about how Parnell was thrown out by his own people. By saying the people “smote their Lord with a kiss” (132), the poem is making a clear connection between the people of Ireland and Judas, the betrayer of Jesus.

The title, “Ivy Day In the Committee Room”, is describing the loyalty to Ireland, and Parnell, by a few remaining people. The title gives a clue to what the story is about, but it’s not until the end when Joe Henchy reads his poem that we know exactly what the title is referring to. Both the title and the poem take the short story from being good to great. The symbolism used in the title is reveled at the end and again shows Joyce’s feelings toward the Irish, in this case the government. The poem enhances the story because its not until the poem is read that we become aware of what the title is actually referring to.

Clay” is a sad story about a woman, Maria, who is old and unattractive. It is Hallows Eve and everyone is participating in games. One of the games played involves being blindfolded and led up to a table with four saucers. The saucer’s contained a prayer book, a ring, water, or clay and symbolized something that was to happen in the future. The prayer book meant a life of the church, a ring symbolized marriage, water represented a voyage or journey and clay was symbolic of death. When it was Maria’s turn, she symbolically picked clay.

Joyce writes, “She felt a soft wet substance with her fingers and was surprised that nobody spoke or took off her bandage” (101). The clay symbolizes death and so “Maria understood that it was wrong that time and so she had to do it over again: and this time she got the prayer book” (101). Because the clay symbolized death and the prayer book symbolized a life in the church, Maria was to live the remaining years of her life with nobody and eventually die alone. The title enhances the story because at first it is unclear what clay actually means, but at the end of the story it all comes together.

At the end of the story Maria is singing “I Dreamt that I Dwelt, and when she came to the second verse she sang again” (102) the first verse. Maria unconsciously skipping the second verse of the song symbolizes her life of loneliness and shows that she has given up on dreaming about love. Maria has accepted her fate and no longer believes that maybe someday she will find love. In conclusion, Dubliners was written by James Joyce to show the problems with Dublin. Joyce uses symbolism to illuminate the themes of the story. Throughout the stories the symbolism helps explain and reinforce the themes of each story.

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  • University/College: University of Arkansas System

  • Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter

  • Date: 9 January 2017

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