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Dunarea de Jos Galati

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Michaela Praisler

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Death in Dublin


The city of Dublin represents the constant of the aesthetics of James Joyce. Dublin is the material, it delivers the substance, and it arranges the epos and the textual weave with its own, individual language. The fiction is concentrated inside one city, be it the fragmentary existence of a day in the lives of Leopold Bloom and Stephen Dedalus in Ulysses or the heterogeneous, yet so homogenous group of Dubliners.


The short-story The Dead is the closing narrative of the Dubliners volume. As the title implies, Dubliners examines the lives of people in Ireland’s capital, and Joyce provides ample geographical details.

The 15 short-stories published in 1914 describe the human resignation and small joys, nothing too exquisite or spectacular, perhaps, but resembling reality, in natural colours. But more than lives, Joyce often talks of deaths, as death is, in Joycean perspective, with all its sense of finality, an essential component of the social existence. Experimentalist in style, Joyce remains a realist in portraying life and death in an urban environment.

The characters transgress from the short-stories in Dubliners to the novel Ulysses, to interfere for one day with the lives of Leopold Bloom and Stephen Dedalus, the storylines even get to be developed in the novel. The Joycean work is so knit-interwoven that understanding of one narrative can be affected of incompleteness in the absence of the rest of Joyce’s writings.

One announces another, as it is the case with the first and the last short-stories of Dubliners (The Sisters and The Dead); one hints at another, as it the gallery of figures taking part in the funeral procession described in the sixth chapter of Ulysses etc. Many of those figures populate the same Dublin of Bloom’s and Dedalus’s roams, but their minute portraits, their lives are to be found not in Ulysses, but in Dubliners.


The first part of Ulysses belongs to the artist, the intellectual. As it is the case with the entire novel, the technique used is the stream of consciousness, but, unlike the more simple-minded Bloom, the narrator has an extremely complicated stream of thoughts.

Stephen Dedalus’s mind functions allegorically, symbolically, his associations of ideas find their root in savant quotations. Intertextuality is more heavily at work in his discourse, some references are direct, and others should be carefully researched for in various sources, from Shakespeare (‘full fathom five, thy father lies”, The Tempest) to Thomas D’Aquino, in the Christian dogma, as much as in the circles of metempsychosis (“God becomes man, becomes fish becomes barnacle goose becomes featherbed mountains”).

Dedalus’s thoughts are ambivalent and obscure in their grotesque obscenity when facing the death. Highly modernist in expression, the stream of Dedalus’s thoughts is rather of naturalist influence, with the violent and brutal imagery that characterizes that genre – “hauled stark over the gunwales, he breathes upward the stench of his green grave, his leprous nose hole snoring in the sun”.  Water is a symbol for death; Jesus is a symbol for death, a Jesus blasphemously mixed with the fallen Lucifer – “I thirst .Albright he falls, proud lightning of the intellect”.


Dedalus observes the death, it gives him the opportunity to puzzle the reader with the apparent randomness of his ideas, yet his observance is a careless one, he just registers death as a fact.

The dead body can be regarded, however, as an allegory for a dead Dublin, a dead Ireland, but this idea can occur when the text from Ulysses is put in relation with the one of The Dead. Complicated as he intentionally is, Joyce uses recurrent themes and motifs after all, and if in The Dead the image of the dead lover Michael Furey stands, in Gabriel Conroy’s mind, for the death of all Ireland, the corpse Dedalus sees might, as well, have a similar signification.


The title of The Dead points to its underlying subject, though critics have continued to argue exactly which "dead" are to be emphasized in explication, and which characters comprise the dead.

To some, The Dead refers only to those mentioned in the story as dead, most notably Gretta's tragic love, Michael Furey. To others, The Dead signifies everyone at the Morkan's party but Gabriel, and through association, everyone in Ireland. The Dead is considered one of the most beautifully written short-stories not only in Joyce’s creation, but in the entirety of literary works written in the English language.  In terms of structure and narrative technique, the short-story is not as disrupted as Ulysses, involving an objective and detached 3rd person narrator, a regular past tense narrative and two distinct episodes – at the party and at the hotel – distinct, but connected in point of plot and ideas expressed.

Critics have considered the short-stories included in Dubliners, The Dead including, as mere realistic or naturalistic accounts of different characters’ lives in the city of Dublin, but a symbolical layer is always at work when it comes to Joyce. Thus, the final lines of The Dead, the snow covering the dead as well as the paralysed living and Gabriel’s acceptance of the love for his wife as being less intense than the one the dead had for her, a death of love, in fact, corroborated with the party, a deadening routine that makes the existence so lifeless in the whole series of Dubliners, may point to a death “general all over Ireland”.



Bibliography / webliography

Joyce, J., Ulysses,

Joyce, J, The Dead,

Praisler, M, On Modernism, Postmodernism and the Novel, Bucharest, 2005

**** Dubliners: The Dead at

**** Short Story Criticism. The Dead, James Joyce at


 

                                                                                                         


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