The theme of paralysis in James Joyce's "Dubliners"

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Ireland in the early 20th century was a place of little progression. The Catholic Church dominated the general order of things with a heavy resistance to change. Alcoholism was on the rise and the lingering effects of the great famine of 1845 were evident in the declining population rates. The people of Ireland suffered mass unemployment. It is estimated that at least one quarter of Dublin families lived in single room apartments with no running water. Given the state of his home country, it is no surprise that James Joyce wrote such painfully accurate accounts of the world around him. Joyce underwent a long struggle to have Dubliners published exactly as it was written, with no revision of language or imagery and no changes of names and places. At the time, it was unheard of to publish stories displaying one’s homeland in such a distasteful manner, and Joyce was widely criticized for what he considered to be an honest and accurate account of Irish life in the early 20th century. He stated that his intent was not to insult Ireland, but to reveal its own ugliness in an attempt to awaken it from a paralytic slumber. He said, “I seriously believe that you will retard the course of civilization in Ireland by preventing the Irish people from having one good look at themselves in my nicely polished looking-glass” (LI 64, 23 June 1906). Joyce uses a number of recurring themes in Dubliners, namely the idea of paralysis. He believes that Ireland has become a stiff nation of unhappy people, blind to the cause of their pain and unwilling to help one another in alleviating it. To illustrate this immobility of spirit, he has arranged the stories in succession according to four stages of life: childhood, adolescence, mature life, and social life. The theme of paralysis presents itself in the first paragraph of the first story “The Sisters” in the paralysis of the priest.

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