Irony & Sensory Disconnect in James Joyces' Dubliners.

Essay by SirGeorge8600College, UndergraduateA, February 2010

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In James Joyce’s Dubliners the use of irony and sensory disconnect are what structure the recurring themes of the stories. The themes include entrapment, with escaping routine life for its horrors, misery, and agony. The stories “Eveline”, “Araby”, “A Painful Case”, and “The Dead” all end in epiphany. Dubliners experience a climactic moment in their lives to bring them change, freedom and happiness, although these moments bring none of those. All characters fall into paralysis from not being able to leave lives of promises, marriage, children, love, and religion that ironically entrapped them. It’s almost as if the Dubliners are prisoners in life, except the prison is Dublin and the inmates are entrapped souls that live a lifeless wonder to the reader.

In “The Dead” irony and sensory disconnect are used together to help Gabriel experience his epiphany. There is much sensory disconnect with the snow as James Joyce makes connections with the dead and the living, there’s moments in the story where the nature is seen with snow and every detailed covered with snow, when at the same time the snow covers the living at the party.

The cold ice that covers the dead at the cemetery, also covers the living as they ironically will die off one day soon and lie under snow as they do now. The snow resembles cold death as Gabriel sits and looks at it at the party. As Gabriel sits and looks: “People, perhaps, were standing in the snow on the quay outside, gazing up at the lighted windows and listening to the waltz music. The air was pure there. In the distance lay the park where the trees were weighted with snow. The Wellington Monument wore a gleaming cap of snow that flashed westward over the white field of Fifteen Acres.” (202) In this excerpt James Joyce shows how snow is everywhere making a connection with the cold and ice and the living and warm environment of their party. As Gabriel prepares his toast, as he sits at the party he refers to the snow, the snow and events lead to Gabriel realizing his epiphany between life and his very own life, between life and death. He first insists that there is a difference between the living and the dead, although as he sits at supper looking at the snow fall on the Dubliners he realizes there is none, however this realization is more clearly made by him at the end of the story. “The Dead” is a perfect piece that James Joyce decided to use as the last story, as it sums up what he believed Dubliners’ lives truly were.

Throughout all the stories however, irony is apparent in the entrapment that all Dubliners face. In “Eveline”, Eveline must leave and awaken to a new life with Frank to escape the one her mother lived, which she describes as, “that life of commonplace sacrifices closing in final craziness.” (40) Ironically though it’s her promise to her mother that keep her from beginning a new life and entrapped in the one she most agonizingly fears. In Eveline, sensory disconnect exists as well. The window with the odour of dusty cretonne is a symbol of escape, Eveline constantly turns to it to reflect upon herself and her situation; James Joyce uses the window as a gateway to the outside world as seen in other stores such as “Araby”, to see the lives of others.

Connections are then made to “Araby” where escape was desired although entrapment in routine life exists. The narrator is entrapped in his own life, not being able to express his own love, making all the possible connections in his mind but thinking they will all fail, he cannot express what he feels to this religious girl, as religion serves as a theme in “Araby”. There is also a biblical reference in sensory disconnect to Adam and Eve and the tree of knowledge: “The wild garden behind the house contained a central apple-tree and a few straggling bushes under one of which I found the late tenant's rusty bicycle-pump.” (29) Here the tree represents Adam and Eve and love, where the rusty bicycle pump represents ageing, not being given attention to for so long being lonely under the tree, the narrators’ destiny. A greater irony comes towards the end when his adventure is shown to be just a shopping trip; and Araby, just a local market. There is no Middle Eastern theme of Arabia, more like the average market you find in Dublin as James Joyce describes. "Gazing up into the darkness I saw myself as a creature driven and derided by vanity; and my eyes burned with anguish and anger." (35) There is irony her because, the boy hasn't discovered himself. He's just as independent, alone, and blind in the end as he was at the beginning.

In A Painful Case irony exists first in the fact that the story begins as a love story, but little does the reader know though that it will end in darkness and loneliness. It’s also ironic how Mr. Duffy escapes Emily’s company to be alone, which he wants, although after she dies he becomes miserable and agonizes in being alone. This creates epiphany, as Mr. Duffy avoids Emily to live his routine and orderly life, although after she dies it doesn’t seem as if Mr. Duffy’s orderly life is really what he want. There is much sensory disconnect in this story, especially when Emily dies to emphasize Mr. Duffy’s loneliness to the reader. The narrator says, “The shop was very quiet. The proprietor sprawled on the counter reading the Herald and yawning. Now and again a tram was heard swishing along the lonely road outside.” (116) and “He waited for some minutes listening. He could hear nothing: the night was perfectly silent. He listened again: perfectly silent. He felt that he was alone.” (117) These are the strong points of the story in these two quotations where James Joyce truly displays for the reader the loneliness of Mr. Duffy, echoing the themes that repeat all throughout the stories, misery, agony, life and death.

James Joyce’s use of irony and sensory disconnect are the key points he uses in being applying the themes of Dubliners to the lives of all the characters in the story. It is within their situations that they realize they’re all entrapped within their routine lives filled with the need to escape, but not the ability to escape. Leaving them to live in agony and epiphany, of what James Joyce truly sees as a “Dubliner”.

Cited:James Joyce, "Dubliners"