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Themes in Dubliners

Themes Examples in Dubliners:

The Sisters

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"July 1st, 1895..."   (The Sisters)

July 1st is significant in two ways: First, Father Flynn dies on the Church Feast of the Most Precious Blood. Second, July 1st was also the date of the Battle of the Boyne in which Catholic Ireland was defeated by William Prince of Orange and the subsequent King William the Third of England.
The latter historical example relates to Dubliners and the motif of paralysis running throughout the lives of the people in Joyce's short stories. The defeat of the Catholic forces at the Battle of the Boyne was a traumatizing event in Irish history. Their defeat eventually led to the establishment of English Protestant Ascendancy, resulting in more oppression of the Catholic faith. July 1st, with all its emotional and historical connotations, gives the story a historical dimension that shows how England is at fault for much of the physical and mental paralysis that the Irish face.

"And I was penitent; for in my heart I had always despised him a little..."   (An Encounter)

Realizing that the old man might be unstable or dangerous, the narrator feigns politeness and abruptly leaves to find his friend "Murphy" in another act of deception in the story. The boy is ashamed of this “paltry stratagem” but is relieved when Mahoney comes to him—as if to rescue him. At the end, we are privy to the narrator's admission of guilt: He has always detested Mahoney for his crude and rather aggressive behavior. This admission represents the story’s last act of betrayal and deception as "An Encounter" draws to a close.

"let you be Murphy and I'll be Smith..."   (An Encounter)

Much of "An Encounter" deals with the theme of deception: from the narrator deceiving his parents and teachers to skip school to his deceiving himself by seeking adventure and escape from his own reality. This is another example where deception comes into play as the narrator suggests that they lie to the old man in case he asks for their names.

"He repeated his phrases over and over again, varying them and surrounding them with his monotonous voice..."   (An Encounter)

This passage speaks to the themes of perversion and deception prevalent in Dubliners. While the conversation with the old man is banal enough at first, readers should notice this shift towards something unsettling or perverse in his speech. The narrator appears to notice it as well, as he points out how the old man focuses so much attention on the description of young girls and how the old man speaks in a secretive manner. By telling the boys a secret, the old man's actions are a kind of perversion, or corruption, of what is usually expected: children customarily seek approval from adults, not the other way around.

"they opened doors of escape..."   (An Encounter)

Several of the words in this passage speak to larger themes of paralysis and escape prevalent throughout Dubliners. The main character admits to banding with others do to fear, a kind of paralysis, and he also seeks escape from his reality through the adventures in the stories that Joe Dillon has.

"The upper part of the hall was now completely dark..."   (Araby)

The theme of paralysis is supported by another concept in Dubliners of a quest that cannot be completed. This failed quest is also a theme in “An Encounter” when the boys set out for the Pigeon House, and they do not reach their destination. Here, the boy not only fails to purchase something for Mangan's sister, he is also disillusioned by what he sees at the bazaar. He finally sees his own vanity, foolishness, unprofitable use of time, and that there is no magical "Araby" in Ireland.

"The Memoirs of Vidocq..."   (Araby)

The Memoirs of Vidocq was written by Francois-Jules Vidocq and published in 1829. This popular 19th-century novel concerns the exploits of a Parisian Police Commissioner who uses his status to cover up the crimes he commits. Joyce includes the book here to presents and support the theme of deception in the story. As seen in "An Encounter," deception, and how the characters in Dubliners deceive others and themselves, runs throughout the texts. The boy narrator doesn't understand the significance of these books, which strengthens the deception, because we readers can understand their purpose but the boy himself remains ignorant of their meaning and influence.

"Mangan's sister..."   (Araby)

Joyce's decision to simply call the girl "Mangan's Sister" may have been intended to make readers think of the Irish poet James Clarence Mangan (1803–1849) whose work focused on doomed love and despair. By giving this name to the girl with whom the narrator is infatuated, Joyce continues to build on his theme of mixed conceptions of love and romanticism.

"The Abbot, by Walter Scott..."   (Araby)

Sir Walter Scott wrote The Abbot in 1820. It is a historical novel that portrays the events surrounding the life of Mary Queen of Scots. Religious and romantic, the story focuses on the central character, Roland Graeme, who gets involved in a plot full of adventure and romance—much like the young narrator of "Araby." The presence of this text supports the notion that romantic, religious, and materialist love is not only complex but also confusing for Joyce's narrator.

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