Frozen in Time: Critical Analysis of The Dubliners

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“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 me the centre of paralysis” James Joyce 1906. Joyce proves his point by making paralysis appear all throughout the novel by featuring a n inefficient government, corrupt church, emotionless people, and stagnant social life. On the first page, the young, nameless narrator gazes up at his window every night and softly repeats the word over and over again. The book ends in a vision of Ireland lying paralyzed under a deep covering of snow and is “general all over Ireland”. Therefore, it can be inferred that Joyce’s goal in writing The Dubliners is to underline the theme of paralysis in the country of Ireland and in the people it serves.

To contextualize, Ireland was facing triple pressures of British colonization, Catholic Church, and Irish nationalism. Because the Irish were under the colonial rule of England, they could not attend the House of Lords and had very limited power in politics. In Joyce’s eyes, this call for change made Ireland not only politically powerless, but psychologically paralyzed. In return, the atmosphere of Ireland became full of despair.

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The whole story of “Eveline” is based centered around Eveline’s dilemma on listening to her mother or going away with Frank. Her personality is getting the best of her, and she becomes paralyzed on how she should move on. Her mother always told her to keep the house together as long as she could; that meant putting up with and supporting her family. Her brothers are still young and her father is getting old; they need her! But, Frank is an outgoing, kind, caring sailor who could make her feel something she’s ever felt before: the love of a husband. Time ticks and the young protagonist cannot physically or emotionally move. She stands, frozen, at the plank leading to the ship that would take her away from her life in Dublin; she is left paralyzed on the dock. Forced by fear and circumstance, she has frozen in time.

In Clay, Maria is a tragic figure who lives a paralytic life unconsciously. Nothing seems to make her happy so she immerses herself in illusions. Her imagination tells her she is a very attractive and popular woman. This loop hole to finding her own happiness has somewhat satisfied her to the point where she starts to ignore her real life condition; she has no children and no husband. Although she can fantasize about love, she has yet to find herself a boyfriend due to her long time suppression of desire. This results in a loss of confidence and ability to attract men. Maria’s ego and emotions are paralyzed; she is stuck in clay which symbolized the death of all her emotions.

Maria and Eveline’s attitudes toward life are similar in many aspects. They both belong to the lower class of Dublin as store assistant and laundry washer. Eveline carries the responsibilities of taking care of her family at a young age while Maria gets up early every morning to wash dishes; they never have time to enjoy their lives. Although, they both seem to passively accept their conditions as they are never working for a change in their lives. Eveline waits for others to save her life, even though she has a desire to escape whereas Maria has not realized that she lives in a poor and plain life and always magnifies her position in society as respectful. For example, while on the way to Joe’s, Maria is planning what to buy and thinks to herself, “How much better would it be to be independent and have my own money in my pocket?” (15). This demonstrates that she never tries to create a better life for herself and just dreams what life would be like if she took those thoughts into fruition.

Both Eveline and Maria share a personality trait of a strong desire for love. Eveline is always busy working and has no time to consider her own needs until Frank appears. “He was lodging in a house on the main road where she used to visit. He was standing at the gate, his peaked cap pushed back on his head and his hair tumbled forward over face of bronze” (19). She clearly remembers the first time she meets Frank. That is the first time in her whole life that she can envision a future with someone. She wants to escape with him but barely knows what the foreignism will be like, away from her home country. To contrast, Maria doesn’t admit to any emotional secrets in her life. She has always tried to cover up and hide any personal desire toward men, not because she is disgusted by them, but because she is nervous to put herself out into the real world.

By using this theme of paralysis throughout his novel, Joyce illustrates that all people of Ireland are paralyzed, not only the ones who are dead and lying in their graves; even the people who walk Dublin’s streets, the Dubliners, are paralyzed. For example, in “The Dead”, it is not just those who lie frozen underneath the snow who are dead, but also those who live. “The snow falls upon the living and the dead.” This concludes that everyone, living and dead, experience some form of paralysis. And the only way to mobilize Ireland, is to do what Joyce did: take flight and never return.

Joyce believed about the Irish society and culture of Dublin being frozen in place for centuries by authoritative forces, the Roman Catholic Church and England itself. Emotional, physical, spiritual, and mental are just some of the various ways Joyce demonstrates paralysis throughout the novel.

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Frozen in Time: Critical Analysis of The Dubliners. (2022, September 27). Edubirdie. Retrieved July 16, 2024, from
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