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Dubliners
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on January 5, 2004
James Joyce sketches in a few deft words, the lives of characters who inhabit the homes in Dublin a hundred years ago. There are young people who are trapped by tradition, religion, their own limitations. Adults don't fare much better. But it's all in the telling: the marvellous word choice, the weaving of image, the interplay of characters who are unable to set each other free. Joyce can breathe life into players with a few strokes, letting Polly Mooney seduce as a "perverse Madonna", having Mangan's sister play the strings of a young man's heart as she would a harp. Hope for a brighter future flickers in the final story of the collection, where friends and family gather at the feast, their spirits rise and Ireland reaches out to embrace her wounded.
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on December 26, 1999
Having grown up in a small town much like Joyce's Dublin, this book has a special significance for me. I've seen so many people from my town graduating from high school without really understanding that there is an entire world outside the place they grew up and lacking the ambition to go explore it. I fear many of them will spend their lives "getting by" in a job they hate, raising children who will inevitably do the same thing. Joyce's "Dubliners" depicts this cycle with as much complexity and compassion as any author I've read.
In an age where the most publicized fiction tends to be simple-minded and genre-bound, it's refreshing to come across a writer with Joyce's complexity. "Dubliners" is so rich in its intellectual and symbolic atmosphere that many readers may be put off by the overall weight of the prose. The writing is so thick with metaphorical contexts that the literal content of the story occasionally becomes obscured, which can be frustrating for those not used to reading Joyce. Yet, while difficult, "Dubliners" is far from impossible to decipher, and although these stories function well as a whole, they are also more or less self-contained, which makes "Dubliners" easier to get through than Joyce's other works(it's a lot easier to take on a ten page short story than a 600+ page novel like "Ulysses" or "Finnegan's Wake"). For readers who are new to Joyce, this would be a good place to start.
A final note: since this book is old enough to be considered a "classic," there are a plethora of editions available from various publishers. I own the Vintage edition (ISBN: 0679739904). Not only is it a quality printing (not that cheap newspaper ink that rubs off on your fingers), it also contains about a hundred pages of criticism at the end that help shed light on Joyce's often illusive themes. Normally I shun forewards and afterwards (I like to think I've read enough to discover a story's theme on my own), but in the case of Joyce I found that a push in right direction can mean the difference between enjoyment and frustration.
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on June 17, 1999
I read the story "The Dead " in high school (actually, we were assigned to read "Eveline" but I had heard that "The Dead" was the greatest short story in English) and it is to date the only story that has actually brought tears to my eyes. Not that I have not been moved by a great many books, but the countless time I have reread this story have not dimmed its effect in the slightest. On my wall I have a framed quotation from the story that my father calligraphed (is that a verb?) for me: "Better pass boldly into that other world in the full glory of some passion than fade and wither dismally with age." Though I find the first line of the story somewhat ridiculous-- "Lily, the caretaker's daughter, was literally swept off her feet." No she wasn't-- she was figuratively swept off her feet. But even thinking about the ending makes me choke up. Absolutely gorgeous. ben zelkowicz
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on March 22, 2001
Life is a system of interactions: interactions with school, work, church, and essential to all of these are interactions with people. Humans are unique in that they are intensely individualistic yet in their last days they take a more communal perspective and define the success of their lives based on the relationships they had with others. Some understand this long before those last days, and because they know that relationships make a life what it is, they try to understand people. While actually getting out and meeting with people is the best way to learn about them, there is a saying that states something to the effect of "learning from others without making the same mistakes that they did" is another good way to learn. Now, I am not sure what mistakes James Joyce may have made in his life, but from his novel, Dubliners, I can tell that he was an avid observer of people and is worth lending an ear to. His words are capturing and tell the story of humanity at its most base and intimate level. Though I may interact with people everyday, and want more of this interaction in order to feel more alive, when I read Dubliners, I felt more human and more united with the persona around me than I ever had before. Joyce is a master of the English language, but if one looks only at his entertaining and piercing rhetoric, one is missing the point. Of course, Joyce's words compliment his work, but I think the real secret behind his success is his knowledge of human nature. In my opinion, Joyce lived a full life. From his writings it was evident that he knew people. He could read their every move, their questioning eyes, or even the organization of their rooms and make a story of it. I wouldn't be surprised if some of the people Joyce wrote of were inspired by one or two minute incidents that triggered a chain reaction of assumptions. Take for example A Painful Case. Joyce goes to great lengths to provide his readers with the slightest of details about the character's room. He explicitly states the many things that are made of iron. Is this intentional? Without a doubt. Joyce goes on and describes the desk, the smells, the bed sheets. Joyce knows people. He knows that something so simple as the way books are arranged on a shelf can reveal an impressive amount about the person being observed. Reading Dubliners lets you look into the mind of a genius, someone who can understand humanity and is willing to share that knowledge. In each of Joyce's stories, from Eveline to The Dead, Joyce invites the reader to hear the thoughts of his characters, to see the situations they are living in and to make judgments. It's almost as if readers are being asked to take a crash course in social work case studies, or even better, a crash course in life. Joyce amazingly allows the reader to experience the ups and downs of humanity without being discouraged by it. Though he may emphasize prevailing shortcomings like alcoholism, the reader cannot help but be inspired by the stories. How can depression be inspiring? As a fond reader of this novel, it reminded me of my own humanity and made me proud to be associated with mankind. I smile on our chance to choose and to act, and reading about those who took control of that uniquely human feature in the Dubliners reminded me that I have that same right to act for myself. We all may make mistakes, but who's to say that we cannot rebound. In my judgment, Joyce's tone throughout the book is one that praises humanity, even on its follies, for all of our experiences make us human. And in his closing pages Joyce reminds us that there is hope to achieve a greater future. Humans are grand creations. We can choose to fly or falter, and though life may seem overbearing sometimes, even the most boring, monotonous life can be transformed into a cherished collection of stories. Dubliners is just that, and Joyce is a masterful storyteller and observer of mankind. I feel that by reading this book I have gained a deeper understanding of human nature, and thereby life in general. Joyce's Dubliners will forever be a cherished book on my shelf. I wonder what that says about me? Any answers Joyce?
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on March 13, 2001
This isn't a book that you can sit down and fluff through on a plane ride. We were assigned to read this book for my intensive college writing class. I can't say that I was thrilled with the choice. This novel takes time, intelligence and consideration. Something that many books don't ask from the reader any more. The product is worth the price, though. The first few stories were hard for me to get through. This book was a different animal than what I'm used to. Most stories grab you and pull you into the story. This book is more like the different kid in high school, harder to get to know, not what you expect, but completely worth the effort. By the time that I got to "The Dead" I found myself wishing that each chapter was a novel itself. The characters don't beg you to get to know them. They are there, interesting, quirky and inviting in their own way. This novel is literature. I am amazed that the writer was merely twenty-two years old when he penned this. Even though each chapter is a different story, the characters are more than just flat players in a short story. Somehow he manages to give each life and dimension that takes other writers hundreds of pages to accomplish. They are also remarkably thought provoking. I found myself pondering on the man in "An Encounter" long after I had finished with that story. Maybe it was the time, but the characters seem far less complicated than the ones in novels I've read lately. They simply are what they are. They don't obsess over how many Snickers they've eaten that day, whether they'll fit into that dress at the end of the day, or how their parents put them into therapy. It was refreshing to read something so devoid of all the garbage that pervades literature today. I hated Scarlet Letter the first time I read that classic, too. It came to mind as I read the Dubliners because both require something of the reader. I had to read the Scarlet Letter three times before I felt like I really began to get it. That was also the point that I began to understand why it's a classic. Thankfully at twenty-one I have a better apprecaition for literature than I did at sixteen, but I think the same things hold true. The classics don't grab the reader and beat them over the head the with the message. They wait patiently for the reader to get the message out on his own accord. If I were to ever venture into the world of writing professionally, I would hope that I could craft stories that are half as intricate, intelligent, and often times humorous as James. Since time is money, I suggest investing some of each into a copy of the Dubliners. It is definately worth it.
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on March 23, 2001
When I first began to read this book I thought it was hard to understand, and it didn't seem very interesting. The first chapter was "The sisters." I read it carefully trying to understand everything to build a good foundation to be able to comprehend better the other chapters. But when I finally got to the second chapter, "An encounter," I realized that it had nothing to do with "The sisters." They were two completely different stories. However, the more I read the more I realized that the fifteen stories that comprise Dubliners, while different, contain many of the same themes and settings. Most of the characters in "Dubliners" belong to the middle and low Irish classes of the twentieth century. Something common among all the personages in the book is their inability to decide by themselves. The subordination to England and to the Catholic Church limits their freedom to choose how and where they want to live their lives. Most of the characters feel isolated and unworthy. In "After the Race," Jimmy feels as if he doesn't really fit in the community of the people he is living with. Irish's weaknesses and low motivation to leave the terrible situation they are in tempt them to escape from the real world through things like alcohol or dominance. In Dubliners the use of alcohol as a way of escape is very common among men. At the same time, women try to escape their situation by controlling their daughters' lives. Some examples of controlling mothers are seen in the "Boarding House" and in "Eveline." In the "Boarding House." Mrs. Mooney's (the mother) intentions are to get her daughter married to one of the clients at the boarding house regardless of her daughter's happiness. In "Eveline," the mother plays the role of an unhappy woman who forces her daughter to follow the same steps she did. The stories also have a symbolic meaning. The English dominance and the Catholic Church are sometimes exposed by symbols. For example, in "Araby," the dominance of the father over the family can be representative of the power of the English dominance and the Catholic Church over Ireland. Because of the dominance found throughout the book, the atmosphere in the novel is that of pessimism and darkness. There is a shadowy environment in most of the stories except in the last one, "the dead." The characters of "the dead" are mainly teachers. Their economical situation is better than the other characters' in the book. Christmas time and the white snow are both symbols of hope and progression. Christmas is usually associated with the birth of Jesus Christ and therefore hope. The white snow means cleanliness of the old, which would be progression. This is a novel meant to help you understand the Irish culture in the 1900's. It also will help you experience the feeling of oppression and dominance the Irish people had. Through the characters in the book you'll be able to see life from different perspectives, having always present the pressure of the twentieth century in Ireland, which is the main theme of the book.
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on March 19, 2002
As each of us progresses through life, we all must develop our character through the experiences we have. In "A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man," there is much to learn from Stephen Dedalus' experiences. In his struggles to find himself he deals with three main issues: family, country, and religion. We can gain insight by analyzing these themes and comparing them to other symbols found within the story.
Throughout this book, Stephen searches for independence from his family, political affairs, and the Catholic Church. As he progresses and unifies his own beliefs and ideas on life, so does the style of writing that Joyce uses becomes more concise and clear. Stephen becomes frustrated on many occasions because he feels like his family, the priest from his school, and even his friends are telling him what to do. He feels imprisoned and yearns for freedom from all aspects of his life. Several symbols throughout the book show that there are obstacles in everyone's life. Stephen's father deals with money problems while his Christmas guests deal with stubborn political feelings. On many occasions, the image of birds is used. This also portrays opposition in all things. Finally, as Stephen develops his own freedom and decides to leave Ireland, he watches the birds fly away just as his soul flies away.
I enjoy finding the symbols in "A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man." Joyce does a great job of enlightening his audience by showing that obstacles can be overcome. Through symbolism, every reader of this book can gain insight into their own lives.
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on March 23, 2001
The book is a series of short stories about different groups of people in Dublin, Ireland. Joyce uses these short stories to expose the social wrongs and paralysis of morals around the turn of the 20th century in Dublin. All of the stories end in tragedy, sadness, or continuation of a previous wrong. James Joyce's Dubliners was an interesting book, to say the least. At times I riveted by its description and imagery, and at other times I was lulled to sleep by its lack of movement. I also felt that the dark, almost gothic, feel of the book pushed me away. I think, though, that the main reason that I didn't enjoy the book completely was because I feel that I missed a lot of the symbolism that Joyce intended to use to prove his points. One of the main issues that Joyce addressed was the saturation of alcoholism. The characters used alcohol as a "cure-all" for their problems. I am reminded of one story in which a man literally gets fired over his alcohol addiction. He thought that he couldn't meet his deadline for work so he gave up. He decided to go to the bar and drink. For no reason; he just wanted to drink. He ended up spending all the money that he and his family had. He came home in a drunken rage and beat his kid. That is the feeling surrounding Joyce's short stories. I think that Joyce was trying to prove a point about the things that he saw as problems during the time that he spent in Dublin. I don't like the way that he went about it. Either I don't understand it fully, or I just don't like the way he did it. His stories are full of description, but the plot in each of them moves very slowly; then it all falls apart quickly at the end in a tragedy. His writing didn't grab me as I expected it would. I almost fell asleep during most of the book. Then, as I get to the end of each short story, I feel sick about the way that he ended them. But then maybe that is the point that he is trying to show: that the people are so lulled by their problems that they don't notice them until it ends in tragedy. I think that he could have gone about making his points differently, though. I don't think that he took into account the reader. Most people didn't feel as adamant about the things that Joyce is exposing as he did, and I think that he needed to keep the reader interested along the way. I think that if he went about it this way he would get his point across in a more profound and impact full way. I think that it could be possible that the symbolism that Joyce used, if that is what he was trying to do, could have just been over my head. You have the feeling throughout the book that you are missing the point of how he is trying to communicate with you. At times you feel that he is just rambling for no reason and you want to know why he is saying what he is saying. It makes you feel lost as a reader. I hated that feeling. I think that if he was going to use symbolism, he should have made the meanings of things a lot more clear. For example, at the end of the book it starts snowing and you get the feeling that the snow is supposed to mean something as a symbol of how things are going to end or what the characters are going to do next in their life, but you don't know what. You are completely at a loss for what it was supposed to mean. Well, at least I was. It could have been done better. This book is hard to understand and not very uplifting, but I must admit that the description and imagery is extraordinary, sometimes to its downfall. I also think that this book could have been more reader friendly, but I did enjoy some of parts of the book: the parts that I understood. I would recommend this book to anyone that feels like they are up to the challenge of trying to understand Joyce's mysteries in his Dubliners, but if you are looking for an easy, uplifting read stay clear of this one because you will be thoroughly disappointed as I was.
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on March 15, 2015
Great. I had read a few of the stories on their own previously, but much preferred reading them as a collection.
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on December 17, 1998
If you read this book for no other reason, read it for the last short story -- The Dead. It is the most haunting and beautiful story I have ever read. It explores the human psyche, relationships between men and women, and the Irish-English conflict in social gatherings. Joyce is an amazing writer.
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