Dubliners, by James Joyce, showcases many of his own short stories. Set in Dublin, Ireland in the early 20th century, we see how the town operated during the 20th century. Dubliners also touches on different ideas and themes such as alienation, paralysis and social fragmentation. These ideas are still easily seen in today’s world, on even the most mundane tasks that we carry out. We are still affected from the ideas of alienation, paralysis, and social fragmentation.
Today, we can see the forms of social fragmentation even on public transport. In the ideal world, public transport would be bustling with conversations. Sounds coming from every angle. The air would be filled with friendly pats on the back, hands linking together in a handshake to confirm a mutual trust between people. Wide grins plastered to each face. The mood would be vibrant, happy to be in each other’s company.
In reality we see a dark gloomy piece of metal, what we call a train, containing different characters all with their own stories, who don’t connect in any form shape or way with anyone else on the train.
In today’s train sits a middle-aged woman dressed in a shade of grey on her way to her mundane office job. She ponders the idea of quitting her job, but soon dismisses the idea out of fear of disappointing her boss. Her bosses’ words echo in her head,
“we need you,”
She lets out a small sight and puts earphones in her ears and zones out to her Spotify playlist consisting of David Bowie and John Lennon on hard repeat. Her earphones yell at the other passengers to “f**k off” as it raises its hand and shows everyone else the bird.
Although my example may seem generic or stereotypical, none the less, still relevant to a small pocket of commuters. It is trying to make clear the paralysis and social fragmentation that takes place on a regular basis.
Her “meaningless” thoughts about quitting her job that were easily expelled were showing the paralysis that occurs today, she wants to quit her job and move on with her life, but soon realises that, in this case, she did not want to upset her boss. Her earphones were a symbol of social fragmentation. Earphones block you’re ears to any external noises and make you focus on the audio coming from the earphone. This would of course make any social interaction with another passenger just that much harder. This social fragmentation also happens in Dubliners, making Dubliners more relevant than ever.
However, what if this lady was travelling on a regional train? Rural towns are generally known for being more socially cohesive when compared to the cities. The citizens of a rural town know and understand each other on a personal level, due to the town being less populated. Of course, this proves that in some areas of todays world the social fragmentation is less noticeable.
“The Boarding House” is a short story that makes social fragmentation one of its major ideas.
The Boarding House focus’ on the relationship between Mr Doran, a clerk, and Polly. Polly works for her mother, Mrs Mooney, boarding house. Polly grows a close bond with one of her customers, Mr Doran. Doran is married , so any relationship with Polly would be looked down upon. Mrs Mooney watches their relationship grow from afar, and finally decides to talk with Mr Doran one Sunday evening. Mr Doran grows nervous to the situation and decides to talk to his priest the night before, who then harshly reproves of Mr Doran’s actions. Filled with guilt Mr Doran goes to the meeting the next day. During the meeting, Mrs Mooney’s intentions are made clear, of marrying Mr Doran for his high paying job. Realising this, he attempts to leave. This makes Polly threaten to take her own life, forcing Mr Doran to comply to her wishes.
This is an example of the social fragmentation that happened in 20th century Dublin. Taking someone’s hand in marriage, should be a perfectly mutual act of trust in the idealistic world, but due to Polly’s comment and Mr Duffy’s high paying job and Polly’s “less sought after” job crossing over, their marriage is not based with this idealistic world, but through the need for money in poverty.
Most characters in Dubliners suffer from paralysis. They have a wish or desire to break the routine they live in, but soon after facing most challenges they seize all action and ultimately end up in the same routine as they started in. The most evident story that shows paralysis would be Eveline.
“Eveline” follows a 19 year old called Eveline and her will to leave Dublin. Living through poverty, she works hard to provide for her two younger siblings and her father who is now incredibly sick. Eveline meets a man called Frank and they immediately form a bond. Frank is a sailor who lives in Buenos Ayres, the golden ticket out of Dublin. When Frank offers her onto the ship to Buenos Ayres she gladly accepts. However, the day comes, and she freezes out of fear, “her hands clutched the iron in frenzy”. She was unable to escape the routine out of fear of the unknown.
Eveline had been given an easy ticket out of there and there was no reason to stay in Dublin. Even the boat was waiting for her, yet she was unable to step onto the boat. And I reckon that life can be like that sometimes. Although someone is in a bad situation at the moment, they would still prefer to stay in that bad situation rather than get onto the boat and leave. The initial contact onto the boat would have been the hardest obstacle facing Eveline, leaving all her belongings and family. But Buenos Ayres gave her the prospect of a life away from poverty. Sadly, she was unable to overcome the obstacle. This shows how paralysis has taken away a life changing opportunity away from Eveline.
Alienation is also highly relevant today. Society now is based around fitting into social norms, and being “socially acceptable.” This would include: being well dressed, speaking clearly and confidently, treating people with the respect that they deserve, following the herd in other words. If someone does not fit into this criterion, they are often alienated from society, not being able form connections with other humans, and are unable to correctly integrate back into society. This can prove detrimental to people’s mental health and as alienation continues the affects worsen.
Alienation is also touched on in Dubliners, and the most evident story that highlights alienation is “a painful case”
A painful case follows a man named Mr Duffy who forms a close bond with a married women named Mrs Sinico. When Mrs Sinico makes her intentions clear to Duffy (to be more than friends) Mr Duffy ends the relationship. Four years later while reading the paper, Mr Duffy finds out that Mrs Sinico had been hit by a train and has died. Upon further research, he learns about her alcoholism, and feels guilty for sending her into a downwards spiral of loneliness and sadness.
The overall feel of this short story is more sombre than the previous few. The main theme it touches on is alienation and how it can affect someone’s overall health. This is obviously seen through Mrs Sinico’s state after breaking up, and Mr Duffy’s feelings after Mr Sinico’s suicide. We see how her life gradually changes for the worse and over time she takes her own life.
Mrs Sinico’s suicide also has drastic affects on her ex-lover, Mr Duffy, realising that without Mrs Sinico he is truly alone. Damn this is sad as alright.
Dubliners and today’s society still suffer from alienation, social fragmentation and paralysis, proving that the world hasn’t changed that much, and we are just following the same routine over and over again until we eventually pass away. Talk about social paralysis am I right?