Life and death

A progression through life

Although each Dubliners story contains different characters, the protagonists seem to mature as the book progresses. The first three stories – The Sisters, An Encounter and Araby – feature child protagonists. After this, each story contains progressively older main characters. In this sense, Dubliners can be seen to chart human life, from childhood through to old age and death.

Joyce’s experience of death

Joyce’s mother died in August 1903. Recalling her passing, in his August 1904 letter to Nora, Joyce writes:

      When I looked on her face as she lay in her coffin – a face grey and wasted with cancer – I understood that I was looking on the face of a victim and I cursed the system which had made her a victim. (Letters II, 48)     

The death of his mother had a profound effect on Joyce. Echoing the letter above, in Ulysses, Stephen (one of the two protagonists) is haunted by his mother’s grey face.

The dominance of death

Many of the stories in Dubliners feature death, including those which begin and end the collection. For example: 

  • The passing of Father Flynn in The Sisters
  • Gretta’s young love, Michael Furey, in The Dead
  • Charles Parnell’s death is a key topic of conversation in Ivy Day in the Committee Room
  • A Painful Case is structured around the death of Mrs Sinico.

There are also dead parents: 

  • Eveline’s mother
  • Mrs Mooney's father in The Boarding House.

Dubliners also contains metaphorical deaths such as the demise of:

  • Spirituality
  • Morals
  • Ideals
  • Hopes
  • Desires.

Life out of death

While most of the deaths in Dubliners are linked to the theme of paralysis, the final death of the book contains the seeds of new life. In The Dead, through talking about and reflecting upon the death of Michael Furey, Gabriel sees Gretta afresh, signalling a renewal of their fading relationship.

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