Of Being Trapped: Male and Female Paralysis in Dubliners

A pattern that tends to emerge in each of the stories contained within Dubliners by James Joyce is characters that are paralyzed. Joyce himself would write in a letter to Grant Richards that “[m]y intention was to write a chapter of the moral history of my country and I chose Dublin for the scene because that city seemed to me the center of paralysis” (Myers 4). Dubliners, contains twelve seemingly independent stories that each deal with the theme of paralysis brought on by love.

This theme is both obviously stated and subtly hinted at in the various stories. There is a difference though in the cases of paralysis brought on by love.

Only four of the cases concern a major female while the rest have to deal with a major or minor male character. This could be explained by saying that Joyce had a majority of male leads because he himself was obviously male and thus he could write the character better.

Evidence to the contrary though comes from the stories about the major females themselves in which Joyce had written the ladies just as well as the men. Now, it’s not just the ratio of male to female stories being the main difference, there is also a difference in how Joyce represents the genders in the love-based paralysis.

This secondary difference brings to light what Marilyn French discusses in her book Shakespeare’s Division of Experience, “[t]he basic distinction in human social order since the beginning of recorded history has been gender” (11).

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Paralysis, in all of the stories, presents a great difference in how the love-based paralysis in a woman is presented from how it is presented in a man. The male form of paralysis is shown more as a stepping stone in life. The men eventually gain some knowledge from their affliction instead of being defeated by it.

However, the women’s afflictions are show as something final. There is no hint of a learning experience nor is there character growth to be had in their respective stories. They become paralyzed in every sense of the word. It is the difference of these types of paralysis between male and female that shows the kind of constricting role that women held in Joyce’s portrayal of Dublin. There is a case of love-based paralysis that is illustrated in the story titled “Araby”. The basics of which is a story about a young boy and his every growing obsession with his friend’s sister.

His whole life basically becomes focused on all his thoughts about her and the more constant thought of when he would be able to see her again despite never really having a true conversation with the girl as evident by his remark that, “I had never spoken to her except for a few casual words, and yet her name was like a summons to all my foolish blood” (Joyce 40). He allows his life to be ruled by his obsession and on the fateful day that she finally speaks to him, he is beyond astonished: “When she addressed the first words to me I was so confused that I did not know what to answer” (41).

She asks whether he is going to make the trip to the titular bazaar and requests that if he is going that he would bring her something back since she is unable to go herself. It is here that the boy’s obsession grows worse once he receives a request from the object of his longing as stated here: “I could not call my wandering thoughts together. I had hardly any patience with the serious work of life, which, now that it stood between me and my desire, seemed to me child’s play, ugly monotonous child’s play” (43).

This fixation on the idol of all his unfulfilled affections completely rules his young life and now he has the hope to break into the adult world in order to finally have this girl consider him seriously. The bazaar presents itself as the perfect chance for the boy to prove how deeply his admiration for the girl runs. It is also a perfect time in which he can take himself from a fantasy realm to one of reality in which he gets the girl. He begins to cultivate this belief that somehow by going to Araby; it will begin a sort of metamorphosis from what he is now to someone that the girl will desire.

He starts believing so strongly in this metamorphosis that he starts to focus his whole being into doing each step perfectly in order for this to go right. It is when the night of the bazaar arrives, however, that the boy encounters his first setback. His uncle was supposed to come home and give him money so he could go on his journey but the man is out drinking. He comes home late as a result and the boy ends up being extremely late for the bazaar. Because of this unforeseen tardiness, there are just a handful of stalls open when he finally arrives at Araby.

He tries to do what he can however and browses the wares available to him but nothing really catches his eye because he becomes too caught up in what he believes to be his failure. Here the lights drop, acting as a rather abrupt symbol of the boy finally entering adulthood and leaving behind his fantasies. The events before this abrupt ending are where the theme of love-based paralysis comes through. When he is caught in his imaginary failures, he becomes paralyzed even though this paralysis is not necessarily his own fault. The boy did everything in his power in order to achieve his new dream.

The problem came from an outside source where there are things beyond the boy’s power that are controlling the events unfolding around him that fateful night. His Uncle causes him to be late by not coming home and this begins to make the boy feel as if he is trapped. His Uncle does finally arrive but because he arrives so very late to the bazaar, the boy finds himself too embarrassed about his imagined failure to bring himself to do anything. With almost all of the stalls being closed and the people being rude to him in those that do happen to be open, he fails to see he still has a chance to buy something and becomes paralyzed.

His carefully cultivated belief falls apart before his eyes: “Gazing up into the darkness I saw myself as a creature driven and derided by vanity; and my eyes burned with anguish and anger” (Joyce 46). The moment when the boy’s fantasy didn’t come to life, he started to see himself from another perspective. As he is standing there before one of the few stalls open, he comes to the realization that his motivations may not have been as noble as he had first thought they were, that maybe the love he had imagined for the girl wasn’t enough to help carry him through his plans.

He wasn’t going to the bazaar to acquire a gift for the object of his affection; he was going for far more selfish reasons. His going was an attempt at getting himself out of his own dull life and into another life that was by far more interesting. However, he did not find the “Eastern enchantment” that he had dreamed up in his head, he found only a dark flea market ready to close up for the night. The bazaar that he had dreamed up in his head were the own dreams he had of himself, or, how he saw himself.

Once those lights went out, though, the dream version of him died as well as the imagined love. “Eveline” is the next story and it resembles the previous story “Araby”. It is also the next story in the series and by being in such a position, the reader is taken back to the events before the bazaar by the first paragraph presented in “Eveline”. There is the girl and the house and a field very much like there was in “Araby” with the only difference being the gender of the main character. As the story continues on, the rest of the differences start to come out from the woodwork.

So, even with the endings of the stories both being a form of love-based paralysis, the ending positions of the characters is worlds apart. From the start of “Eveline”, Joyce paints the titular character as an insecure and shy young woman. The entire story unfolds in just the span of a few hours and only between two different settings. Despite the brevity of the timeline, the story recounts the rather doubtful and complex thought process of a young woman trying to discover the right answers to the problems that are currently plaguing her.

She is bound by a promise to her mother to “keep the home together as long as she could” (Joyce 50) and her duty to take care of her father. She does have two brothers but one is deceased and the other has a job that keeps him away from home quite a bit. This forces her to live with just her father who has turned abusive. She is in conflict over remaining home because of her strong sense of duty or leaving to follow the man she has fallen so head over heels in love for. She begins to think it foolish to leave the place that she has called home all along and the work that has become something of a safety net.

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” (48). This thought only comes after Eveline has ran through all the reasons in her head to leave showing that she is afraid of any dramatic change to her life. In her panic riddled mind she makes the decision to leave with her lover, Frank, and heads to the dock in order to meet him. Once she arrives however, the cycling of panic begins once more. Despite the boat and her love for Frank representing freedom, she starts to feel trapped once more and is unable to truly make her own choices.

Her love for Frank starts to not be enough and this paralyzes her at the end, forcing her to stay behind where it is safe. There are obvious signs in both “Eveline” and “Araby” of the characters being paralyzed but the cause of the afflictions are on different levels. In “Araby” the boy’s paralysis occurs because of circumstances out of his control. This banishes his notions of love despite him doing everything in his power to achieve his dreams. For Eveline, love is just not enough and it causes her paralysis at the end because she doesn’t have the willpower to follow her lover to freedom.

Because of her life, Eveline’s end result is different. Rather than having an open life in which to live like the boy in “Araby”, her life is already mapped out before her. While both of the characters may be under the control of a drunken parental figure, Eveline is an adult and she does have the power to make her own decisions. Despite this however, she is still bound by what remains of her love and loyalty to her family. This as well as her hesitation to leave a place that represents safety leaves her paralyzed.

Going to the docks in order to escape went against everything that she was raised to believe in and she is incapable of challenging those beliefs: “All the seas of the world tumbled about her heart. He was drawing her into them: he would drown her” (Joyce 51). When the boat is finally starting to leave, Eveline becomes paralyzed in the true sense of the word. She becomes unable to move and all the whirring thoughts inside of her head have stopped, causing her to completely shut down: “She set her white face to him, passive, like a helpless animal.

Her eyes gave him no sight of love or farewell or recognition” (51). This love-based paralysis is somewhat similar to the boy’s in “Araby”, both being that their love wasn’t enough to carry them through with their respective plans. The end result is different however. The boy in “Araby” recognized that this love wasn’t enough but Eveline hasn’t gained any knowledge from her own bout of paralysis. While the clarity is subject to interpretation, there is a difference between the circumstances of the paralysis brought on by love in each female and male case in Joyce’s Dubliners.

The males are shown as having hope of overcoming their paralysis because it is there to serve as a learning experience. They are on the stepping stones of live and this is just another moment that they have to fight thought. For the women however, it is not that simple. Their paralysis is something final. There is nothing to learn from it; instead, it is as if they are being punished for trying to change their situation. They are being forced back to where they had come from, showing a stark difference in the roles of men and women in Joyce’s literary portrayal of Dublin.

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Of Being Trapped: Male and Female Paralysis in Dubliners. (2017, Nov 30). Retrieved from http://paperap.com/paper-on-trapped-male-female-paralysis-dubliners/

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