The Search for Truth or Meaning in James Joyce's Dubliners

1788 Words Jun 20th, 2018 8 Pages
The Search for Truth or Meaning in Dubliners

Several of James Joyce's stories in Dubliners can read as lamentations on a frustrating inability of man to represent meaning by external means, including written word. When characters in "Araby," "Counterparts," and "A Painful Case" attempt to represent or signify themselves, other characters, or abstract spiritual entities with or through words, they not only fail, but end up emotionally ruined. Moreover, the inconclusive endings of the three stories correspond with the fates of their characters. The short texts of Dubliners imply that representing the "real" is frustrating, if not impossible.

Early in Dubliners, Joyce establishes the theme of emotional investment in
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The conspicuous "purple ink" and "brass pin" highlight the graphic qualities of Duffy's volume. Joyce goes on to describe Duffy's odd treatment of the manuscript, again emphasizing actions which reduce words to non-referential form:

In these sheets a sentence was inscribed from time to time and, in an ironical moment, the headline of an advertisement for Bile Beans had been pasted on to the first sheet. (108)

The infrequency of Duffy's inscriptions and his "ironic" irreverence toward the physical text are made clear. Any notion of his feelings regarding the "content" or "meaning" of the text is invisible or implicit. Joyce implies a sort of detachment from an conventional notion of textual meaning.

Duffy's relationship with modes of representation is complicated and multi-faceted. While his treatment of the Hauptmann text is ironic and detached, the character seems to hold strong beliefs in objective truth and the potential for a representable reality. Joyce writes,

He lived at a little distance from his body, regarding his own acts with doubtful side-glances. He had an odd autobiographical habit which led him to compose in his mind from time to time a short sentence about himself containing a subject in the third person and a predicate in the past tense. (108)

The passage implies that Duffy wishes
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