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Dubliners: ‘The stories are variations on the theme of rebellion from the Dublin environment and entrapment within it.’ Discuss how these themes (rebellion/entrapment) are explored in at least THREE of the stories in the collection.
Throughout Dubliners the themes of rebellion from the Dublin environment and entrapment within it occur in each story. One story where the protagonists are particularly trapped is Two gallants where Corley and Lenehan are stuck in a vicious cycle involving easy money for drink and easy women for sex, their rebellion from the mundane life of Dublin. Similarly, Gallaher in A Little Cloud is an immoral character but he has escaped Dublin ans by contrast, Little Chandler is trapped with an unhappy marriage and thwarted ambition.
The title of Two Gallants is highly ironic, with neither of the central characters being close to gallant, in fact they are the least respectable in the entire collection. The story is in the adolescent phase of the novel though Corley and Lenehan are in their thirties; Joyce describes Lenehan’s hair as “scant and grey” showing him to be prematurely aged, exacerbating the contrast between their maturity and their age. This arrested development is an important element in their entrapment, as they are stuck at a level of maturity short of their age, their development paralysed. Moreover, their amoral behaviour is like an unconscious rebellion against the dismal nature of their existence. Joyce’s intention to portray Dublin in a very negative light is conveyed clearly in this story, not only through the “leech” like Lenehan and “large, globular” Corley, but also with his description of Dublin.
The circular structure of the story reflects the entrapment of the characters. The fact that Lenehan, with nothing better to do, just wanders the streets, getting nowhere adds to the idea that there is no escape from Dublin. In addition to the circular structure, Joyce refers explicitly to circles. The word “circulated” is used in the first line and later “Lenehan’s gaze was fixed on the large faint moon circled with a double halo.” To consolidate the circular idea, Joyce later refers to a girl Corley used to see “off the south circular.” The unity of a circle is eternal and confined, like the misery of Dublin.
In A Little Cloud, Little Chandler is trapped, not only in the stagnant Dublin but in a miserable marriage: “He looked coldly into the eyes of the photograph [of Annie, his wife] and they answered coldly. Certainly they were pretty and the face was pretty. But he found something mean in it.” He is in awe of Gallaher who has experienced and seen the world outside Dublin; Gallaher rebelled against Dublin by escaping. Though he is no longer trapped in the city, like the protagonists in Two Gallants, he is another example of arrested development, trapped instead in the adolescent stage of his life. Little Chandler is similarly in a state of arrested development with his child-like characteristics including his hands, which are “white and small”, also “his voice was quiet…and when he smiled you caught a glimpse of a row of childish white teeth.”
Little Chandler has his own rebellion at the end of the story when he finds a disturbing outlet for his frustration. Joyce uses the technique of the interior monologue to convey Little Chandler’s great anger: “It was useless, useless! He was a prisoner for life. His arms trembled with anger and suddenly bending to the child’s face he shouted: ‘Stop!'” This act, which borders on violence from Chandler whose “manners were refined”, illustrates the great extent of his dissatisfaction. This lack of fulfilment stems from the entrapment he feels from living in Dublin, which in turn implies the severity of Dublin’s stagnancy.
Another story in the collection with the themes of rebellion and entrapment is Counterparts where Farrington, the protagonist, is trapped like Chandler in an unfulfilling career as a clerk. Farrington spends an inordinate sum on alcohol in the story but at the end of the night “he felt humiliated and discontented; he did not even feel drunk.” This emphasises the pointlessness of his existence as he drinks to alleviate the monotony of his life, but the money he earns from his unfulfilling job is not even sufficient to make him drunk.
Farrington also provides a parallel to Little Chandler in his loveless marriage: “His wife was a little sharp-faced women who bullied her husband when he was sober and was bullied by him when he was drunk.” In addition, he likewise takes out his rage on his son but the two characters differ considerably as, unlike Chandler, Farrington does seem to be a violent man. He struck his son “vigorously with the stick” as opposed to Chandler whose “cheeks suffused with shame…and tears of remorse started to his eyes.”
A further example would be the entrapment in Eveline which is less metaphorical than in the other mentioned stories, as she is trapped by duty to her abusive father, in addition to her mental prison like that of the other protagonists. She fears the unknown, preferring to embrace a future of certain misery than an uncertain pursuit of happiness: “It was hard work – a hard life – but now that she was about to leave it she did not find it a wholly undesirable life.”
Each story in the collection contains reference to either rebellion or entrapment, implying Joyce’s anti-Dublin opinions. It is made clear that without leaving Ireland’s capital, it is impossible to prosper or advance, a prime example being the Two Gallants’ arrested development or Little Chandler’s and Farrington’s increasing frustration resulting in violence. Joyce explores these central themes in detail and uses the ideas of rebellion and frustration to comment on the disparity of Dublin, reiterating repeatedly that people become trapped: “You could do nothing in Dublin”. Gallaher, however has achieved escape and although Chandler initially elevates him, his vulgarity is exposed leaving the reader uncertain as to whether true success, even outside Dublin, is possible for the ‘Dubliners’.