The Essence of Epiphany

Sunday, February 08, 2009

The Dubliners is a collection of short stories written by James Joyce and after much delay, due to discord and censorship, was finally published in 1914. The separate works are meant to illustrate the alternating stages of mans life with each story capturing a moment of profound revelation. The characters in the various shorts are all bound by the common thread of community, as implied by the title of the novel. The epiphanies experienced by the characters hint at a greater purpose within the context of mundane events. The novel is a great patchwork. Each individual story represents a different aspect of Irish life, stitched together by major themes of paralysis and epiphany. The narrative drifts from introspection to retrospection, while perpetually postulating an irreverent intervention of the divine.
The religious overtones found within the text compliment the liturgical cycles of Catholic epiphany. The festival marking the celebration of Gods son made manifest. James Joyce remarked in a personal letter that he had deliberately separated his fifteen stories into four aspects: childhood, adolescence, maturity and public life. As explained by Florence L. Walzl “The Epiphany cycle gave Joyce this model. Its two-part internal division offered a design readily adaptable to Dubliners. Though Joyce divided Dubliners into four parts and his proportions are different, the basic plan is similar. His division of the stories follows the order of the liturgical epiphanies” (440). So by using this working model of religious revelation Joyce was able to eclipse the ordinary subject matter of his stories with the mythos of the Catholic religion.
James Joyce himself said "My 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."(ix) His intention then was to create a reflection of a stagnant culture. A mirror to hold in front of the people of his nation to serve as impetus to change. Joyce understood the nature of the disease and hoped to vaccinate. The first of his shorts was entitled The Sisters and captures the spirit and mystery of youth perfectly. A young boy must attempt to understand the greater meaning behind the death of his mentor and priest. The family speaks in hushed whispers and avoid discussing the details of the late priests sickness in front of the youth. This tale speaks directly to societies need to protect our children from the suffering of disease and death. This protectionism is in turn perceived by the young as a deliberate act of isolation. A shutting out of children, an enforcement of non-participation. The priest has suffered a series of strokes, which can affect mobility and result in paralysis, a major theme of the novel. The family speaks on the matter of his decline beginning with the breaking of a chalice.
The symbolism of the chalice is elaborated by Gerhard Friedrich “The paralyzing guilt of chalice-breaking lies in that spiritual and physical corruption which prevents sacramental fulfillment. It is a comprehensive ailment, of which all of Joyce's stories are symptomatic, and his "epiphanies" are therefore not so much manifestations of the spirit of redemption in mundane and trivial situations as they are occasions for a momentary acknowledgment of the very pathos of mundaneness and triviality. No new and better priest provides a happy ending to The Sisters."(423).
The breaking of the chalice and the priests subsequent death hint at the corruption of reason. The denigration of sanity into dementia. The boy too felt that not all was well with his old friend. As the narrator imagines his deceased companion. “But the grey face still followed me. It murmured; and I understood that it desired to confess something. I felt my soul receding into some pleasant and vicious region; and there again I found it waiting for me. It began to confess to me in a murmuring voice and I wondered why it smiled continually and why the lips were so moist with spittled. But then I remembered that it had died of paralysis and I felt that I too was smiling feebly as if to absolve the simoniac of his sin” (4). The act of simony being the buying and selling of ecclesiastical favors and a crime against the church. The reader then is treated to a revelation of their own. The boy, despite his age, understands the fraudulent dichotomy of religion. The indulgence and corruption of the church had long been a major point of contention and to frame an accusation in such form hints at a bitter heart. As Joyce himself said “... a style of scrupulous meanness.” ( xvii )
The Dubliners begins with a story of death and it ends with one as well. The circle of life completed. The last story is aptly titled The Dead. The tone of the story shifts dramatically from the previous stories. As described by Adrienne Auslander Munich “Hostilities, figured as warfare, structure the subtext of The Dead. Joyce's animus toward the sepulchral Rome, where he conceived the story, blended with his attitude toward the citizens of Dublin, "the people who had betrayed me and sent me to hell."' By "hell" Joyce meant his exile, even though elected; in authorial revenge he assigned Dubliners to a progressively murkier hell where they play minor fiends while one of them, Gabriel Conroy, fights increasingly insubstantial enemies a servant, a drunkard, dances, food, music, a dead horse, a dead lover “(173). The conclusion of the story looms over the memory of the dead and concludes with a metaphysical twist. Joyce slips into the stream of consciousness to describe the thoughts of Gabriel Conroy “ His soul had approached that region where dwell the vast hosts of the dead. He was conscious of, but could not apprehend, their wayward and flickering existence. His own identity was fading out into a grey impalpable world: the solid world itself which these dead had one time reared and lived in was dissolving and dwindling” (176). Joyce introduces surrealism into the last story. Reiterating the shadowy form of the ethereal and concluding the tale with a dark and foreboding end.
The Dead grants the reader a voyeuristic glimpse inside the darkest depths of man's psyche. The masculine urges and emotional passions of the protagonist eliciting censorship from publishers and labeled obscene by critics. Despite the damning controversy surrounding these works James Joyce managed to convey the truth of his convictions. The stories are both evocative and absorbing. The narrative changes tone and mood rapidly shifting from clever quips to somber memory.
The Dubliners severs the bond between body and mind and concludes the tale with a sweeping description of a wintry night in Ireland. Gabriel Conroy's melancholy spirit gazing over the snowy city and beyond. His world held frozen in paralysis. The revelation that memories hold a death grip on the living. A spiritual realization. The epiphany serves as impetus to change.

Works Cited
Friedrich, Gerhard. "The perspective of Joyce's Dunbliners". College English Vol. 26, No. 6
(Mar., 1965): 421-426.
Joyce, James. “The Dubliners” Oxford University Press Inc., New York
Oxford Paperbacks (Jul 12 2008):
Munich,Adrienne Auslander. “Form and Subtext in Joyce's “The Dead” Modern Philology Vol. 82, No. 2 (Nov., 1984): 173-184 The University of Chicago Press
Walzl L., Florence . "The Liturgy of the Epiphany Season and the Epiphanies of Joyce." Modern Language Association Vol. 80, No. 4 (Sep.1965): 436-450.


The Devil Uno said...

Final Grade 73%= B