Analysis Of Female Characters In Dubliners By James Joyce

Female characters have a central role in Dubliners as James Joyce is giving a depth perspective to their role in each story. The author attempts to portray Dublin as it was in the early twentieth century and its socio-economic context with a pressurized and strict gender role. With the help of six secondary sources from the authors Semensato Ferreira “Reading between the lines: notes on female characterization in Dubliners. ”, O’Brien “’Because She was a Girl. ’: Gender identity and the Postcolonial in James Joyce's 'Eveline,'” Sanchez Calle “Lives of Girls and Women: Female Characters in Dubliners,” Gerber “Joyce’s “Araby” and the Mystery of Mangan’s Sister,” Hibbert “Joyce’s Loss of Faith” and McCurtain and O’Dowd “An agenda for women’s history in Ireland,” this paper aims to demonstrate that despite the certainly limited and underestimated women conditions carrying the heavy heteronormativity that the author transmitted in Dubliners in the early 20s century in Ireland, James Joyce is putting women in the central matter to demonstrate their strengths and power over men and himself in his short stories “Eveline” and “Araby. ”

The first thing I am going to point out is the fact that in both stories, female protagonists as Eveline and Mangan’s sister aren’t active and acknowledge in Joyce’s stories while they are the central matter. As Sanchez Calle states in her work “Lives of Girls and Women: Female Characters in Dubliners. ” “Paralysis affects various characters and can be perceived through their actions and their speech in these narratives. ” Eveline in “Eveline” has a role of spectator in her own story established in the first sentence and at the end revealing the continuity of her silence: “She sat at the window watching the evening invade the avenue. Her head was leaned against the window curtains and in her nostrils was the odor of dusty cretonne. She was tired. ”; “Her time was running out but she continued to sit by the window, leaning her head against the window curtain, inhaling the odor of dusty cretonne. ” Joyce’s description implies the paralysis she endures due to herself mental prison and her silence emphasizes her immobility and self-denial. Even more, Eveline’s words are never heard, only the voice of her private self’s memories and consciousness.

In the same way, Mangan’s sister in “Araby” doesn't have a real name attached to her role in the story. She is an unknown character and thus, similarly to an object. She is referenced to the boy's friend's older sister, who happened to be his neighbor friend, who is also unacknowledged but is, at least, named after Mangan. He is most likely to not knowing her name as well and she appears as a mean to expresses his desire and his will to gain something from her body whether to her personality. Indeed, this approach diminishes her character as an unreachable goal or object which can only gratify and appease his delusion.

Secondly, according to O’Brien “’Because She was a Girl’: Gender identity and the Postcolonial in James Joyce's 'Eveline. '” stating that “Eveline’s father maintains his sense of selfhood through the threat of violence and a mixture of misogynistic and xenophobic attitudes. ” and “perhaps the most significant degree of gender difference pointed up in this story is in the area of choice. ” implies that Eveline is a victim in her own story. Her mental and social prison are delimited by her home and her work and make her victim of her own existence and suffer from the economic and social limits her father drawn against her. She has to give all her wages to her father and have to hide her relationship with her boyfriend from him.

Moreover, even though Frank offered her the only choice to have a different life from her mother, she couldn’t embrace the epiphany of happiness because it became an epiphany of frustration derived from Eveline’s giving up for a better life. Indeed, the dramatic final scene where she remains static and quiet: “She answered nothing. . . she prayed to God to direct her, to show her what was her duty”reflected her duty’s burden and her physical paralysis: “Her distress awoke a nausea in her body,” and suffocates from the perception she had of her beloved Franck: “All the seas of the world tumbled about her heart. He was drawing her into them: he would drown her”.

As a matter of fact, as Sanchez stated: 'women’s paralysis suggests death, but it is also found in life, with the implication of being dead while alive, which is even worse than death itself. ”Eveline decided to honor her mother’s promise and repressed her desire to run away from her miserable and usual life with Frank. Her decision devastated her mind and body as she remains doomed and decided: “She set her white face to him, passive, like a helpless animal. Her eyes gave him no sign of love or farewell or recognition. ” She condemned herself to follow her mother’s footsteps and repeat her unhappy life because she decided to replace her and not build her own elsewhere with Frank: “As she mused the pitiful vision of her mother’s life laid its spell on the very quick of her being — that life of common-place sacrifices closing in final craziness. ” Thus, Eveline's immobile image at the gate looking at the boat going away reflects the paralysis and painful moment translated by the death-in-life.

So far, Irish women in the early twentieth century are seen as a victim, limited and underestimated according to a superficial view of James Joyce’s stories. Nevertheless, the author integrated protagonists showing strengths and importance, despite their conditions, in his stories’ course of actions.

As a contradiction, in a story, the main character is the focus and the person through whom the reader will experience the story and the protagonist would be the character who changes over the course of the story, starting from a point A and ending in point B. The character would learn and grow as the story progresses and would evolve. Indeed, Eveline leads the matter of the story since Joyce tells her experiences and named the short story after her. She has a major purpose and role regarding the moral and the historical situation she experiences.

In a like manner, the existence of light in the presence of Mangan’s sister echoes the theory of Ben L. Collins in his reading of Araby, where he sees the relationship between Mangan’s sister and the protagonist as one between God and man. Thus, even if Mangan’s sister is not the main character, she plays a major role in the short story since the purpose of Joyce’s experience going to the bazaar is all about pleasing his “God”. Joyce is using the darkness of its town and the absence of joy during this difficult time in Ireland to contrast the beautiful feeling he has for Mangan's sister who highlights his life. The purpose of the story was to denunciate his delusional and alienated behavior because of Mangan’s sister due to the fact that he saw her as an untouchable and forbidden object that he wants so much to have: “I may have stood there for an hour, seeing nothing but the brown-clad figure cast by my imagination, touched discreetly by the lamplight at the curved neck, at the hand upon the railings and at the border below the dress. ” It makes his love for her a powerful reason for all his actions, going to the bazaar and the angry sentiment about his uncle who impedes him to achieve it: “When I came home to dinner my uncle had not yet been home. Still it was early. I sat staring at the clock for some time and when its ticking began to irritate me, I left the room. ”

Indeed, a presence of a profound religious atmosphere is described by Joyce and the commitment we understand Mangan’s sister has taken to be a nun: “She could not go, she said, because there would be a retreat that week in her convent. ” The little boy is seeing her neighbor as The Virgin Mary and a forbidden sin. She has the power to make him willing to go against his faith and commitment because he desires her and wants to pleases her. Thus, Collins’ analysis that the silver bracelet and the railing spike as symbols denunciating “of betrayal and crucifixion in the scene when Mangan’s sister speaks to the young boy, we are to see her through the boy’s eyes as a representation of God”. Joyce might have pointed out the 'unattainability of one's physical relationship with God. '

Similarly, according to Paige (1995) “mothers of Dubliners remain either aggressive – thus continuing the cycle of oppression. ” Thus, Eveline’s mother who has passed away has a ghost voice in Joyce's story which has a major impact on the course of events for Eveline. She appeared as a banshee, warning Eveline either that abandoning her family and her promise will put her in danger or, conversely, make her realize the fate of a: “life of commonplace sacrifices closing in final craziness” if she stays in Dublin and replicates her own doomed existence as she said: 'Derevaun Seraun! Derevaun Seraun!' which is Gaelic for `the end of pleasure is pain’; ‘the end of song is raving madness’; ‘worms are the only end' lying on her bed ready to meet death, she has made her daughter promise: “to keep the home together as long as she could. ” This promise and her mother’s wish and voice has been a pillar in her decision and an important outcome. Her mother's promise had made her dead mother's voice a significant part of the story which can relate to the considerable relationship between a mother giving responsibilities and legacy to her daughter, who wants to honor it, at that time in Ireland.

Furthermore, Eveline has a choice to make throughout the story. She had to decide whether she would stay in Ireland with his beating father, who limits her economically and socially and oppresses her in a miserable and limited life but respects her mother’s sakes to keep the home together as long as she could that she promised her on her deathbed, or, running away with her forbidden boyfriend in Buenos Aires with a chance to have a better and happy life far from Irish poverty and her wretched father but against her mother’s last demand.

As a result of this tormented path to decide, she finally stayed with her father, to keep the home together as long as she can, and to dignify her mother’s sake even if a better option has been offered to her. Indeed, the weakness of the easy and fast option to run away with a boyfriend on a boat waiting to reach Buenos Aires’ shore didn’t convince Eveline more than the difficult other option she had. She thought about her mother and her promise, her commitment was enough strong to persuade her that she had the duty to stay. She decided to live up to that commitment whether to start a new life and be happy. Joyce described Eveline’s mother as: “As she mused the pitiful vision of her mother's life laid its spell on the very quick of her being – that life of commonplace sacrifices closing in final craziness. She trembled as she heard again her mother's voice saying constantly with foolish insistence: “Derevaun Seraun! Derevaun Seraun!' implying that she was crazy, ill and harsh but Eveline loved and respected her mother. Thus, she had the internal power to stay strong and to choose an honorable option to live in cohesion with her past. Eveline didn’t have a lack of courage to run away but she had the courage and strength to stay knowing the odds.

By way of contrast, as McCurtain pointed out, “man is the measure of all that is significant, and that the activities pursued by men are by definition significant, while those pursued by women are subordinate in importance. ” and “perhaps the most significant degree of gender difference pointed up in this story is in the area of choice. ” implies that Eveline’s violent father: “Even now, though she was over nineteen, she sometimes felt herself in danger of her father's violence. ” has been taken for granted at this time. Thus, Eveline viewed her father as a good but a violent father trough Eveline’s eyes and most likely wanted him to like her: “Her father was not so bad then; and besides, her mother was alive. ” Indeed, as Eveline had the choice to make the right call and not escaping from Ireland to stay with the only living part of family remaining in the same house: her father, he didn’t have the internal power to not beating his family, his wife or his children. Seeing that, Joyce showed a contrast between an absent and unknown father who has the simplistic role of a violent man and Eveline, his daughter who was brought to a critical choice and sacrificed her comfort and happiness for him. She remains a strong young character compared to supposedly superior grown-up man.

Finally, it appears that James Joyce wanted to transmit and show how Ireland’s decline, poverty, and socio-economic struggles impacted women’s life and ability to survive in the man’s world in these conditions, in the early twentieth century. But at the same time, he couldn’t give another facet to women because of the heteronormativity and gender role’s pressure there were in a European country like Ireland. Women didn't have the independence, recognition and acknowledge they always should have. To be the most realistic, he certainly had to show women's conditions seen from every Irish man reader and the society, looking unknown, victim and pitiful. Nevertheless, women were seen that way because they didn’t have a choice but Joyce implied their strengths bearing their label through their decisions, commitment and their internal power of being a woman. They are assimilated to the feel, sensitivity, and emotions which is a mean for Joyce to transport his audience and care for characters. Mangan's sister's description is a way to express that the little boy craves and to pass an emotion. Similarly, Eveline’s confinement in misery and her relationship with her parents gives a meaningful message and humanity to Joyce’s lectors for empathy and consideration in order to internally rebel them.

Annotated Bibliography

  1. Joyce, James. “The Short Story: Eveline. ” Everymans University, 1978.
  2. Joyce, James. “Araby. ” Compact Literature: Reading, Reacting, Writing. Ninth ed. Laurie G. Stephen R. Mandell. Kirszner. Boston: Wadsworth Cengage, 2016. Print. (p. 362-366)
  3. Semensato Ferreira, Gabriela. 'Reading between the lines: notes on female characterization in Dubliners. ' Estudos Anglo-Americanos (2016): 68 – 79. Print.
  4. O’Brien, Eugene. “’Because She was a Girl. ’: Gender identity and the Postcolonial in James Joyce's 'Eveline. '” Celebrating James Joyce (2004): 201-215. Print.
  5. Sanchez Calle, Pilar. “Lives of Girls and Women: Female Characters in Dubliners. ” Papers on Joyce 4 (1998): 29-40. Print.
  6. Gerber, R. J. “Joyce’s “Araby” and the Mystery of Mangan’s Sister. ” Joyce Studies Annual 2015. 1 (2015): 186-194. Project MUSE. Web. 20 Apr. 2016. .
  7. Hibbert, Jeffrey. “Joyce’s Loss of Faith”. Journal of Modern Literature 34. 2 (2011): 196–203. Web
  8. McCurtain, M. and O’Dowd, M. (1992). An agenda for women’s history in Ireland, 1500–1900: Part I: 1500–1800. Irish Historical Studies, 28(109), pp. 1-19.
10 December 2020
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