- Social / political context
- Religious / philosophical context
- Literary context
There are several different structures at work in Dubliners: below are three examples. It should be noted that interpreting Dubliners via its structure (or structures) is only one way of understanding the text. Structuralist critics argue that form and order are of the utmost importance when analysing texts, but post-structuralist critics think otherwise (see Critical approaches).
The shaping effect of Dublin city
The physical structure of Dublin plays an important role in Dubliners. Indeed, several editions of Dubliners include a map of early 1900s Dublin, to help the reader get a mental picture of the book’s settings.
The significance of east and west
In the first two stories, characters head towards the east of Dublin:
- To see the corpse of Father Flynn in The Sisters
- To the easterly Ringsend area of Dublin in An Encounter
- To the location of the bazaar in Araby.
The collection then ends with The Dead which takes place on Usher’s Island, a quay on the west side of Dublin.
As well as providing a spatial structure to the book and engraining the text in a very real and physical Dublin, these eastward and westward trajectories can be seen to present a metaphorical dimension to Dubliners.
The excitement of the east
The first three stories – The Sisters, An Encounter and Araby – are narrated from the point of view of children. For children, the world is full of newness, excitement, and apprehension. Could it be that Joyce uses the east to symbolise the exoticism that everyday occurrences and places hold for the young?
A questioning of the west
What, then, could the westerly position of Usher’s Island symbolise in The Dead? Joyce tells us that Gretta hails from the West of Ireland, an area which has traditionally had romantic connotations for Nationalist Irish writers. But there is also the derogatory term ‘West Briton’ that Miss Ivors uses of Gabriel; this term implies a close relationship with Britain, rather than with the Irish nation. Once again, Joyce offers his reader multiple possible meanings.
Some critics argue that Dubliners moves through different styles and that its structure moves from simplicity to complexity. For example, in his book on short stories, The Lonely Voice (1963), Frank O’Connor argues that Dubliners can be split up into distinct sections:
- The first few stories are autobiographical
- The middle stories are realistic depictions of Dublin
- The third section consists of more experimental narratives, in which Joyce incorporates several levels of meaning and symbolism.
The structure of Dubliners can be seen to parallel the development of a human being from childhood to adulthood:
- The first stories focus on, and/or are narrated by, children
- The next few stories discuss young love and maturing experiences
- The penultimate stories look at maturity and failed family life
- The last few stories deal with adult social life, including politics, religion, and sexual relationships
- Although The Dead is centred around the theme of death, the story includes the seeds of new life; through reflecting upon the death of Michael Furey, Gabriel sees Gretta afresh, signalling a renewal of their fading relationship and a change in Gabriel’s character.
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