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The sisters (part number 1) - Joyce

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The sisters (part number 1) - Joyce

James Joyce was born in Dublin in 1882. He comes from a middle-class Irish Catholic family. However, his family descended the social ladder as his father wasn't able to hold a job for a long time.

His father's behaviour influenced Joyce's literary ures of fathers, represented as selfish, brutal and often drunken, not able to make their families happy. On the other side, all mothers have a warmer although sorrowful and ineffectual attachment to their families.

His father influenced also James' political view. He supported Parnell, the Protestant leader of the Irish Home Rule movement which was hting for independence from Britain. However, after his death, Joyce became disillusioned about Irish political extremism. In 1902 he started travelling and he went to Paris; but after his mother's death he came back to Ireland where he lived very precariously, drinking too much. Then, he met Nora Barnell, his lifelong companion and they left Ireland for voluntary exile on the Continent. They settled in Trieste where he wrote "The Dubliners".

The Dubliners is a collection of 15 stories dealing with life in Dublin, linked by the common theme of the decay and stagnation of the city's life. It belongs to the first period of Joyce's literary production and it's characterized by a realistic technique. The plot is quite linear in its development and rich in details, the syntax is logical and the language reflects everyday speech.

The stories were all written in 1905, except for "The Dead", the longest and more ambitious, which was written in 1907.

However, because of the supposed immorality of certain passages, it was difficult for Joyce to find a publisher and  the work wasn't published until 1914.

It's divided into 4 sections, each of which represents one stage in life (childhood, adolescence, maturity and public life). For this reason it can be considered a DIACHRONIC history of Dublin.

The style is essentially realistic and, with a scrupulous cataloguing of details, Joyce is able to create the sense of a place (Dublin) and remarkable moments of sudden insight, called EPIPHANIES.

The original meaning of this term is the showing  of the Magi, but Joyce uses this expression to signify a sudden spiritual awakening is experienced, in which thoughts, gestures and feelings come together to produce a new sudden awareness. In adopting this word for his aesthetic theory, the writer creates a halo of sanctity around the artist and his search for beauty and truth, and reconfirms that the artist should have the same dedication a priest has to his religion.

Even if "Dubliners" contains 15 stories dealing with individual cases and characters there is unity in the collection which goes beyond the fact that they are all set in Dublin.

There are some key-themes of the collection like PARALYSIS and on the other hand ESCAPE originated from the sense of enclosure.

A claustrophobic element is also present in the description of the IRISH FAMILIES that seem to imprison all members. Hindering the realisation of their hopes. Another common theme is HOSPITALITY, the only typical virtue Joyce recognises in his country fellows.

The first tale of the collection is THE SISTERS, published on August 13, 1904 on the Irish Homestead. The title ii decentralized; in fact, the sisters are second characters, while the protagonist is a boy, a sort of Stephen Dedalus, the central ure of the "Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man". Stephen is also Joyce's fictional project of himself. The name is a reference to Stephen, the first Christian martyr, stoned to death for preaching the new religion. As Stephen also the boy of "THE SISTERS" thinks of himself as a victim of INCOMPREHENSION in his family.

The sisters of the title represent a DULL and BYGOTED life as they are unable to understand their brother's decay. There is a parallelism with the sisters of "The Dead" and a circularity as the collection opens and closes with 2 old sisters. In this story they are the vestals of a funeral ritual but they don't appear in this first scene.

The story has an introduction in medias res: the characters aren't described and we come to know about them thanks to the events. The first 12 lines give informations about the recent past. Here the boy reflects about the condition of his friend Father Flynn: in fact, he has just had the third attack of paralysis, the total or partial loss of voluntary moves and for the first time the protagonist is worried that the priest could die. However, here the PARALYSIS is not only a physical disease but it's also moral. The old priest's body is paralysed but his disablement seems to be the externalisation of the illness of his soul: the loss of FAITH.

The word PARALYSIS makes the child frightful as the word GNONON (=sundial) in Euclid or SIMONY (= illegal trade of sacred objects) in the Catechism (line 10).

These terms form a unity of time (GNONON), space (PARALYSIS) and action (SIMONY). Simony became widespread with Gregory the Great as the Pope. There are 3 kinds of simony:

MANUS A MANU in which earnings are made selling sacred things

MANU A LINGUA in which recommendations are sold

MANUS AB OBSEQUIO in which you make profits with every homages to the service which are not due. All these words show the degradation of the society.

This degradation becomes more evident in Old Cotter's words. Old Cotter is a friend of the boy's uncle but the child doesn't have a good relationship with him as we can see on line  19 or 58 alluding to the fact he is often drunk.

The old man says there is something mysterious about the priest which is difficult to express and creates embarrassment. This is clear as the writer uses DOTS to show the character's doubts (line 16-l7). Then the uncle informs his nephew of Father Flynn's death but the boy pretends to be indifferent as he knows he is under observation. This try to hid his feelings is another hint at the MORBID RELATIONSHIP with the priest. This relationship is a mutual search of a son for Father Flynn and of a father for the child but it brings the boy through an ambiguous maturity.

Then, Old Cotter goes on expressing his theories saying that children should stay with someone of their age and he is supported by the uncle even if he knows the priest had taught the boy much and nourished ambitions for him. On line 46 the uncle refers to the boy calling him Rosacrucian as the members of an occult society of the 18th century. It means a conspirer, secret person.

The aunt can't still realise, so Old Cotter tries to explain her that children's minds are impressionable alluding again to the relationship but without mentioning it because he doesn't want to  make the boy understand. Even if he can't find the meaning of the man's words, the child is angry with him, as he offended his friend. During the night he tries to think about something else but he is obsessed by the priest who wants to confess him something (line 63).

2 themes come out here: CONFESSION and COMUNION. The boy becomes the disciple and the confessor of the priest and this is paradoxical as priests should listen to confessions. He is the instrument of the simoniacal act and the witness of the secret. Drowsiness makes more ambiguous and perverse Old Cotter's speeches and the child feels guilty.

There is a first person narrator alternated with dialogues.

This story, as the 2° and the 3° one, has an open ending: in fact, the protagonists are children so they still have the possibility to change their future. Anyway, probably this chance will be lost as they are characterised by the same non-will to change..


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