James Joyce’s “Dubliners” immerses the reader in early 20th-century Dublin, profoundly capturing the daily rhythms and emotions humming through the city. A collection of 15 short stories that progress from adolescence to adulthood, “Dubliners” is Joyce’s most readable work and a powerful examination of not just the lives of 20th-century Dubliners, but also humanity as a whole.
Beginning a story in “Dubliners,” readers would be forgiven if its message appeared elusive. But if this is so, it is only because life cannot be boiled down to a unified, overall message. In true Modernist fashion, “Dubliners” seeks to portray the world as it actually is—the rambling mind, the vagueness of meaning, and the pervasive complexity that entangles our lives.
The old adage that there is beauty in simplicity is eminently applicable to “Dubliners.” Joyce strips language down to the bone, eschewing the flowery and winged prose which so often rips a literary text from reality.
And it’s precisely this realism that Joyce so skillfully captures. Readers feel as if they’re actually walking with the characters along the streets of “dear dirty Dublin,” hearing the horse-drawn cars pattering the stone or the raucous noise of a Dublin bar or feeling the solemnity of a Catholic Mass.
Yet, more importantly, Joyce’s realism offers a subtle path into the ethos of human life. The stories in “Dubliners” are neither complex nor fanciful but provide an unabashed look at the everyday circumstances in which people find themselves.
There’s “Eveline,” a 19-year-old girl desperate to escape her hard life and abusive father; there’s “A Little Cloud,” in which a wistful man feels the bitter sting of his inartistic life and longs to replace it with one of success and recognition—only to regret it in the end; and there’s “The Dead,” in which a man struggles to see clearly those closest to him.
Joyce builds these and the rest of the stories in “Dubliners” up until the last few pages when the protagonist (and the reader) has a moment of realization, an epiphany, which reveals a simple pattern of human experience by which we organize our lives but is so often obscured by our failure to pay attention to the world around us.
“Dubliners,” to put it succinctly, teaches us to pay deeper attention to our world and our relationships with one another. This alone is surely a good enough reason to read it.
Tagline: “The Candid Reader,” written by J.T. Crocenzi, reviews books from all genres and eras to explore how literature has the power to impact our daily lives and help us live better.