JOYCE: Dubliners

  1. The first story in the collection- ‘The Sisters’- is a particularly strange and puzzling one. Explore Joyce’s use of language in the story and explain what meaning and significance the story has for you.

In ‘The Sisters’, strange and puzzling events occur that remain unexplained. 'Dubliners' opens with ‘The Sisters’, which explores death and the process of remembering the dead. The story deals with a young boy’s (whom is the narrator) encounter on death to a close friend (the priest) whom he cares for. When his account of the event begins, he is full of fear and unwilling to accept that the priest will actually die. Once he hears that the death has occurred he is upset and tries to hide the fact. He remembers the priest and his kindness, his scrupulous teaching in spite of his worsening illness.

        Father Flynn suffers from paralyzing strokes and eventually dies, but the reader never learns exactly what’s wrong with him. Joyce presents just enough information so that the reader suspects, in which this case I did, Father Flynn as a malevolent figure, but never enough so that the reader knows the full story. For example, in the first paragraph of the story the narrator thinks of the word paralysis when looking at Father Flynn’s window and connects the word with ‘gnomon’. Joyce does this through language; he points to details and suggestions, but never completes the puzzle.

I believe Father Flynn plays a central role in the story, the physical presence of father Flynn lingers throughout the story, coloring the narrators experience of dealing with death in life and showing how a death interrupts normal human activities. The significance of the story revolves around paralysis, the link between paralysis to both death and religion. Characters face events that paralyze them from taking action or fulfilling their desires. In ‘The Sisters’ such paralysis is connected to religion through Father Flynn’s dropping of the chalice and his inability to grasp the same object in his coffin, this suggests that the rituals of religion lead to paralysis.

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        The title ‘The Sisters’ to me, has an important significance. First and most obviously ‘The Sisters’ signifies the two sisters, Nannie and Eliza, who have taken care of the priest during his illness and have helped to arrange the formalities of his passing. Secondly the main meaning I feel Joyce wanted to portray from the title is more significant and symbolic. The title may signify the relationship of insanity to death of that of the close relationship between sisters, where an intimate relationship arises between each (preoccupation with death may be a course of insanity).

Joyce’s attitudes and values are ...

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