REALISM AND DETAIL IN DUBLINERS:
First of all, I´d like to point out that it´s been very difficult for me to find the
right title for this paper. Joyce´s Dubliners is so dense and full of subjects to take
into account that doing an essay on it is not only hard work but also a selective
task: we can´t approach and talk about every important aspect in this text,we must
choose the most significant ones.
Reading the novel, the first and most obvious characteristic that is found is
REALISM. We can appreciate it throughout the book by observing the author´s
treatment towards places, culture, religion, people, language…etc…
It seems that the novel is a kind of geographical, religious and cultural
persuasive portrait of Dublin city, the capital of Ireland.
Regarding geography, we can say it is obvious that the author knows the city as
well as the palm of his hand. He sends his characters through streets and avenues
with such accuracy that we, (supposing Dublin city is known to us) can imagine
where they are and we can understand the route they´re taking. If we check with a
map of the city we can see he doesn´t miss any corner. Monuments and important
historical buildings are mentioned as characters pass them by.
We are given a realistic view of everything as it is in the real world.
Let´s give some example
- -"We walked along the North Strand Road till we came to the Vitriol Works and then turned to the right along the Wharf Road." An Encounter.
- "The cars came scudding in towards Dublin, running evenly like pellets in the groove of the Naas Road." After the race.
- -"They drove down Dame Street…Near the BankSegouin drew up…The car steered out slowly for Grafton Street while…"
Many famous places are mentioned, as for example: Stephen’s Green, Grafton
Street, Temple Bar, O’Connell Street, the fashionable shop Brown Thomas, the
G.P.O or General Post Office…etc…
We can also notice several different train stations mentioned: Westland Row Station,
Kingsbridge Station, Sydney Parade Station…etc..
Concerning religion, Joyce gives us several glimpses of the spiritual
atmosphere of Dublin in that period. We can notice the existence of two different
religions in the same city. We can find both Catholics and Protestants, different
Catholicism was associated with Nationalism, and Protestantism to
Unionism (union to the British Empire). Religion is widely treated in the novel.
- -"His parents went to eight-o’clock mass everymorning in Gardiner Street".This was a catholicJesuit Church. An Encounter.
- "..screaming after us :Swaddlers!Swaddlers! thinking we were Protestants.."
- "I sent him to the Christian Brothers and I done what I could for him.." .
- "..she spoke of the University question.."Catholics couldn’t go to Trinity College as it was Anglican in ethos. The Dead.
- "..in a big Catholic College and had afterwards sent him to Dublin University to study law ."
- "The belfry of George’s Church sent…" This was a Protestant church. P.58
- "She used to have such a bad opinion of Protestants but now she thought they were very nice people".Clay.
- "On special Sundays when Mr Kearney went with his family to the pro-cathedral a little crowd…" This was the Catholic Church of Ireland.
Culture is also a strongly represented feature in Dubliners. It’s a topic easily
found in the novel.
The world of literature is present by means of mentions of poets and authors,
literary movements; and by the existence of newspapers.
-Authors: Thomas Moore, Sir Walter Scott, Lord Lytton, Byron, Wordsworth,
-Movements: The Celtic School, and the much more important Irish Literary
-Newspapers: Freeman’s General and the Daily Express.
The novel represents certain aspects of the life of the capital. What I find very
interesting is the way Joyce suggests with facts and images the irish customs and
- Horse Racing: "His name was vaguely associated with racing tissues".
- Tea: "…she decided to go out herself for a quarter of a pound of tea and.." "..and the dummy filled up with hot tea,already mixed with milk and sugar.."
- Pubs: " ..they went round to Mulligan’s.They went into the parlour at the back and O’Halloran ordered small hot specials all round".
- "They’re often in Kavanagh’s together.."
- "Not far from the porch of the club a harpist stood in the roadway,playing to a little ring of listeners". ( The harp is the symbol of Ireland ).
Very typical irish family names appear along the different stories. Some of them
are : Devine (although coming from French), Dunns, Doyle, Malone, Gallaher, O’Hara,
O’Halloran, O’Connor,Kavanagh, Fogarty…etc…
Language plays a decisive role in Dubliners. Individuals are characterised
depending on the way they speak. Language varys with the different levels of
society. We can find slang, grammar mistakes, typical expressions..etc…
- -".. I planned a day’s miching*".=Playing truant. An Encounter.
- -"..to have some gass* with the birds" .=Fun. An Encounter.
- -"..-a bob* and a tanner*".=Coins
- -"..that he had three totties*".=Girlfriends.
- -"He was tired of knocking about,of pulling the devil by the tail*,of shifts and intrigues".=living on the brink of financial catastrophe. Two Gallants.
- "..was nearly always down somewhere in the country". Eveline.
- It’s a common Dublin mode of reference to the rest of Ireland which bespeaks the city’s essential indifference to life outside the capital.
- -"Fine night,sir!" After the race.
- -"I feel a ton better since I landed again in dear dirty Dublin.." A Little Cloud.
- -"..and said good-night,you know*.."
- "But she thinks I’m a bit of class,you know". Two Gallants..
- -" She was a little vulgar;sometimes she said I seen and If I had’ve known". The Boarding House.
In my view , one of the merits of Dubliners is to seem a perfect mirror of the
economical, social and political situation at that time in Ireland, the author´s
country of birth.
Poverty remains reflected in some occasions:
-"Two poor women and a telegram boy.."
-"A horde of grimy children populated the street".
A Little Cloud.
-"This vision made him feel keenly his own
poverty of purse and spirit.He was tired of
knocking about,of pulling the devil by the tail".
Two Gallants .
But also the economical prosperity of the city is presented by the author:
-"We pleased ourselves with the spectacle of
Dublin’s commerce-the barges signalled from
far away by their curls of woolly smoke,the
brown fishing fleet beyond Ringsend,the big
white sailing-vessel which was being
discharged on the opposite quay".An Encounter.
Along the nineteenth century, the phenomenon of emigration appeared in
Ireland. Many irish people left their homes and went away searching for fortune.
Destinations were mainly England , Australia and the United States of America,
places were emigrants settled.
We get knowledge of this phenomenon in the novel:
-"Whenever he showed the photograph to a
visitor her father used to pass it with a casual
word:-He is in Melbourne now".
In Eveline, we find the story of this girl who was going to run away with her boyfriend to South America.
-"She had consented to go away,to leave her
-"But in her new home,in a distant unknown
country,it would not be like that".
-"She stood among the swaying crowd in the
station at the North Wall…The boat blew a
long mournful whistle into the mist.If she
went,to-morrow she would be on the sea with
Frank,steaming towards Buenos Ayres.Their
passage had been booked".
We can appreciate feelings that might had led to emigration:
-"Dublin is such a small city:everyone knows
everyone else’s business".
The Boarding House..
-"There was no doubt about it:if you wanted to
succeed you had to go away.You could do
nothing in Dublin". A Little Cloud.
Political situation in Ireland was very complicated at the time the novel is
written. Along the book , we get sundry references to different ideologies and
points of view. The Act of Union of 1800 had abolished the Irish Parliament and
made Ireland part of the United Kingdom. English domination means an
oppression for most people, although for others it’s a great fact to be united to the
James Joyce doesn’t doubt in showing us his political ideas through some of
his characters and stories.
Let’s give some examples of the presence of politics along the different stories:
After the race.
- -"That night the city wore the mask of a capital".
As we can see, the city is wearig a mask.This
is because although Dublin is the capital of
Ireland, it didn’t exercise legislative authority
over the country. The Act of Union had
established that power in London.
-"Gallaher was only patronising him by his
friendliness just as he was patronising Ireland
by his visit". A Little Cloud.
-"…a furious voice called out in a piercing
North of Ireland accent". Counterparts..
-"What we want in this country ,as I said to
old Ward,is capital.The King’s coming here
will mean an influx of money into this country.
The citizens of Dublin will benefit
by it…Look at all the money there is in the
country if we only worked the old industries,
shipbuilding yards and the mills,the factories.
It’s capital we want"
-"This is Parnell’s anniversary,said Mr
O’Connor,and don’t let us stir up any bad
blood.We all respect him now that he’s dead
and gone-even the Conservatives,headded,
turning to Mr Crofton".
-"He was the only man that could keep that
bag of cats in order".
-"..we’re just talking about the Chief".
The poem in this story, Ivy Day in the Committee Room, is a clear sign of Joyce’s
admiration towards Charles Stewart Parnell.
-"The Irish heart where’er it be
Is bowed with woe -for he is gone".
-"..his spirit may raise..
The Day That brings us Freedom’s reign.
..One grief-the memory of Parnell".
-"When he had finished his recitation there
was a silence and then a burst of clapping:
even Mr Lyons Clapped".
-"..to hide his emotion".
We find a touch of humour when they ask Mr Crofton his opinion about the poem.
He answers that it was a very fine piece of writing. This character, Mr Crofton,
clearly represents the posture of a quite convinced unionist. His argument is that
union with Great Britain is good for Irish economy. He can also be considered
a tory, he defends the king.
Parnell was once the undisputed leader among the Irish people.His death was
very lamented by the Irish.
Talking about the way the book is written,we must say that realism
characterises Joyce’s descriptions concerning places, people’s actions and
The novel is "a world of details". We get many detailed descriptions of:
.-"When he smiled he used to uncover his big-"The great silver buckle of her belt seemed to
discoloured teeth and let his tongue lie upon
his lower lip.."
"His face was very truculent,grey and
massive,with black cavernous nostrils and
circled by a scanty white fur."
depress the centre of her body,catching the
light stuff of her white blouse like a clip".
-"Mr O’Connor,a grey-haired young man,
whose face was disfigured by many blotches
and pimples.." Ivy Day in the Committee Room.
-"All the branches of the tall trees which lined
the mall where gay with little light green
leaves and the sunlight slanted through them
on to the water". An Encounter.
-"The glow of a late autumn sunset covered
the grass plots and walks" A Little Cloud.
-"The grey warm evening of August had
descended upon the city and a mild warm
air,a memory of summer,circulated in the
streets.The streets,shuttered for the repose
of Sunday,swarmed with a gaily coloured
crowd.Like illumined pearls the lamps
shone from the summits of their tall poles
upon the living texture below which,
chanching shape and hue unceasingly,sent
up into the grey warm evening air an
unchanching unceasing murmur".
-"When the dome was thinly covered his face
lapsed into darkness but,as he set himself to
fan the fire again,his crouching shadow
ascended the opposite wall and his face
re-emerged into light". Ivy Day in the Committee Room
More than images, what Joyce creates in these two examples, are perfect
atmospheres.Therefore, we, the readership, can imagine the situation in which the
action is going to take place.
-"Eliza sighed again and bowed her head
in assent.My aunt fingered the stem of
her wine-glass before sipping a little".
-"Little Chandler smiled,looked confusedly
at his glass and bit his lower lip with
three childishly white front teeth".
A Little Cloud.
One of the most interesting features of Dubliners is the way Joyce "allows his
characters to speak". It seems is not him who’s writing at some stage. Language
flows from the individual’s mouths. He lets them think freely, and sometimes they
do it in "loud voice". In this way, we enter characters’ conciousness , we get more
aware of what they’re thinking, their fears, wishes..etc..
Let’s see some examples:
-"Everything changes.Now she was going to
go away like the others,to leave her home.
-"..to leave her home.Was that wise?"
-"Then she would be married-she,Eveline".
-"She stood up in a sudden impulse of terror.
Escape!She must escape!Frank would
save her.He would give her life,perhaps
love,too.But she wanted to live.Why
should she be unhappy?"Eveline.
-"It must have been a good speech.
Farley clapped him on the back and
laughed loudly.What jovial fellows!
What good company they were!
Cards!Cards!The table was cleared".
After the race.
-"..and kissed him and said he was very
good to think of her./ Hm!…."
A Little Cloud.
-"All the indignities of his life enraged
him…Could he ask the cashier privately
for an advance?No,the cashier was no
good,no damn good:he wouldn’t give an
advance…He knew where…."
-"What a nice evening they would have,
all the children singing!Only she hoped
that Joe wouldn’t come in drunk.He was
so different when he took any drink.."
This is what is called the "stream of consciousness", a phenomenon that will
appear in a wider and a extremely way in one of Joyce’s later novels,Ulysses.
Finally, I’d like to remark Joyce’s language mastery and command; his
extraordinary skill to represent different sorts of speeches and registers, no matter
of what kind, which I think remains summed up in the speech of a character:
-"Hallo,Tommy, old hero, here you are! What is it to be? What will you have? I’m
taking whisky: better stuff than we get across the water. Soda? Lithia? No mineral?I'm
the same. Spoils the flavour…Here, garçon, bring us two halves of malt whisky, like a
good fellow. …Well, and how have you been pulling along since I saw you last? Dear God, how old we’re getting! Do you see any signs of aging in me-eh, what?A little grey and thin on the top-what? A Little Cloud.
© Copyright 1999/2000 María Rodríguez Moran