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In the three short stories, you can see how all of the characters are discover their destiny, and become self-aware of their condition. In “the Dead” this is extremely obvious, as Gabriel (the main character), after misreading several signals that were supposed to warn him about the mood his wife was in, realises that he actually does not understand the person he had married, and that he had been fooling himself both intellectually and emotionally. By trying to escape from that paralysis that affected all of Ireland, as the excess of patriotism symbolised by Miss Ivors would prevent him from taking advantage of what the continent offers, he also prevented himself from learning about what he already had. He does not understand his wife, and he never really manages to escape from Ireland’s influence anyway, what becomes obvious when seeing his reaction towards Miss Ivor’s accusation. All of these things allow him to realise that, as he will never free himself, he might as well accept his destiny, by starting “his journey towards westward”. His paralysis now will be complete, what is symbolised by the “snow”, which falls “all over Ireland”.
In “the Clay”, another James Joyce story, Maria (the main character) also discovers their destiny and what that predestined condition entitles. It also involves paralysis and the impossibility of breaking that cycle. This time though it is symbolised by the clay she founds in the saucer that was supposed to tell her what destiny awaited her, and, after a second try, a prayer book. I believe that the clay means that she has nothing to expect from the future, nor travel nor marriage. She has no liberty and no chance to develop.
Besides, she is obviously not used to be treated nicely because, although she has a great heart, she also has this witch-like appearance, what drives men away. Her reaction when her friends are teasing her, or when a “gentleman” is nice to her in the bus, shows how much she really wants to really get married. The clay also symbolises death and the prayer book that religion will probably be involved, maybe a convent, before this end finally arrives. That is why her friends get annoyed at the joke made by the pair of girls, because they also realise this. Her song at the end, which is encircled by a dreamy mood, proves that she is not ignorant of her position either.
It is also a vicious, unbreakable circle the one that traps and paralyses the actions of the protagonists of “The Murder”. It is the one caused by cultural differences and the fact that they live in an enclosed society, what limits their individual freedom. Their existence is confined both intellectually and emotionally, and there is also a limit to how much their perspective develops. From the moment that Jelka’s father tells Jim that she will not respect him if he does not hit her, and he ignores this “advice”, she is bound to betray him.
This is because this limit in their personal development does not allow her to realise what a life outside her cultural context has to offer. It defines her, it traps her into a defined pattern, one she cannot escape even by marrying outside it and Jim does not understand this. That is why he feels so frustrated inside his marriage, and seeks for outside company. His own background, so simple, is what blinds him from the way of reaching her heart and become a real couple. Is also that difference he cannot accept, as from the beginning we can notice that he is prejudiced against her family what proves how simple his background is, one that does not accept things to be different, that seeks continuity.
There is also an element of island mentality that characterises the three stories. Everything is isolated and therefore you do not have as a wide perspective of things as you could. In “The dead” is a literal island, Ireland. I believe that in “Clay”, although it also occurs in Dublin, Joyce is actually means to create an isolated circle of people that she knows and places than she visits. These define more her world, as she knows nothing else. In “The Murder” the kind of rural and isolated society they live in is also quite isolated from external influence, and it revolves solely on the happenings of the towns and farms. People do not know or care of the world outside that small community.
In addition to this, we have the element of learning, which is also a common factor in all of the stories, and it is innate in the term discovery. In “The Dead” is Gabriel the one who learns that he knows nothing, the one who comes to understand that he does not know the woman he married. Yet, I believe that this understanding and this acceptance of his position, which I mentioned earlier is actually pushing him backwards. He tried to move forward, he could not, but it was too difficult to stay in the middle, and intellectually is suffering a regression. In “Clay” Maria learns her limitations and learns to live with her dreams while, in “the Murder” is actually the reader who learns something, as the characters cannot do so as they are trapped in that never ending vicious circle that their upbringings and their condition forced them to enter.