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Tuesday, June 25

Dubliners by James Joyce

I love short stories. They are so refreshing- miniatures of the writer's effort to transfer great meaning to small spaces. Dubliners is a collection of fifteen short stories written by James Joyce, a naturalistic portrayal of the middle class life of Dublin, around the turn of the century. It was James Joyce's intention to capture a piece of Irish history through its people, at different times of their existence: childhood, teenage life, adulthood and public life.

The lives of James Joyce's characters are not idealised, but rather described from a psychological point of view, focusing on what drives men and women to gestures and situations meant to reveal to them unspoken truths. Thus, “Childhood” has three stories, “Young Adulthood” and “Mature Life” have four stories each, whereas three stories are grouped under the name “Public Life” and take place in the political, musical and business world of Dublin; the last is The Dead.  Each story follows another in chronological order, from early childhood to old age, each of them symbolically connected to the seasons which move on from spring, summer, autumn, until finally at the end it is winter. Also there are some recurring themes that defines James Joyce's short stories such as Catholic religion, guilt, freedom, hopelessness or sin. Despite their paralysis, the characters are each depicted in a situation that brings an epiphany- a moment of insight into character-  in their lives.

Joyce's stories are unsentimental, precise and exhibit a genius for observation and detail. My favourite story is Evelyn, where a nineteen-year-old girl is struck by emotional paralysis; born in a poor family, victim of an abusive father, an orphan deprived of motherly affection and advice, Evelyn decides to join Frank on a cruise that will take them to their new, exciting life in Buenos Aires. The young woman goes over the rightful reasons behind her decision once again, but when faced with the final gesture, she goes numb and pathetically surrenders to a situation beyond control. Guilt and duty seem to govern James Joyce's characters and shape unhappy lives and gloomy futures. Only in The Dead does the author convey the message that his Dubliners may have the spiritual resources to overcome their fatality.

Despite their sadness and limited perspectives, the characters in Dubliners are quite unforgettable and have a way of sneaking up on you, lingering in your mind and heart long after you have put the book aside. It is James Joyce's talent that makes his collection of short stories notable in the way he beguiles his readers' interest and empathy.