Dubliners is considered a champion among books written in the English language. James Joyce’s characterization of not only the people in the stories, but of Dublin itself, demonstrates his great ability as an author. Dubliners is not a book with a normal story line, a plot, and a definite climax and resolution. Instead, it is more of a setting, an atmosphere, an epiphany as Joyce called it. To understand the book, it is recommendable to focus on Irish history, and more specifically, Charles Stewart Parnell. He is a figure alluded to in this and other books by Joyce. He has been referred to as the uncrowned king of Ireland.
The series of short stories included in Dubliners depict a broken morale in and around the city of Dublin. The early 1900’s marked a time of disheartened spirits not only in Dublin but all of Ireland. England still clutched Ireland under it’s own control.. The citizens were bitter and dismayed.
It wasn’t until 1922 that Ireland freed itself from England. Up until that time, Ireland was occupied and ruled from Britain. The occupation had begun hundreds of years before, but from the end of the 18th century, a distinct Irish nationalism began to evolve. From 1801 onwards, Ireland had no Parliament of it’s own. It was ruled by the Parliament in Britain which consisted of the House of Commons and House of Lords.
Meanwhile, in the 1840’s, a small group formed out of the Young Ireland movement. The leader, Thomas Davis, expressed a concept of nationality embracing all who lived in Ireland regardless of creed or origin. A small insurrection in 1848 failed, but their ideas influenced the coming generations.
This small nationalism was illustrated in the stories Evelyn and A Painful Case. In the latter, Mr. James Duffy, despite his dislike of the modern an pretentious Dublin, decides to stay at least in the suburbs and commute back and forth to his house. Also in the story of Eveline, we see her refusing to leave with her fianc? because of her ties to her home and her city. She couldn’t leave; she couldn’t abandon it. The small or perhaps hidden pride in the city of Dublin displayed itself in subtle methods throughout the book.
After the potato famine in Ireland, a group was founded in 1858 known as the Irish Republican Brotherhood. Also known as the Fenians, they formed a secret society which rejected constitutional attempts to gain independence. Due to their somewhat forceful ways, the English courts in Ireland were kept busy with their Fenian prisoners. Their defense lawyer, Issac Butt, though not completely in accordance with the Fenian definition for independence, coined a new term referred to as Home Rule. Out of this sparked the formation of the Home Rule League. Charles Stewart Parnell was a squire of Avondale, County Wicklow during this time. A reference to this is found in the story, Ivy Day in the Committee Room. Mr. O’Connor, himself a man into Irish politics, is found sitting by the fire in the Committee Room in Wicklow Street with Jack, the old caretaker. Mr. O’Connor is working on a campaign to elect his representative, Mr. Tierney. This is precisely what Parnell was doing in his time; trying to get elected to Parliament. He was defeated twice.
Despite this, Parnell stepped over his opposition, namely the lawyer Issac Butt, and was elected president of the Home Rule Federation. He held a limited belief of the efficiency of parliamentarianism. Without a well organized public opinion in Ireland, Parnell felt his power in Parliament would be slight. He publicly stated that association with the House of Commons would destroy the integrity of any Irish Party.
This caught the attention of the Fenians. Parnell, in sharing the same goal as the Fenians, took advantage of any opportunity that presented itself which gave him a chance to show his admiration of them. He managed to get support from them, and through this alliance, he was a step closer to his goal of uniting Irishmen from all over the world against England. Joyce captured this nationalism exquisitely in Ivy Day in the Committee Room. In a conversation between the gentlemen inside the room, the topic arises of the King of England coming to visit Ireland. Mr. Henchy advises the group to welcome the King in order to build capital for the city of Dublin: The citizens of Dublin will benefit by it….It’s capital we want. -But look here, John, said Mr O’Connor. Why should we welcome the king of England? Didn’t Parnell himself… -Parnell, said Mr. Henchy, is dead.
Though Mr. Henchy believes that receiving the king in Ireland will be beneficial, it stirs up bad sentiments among the rest. Throughout this chapter, there are subtle references to Parnell. Their conversations often lack spirit but are awakened when there is a reference to their king. A little bit into the chapter, Mr. Hynes and Mr. O’ Connor exchange a few words that set the mood for the reaming part of the chapter and even put in place the mood of Dubliners. At first, Mr. Hynes assures Mr. O’Connor that they’ll be receiving their pay. Their conversation takes a turn into the working classes and addressing homage to a foreign king. They fall silent for a moment; Mr. Hynes looks down at an ivy leaf lapel on his collar: -If this man [Parnell] was alive, he said, pointing to the leaf, we’d have no talk of an address of welcome. -That’s true, said Mr O’ Connor. -Musha, God be with them times! said the old man. There was some life in it then.
The times are dead or dying, according to the old caretaker. All the stories in Dubliners revolve around that theme. They are disheartened not only for Parliaments consistent rejection of the several proposed Home Rule Acts, but because their uncrowned king was later betrayed. The characters in this chapter are sure to admit their admiration for Parnell. They respect him, even just for being a gentleman. There was a time when the Irish were united under Parnell, but following his fall and betrayal, there was a split between those who were loyal to him and those who were out to get him. His effect on Ireland, though, did not go unnoticed and to this day, he still attains great respect.
In a book written by Frank Budgen (James Joyce and the Making of Ulysses and Other Writings), James Joyce is quoted on the conflict in Dublin: Ireland is what she is, and therefore I am what I am because of the relations that have existed between England and Ireland. Tell me why you think I ought to wish to change the conditions that gave Ireland and me a shape and a destiny?…I don’t want to hurt or offend those of my countrymen who are devoting their lives to a cause they feel to be necessary and just. (pp.154-156)
In Joyce’s own words we can see that Dubliners is not necessarily a story or a novel. It is more like a mirror that was placed on Dublin which reflected a lot more than just a picture. It reflected a mood, a history, and a people. Joyce also comments on why he chose Dublin as the city of his choice: 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 be the centre of paralysis.(Budgen, pp.172)
Story after story, Dubliners becomes a manifestation of art. It is not simply a compilation of short stories. It is not merely a descriptive piece of what Dublin is either. It reaches into the hearts of the characters and the heart of Dublin. Joyce ingeniously blends the culture and the history into an exceptional book. It not only sparks interest into our opinion of Dublin, but also an opinion about ourselves.