Main Motive Of Dubliners Novel
The Prison of Routine
People have lived with routines ever since civilized societies first emerged. Routines gives people comfort. From the very basic routine of brushing teeth before bed, to the most complex subconscious routines that keep the body alive, routine is something that is ingrained in us from birth. But once people mature, they grow tired of doing the same thing day in and day out and start feeling trapped. They seek out adventure, change and thrills so that they can have something different in their lives. However, just because they seek change, that does not mean that they are willing to act on the impulse. In his book Dubliners, James Joyce writes about a bunch of characters that want to escape their life and move onto something new, how they are paralyzed in their current life. Their routine might form a prison around them to the point that they can not escape from it, thus creating the prison of routine in human life. The prison of routine becomes a paralyzing force that can cause people to stay trapped in it forever even though they want to break free, and those who are wild enough to break free may end up falling back into the prison once more.
If someone has spent their entire life living the same exact day over and over again, they start getting used to it; it becomes a source of comfort to them. They become accustomed to it and after a while can become bored of it. Having to live through the same exact thing every day may drive some to the brink of madness and may cause them to become a bit impulsive. As is demonstrated in Joyce’s story “An Encounter”. Under the influence of classmate’s brother, the narrator starts to imagine going on an adventure, away from home and school. Since Westerns were very popular during that time, he starts thinking of what it would be like to live as a cowboy or soldier and have those kinds of adventures, instead of just living the mundane life: “the mimic of warfare of the evening became at last as wearisome to me as the routine of school in the morning because I wanted real adventures” (Joyce 9). Finally he decides to go away on his journey with another classmate, but on their way back, they encounter something that makes them feel nervous. They meet a creepy old man that has his “heart beating quickly with fear.” (14). This change from the mundane to something new/ dangerous makes the two boys scared about escaping from routine and in the end forces them back into the prison of routine. While some changes can become dangerous real fast, sometimes change can just make a person fear it in general.
Fear comes in multiple forms and experiences, it is one of the most important reasons behind someone forgetting something. It is one of the primary reasons a person tends to avoid changes in their life, despite how much their life could end up improving. Change is quick and unpredictable, just like a 53 year old behind the wheel on a highway (Rogers). In the short story “Eveline”, the protagonist’s boyfriend, Frank, asks her to run away with him, and while she originally agrees to do so, at the very last second, she changes her mind and goes back home to her father, even though he abuses her. In the last moments leading up to her epiphany, she feels “all the seas of the world tumbled about her heart” ( Joyce 23) and thinks that Frank will drown her, which can be interpreted to say that he will cage her in. Eveline realizes that even though he is providing her with an escape from her current life, in the end, he would just end up caging her into yet another prison of routine. She realizes that she would rather suffer through her current abusive life, than go through the same thing in a whole new place. Drowning can also interpreted as ending her life as a youth and becoming a grown young woman who leaves Dublin and her previous life. Leaving the only place that she has ever known before brings out the fear and anxiety in her mind, body, and soul and prevents her from leaving with Frank. Her mind, which is still a child, does not want to leave the safety of routine.
Although fear does play a role in keeping people within their prisons of routine, it is not the only factor. Living the same day over and over again can cause one to become paralyzed in their life. Paralysis will prevent someone from escaping their prison because they have grown used to the environment in which they have grown up in. It is their home and it is almost never easy leaving behind someone’s home and family. In “Eveline”, the narrator can not escape due to her mood and way of life because even though it is filthy and abusive, it is the only environment that she knows (Fraiese 1-2). Dublin had synced with her and breaking apart from it would be similar to losing a piece of herself. According to a letter written by Joyce, he thought of Ireland as a disease and Dublin was patient zero (Walzl). In “The Dead,” Gabriel also had the chance to leave, but did not because he could not bare to leave his life behind. Ironically, in the beginning he was so determined to leave Ireland that when looking in the mirror, he saw a “the face whose expression always puzzled him” ( Joyce 149). He was trying so hard to differentiate himself and escape that he lost sight of who he truly was. In the end, he decides to travel west and return to the old Ireland, even though he wanted to leave the country in the beginning of the story.
While Eveline did not leave with Frank because she was afraid of leaving her childhood, she was not paralyzed, she was just afraid of changing her scenery. Sometimes, people become imprisoned in routine because they are paralyzed. After living in boring day to day life, most people become so used to it that they see it as their safety net; they get so used to it that they literally become paralyzed, especially mentally. Their brain and subconscious does not see the point of actively observing their activities and they become almost like a robot; not seeing, feeling, or observing, they just do, almost as if they are programmed to do so. In “A Painful Case”, Mr. Duffy ends his relationship because he feared that it would end his predictable life. Instead of jumping at the chance of having love in his life, he ended it because he felt no need for it among his relationships with “neither companions nor friends” (Joyce 71). This drives him into a life of routine that becomes very dull and lifeless, in essence, he becomes paralyzed (Fraiese 3). Finally, he meets a woman, Mrs. Sinico, and lets her into his life after getting to know each other. He begins to fall in love with her and once Duffy realizes that it might cause him to lose his routine, he ends the relationship (Joyce 73). Four years later, after hearing about her suicide, Mr. Duffy goes through an epiphany where he wakes up from his paralysis and realizes that he missed out on the joys of love (Fraiese 3). Although he wakes up from his paralysis, he wakes up too late because Mrs. Sinico has already died. The fear of letting go of his routine paralyzes Mr. Duffy and causes him to live out his life in solitude. He gave up love because he did not want to leave the safety of his prison, he did not want to face the unknown.
People who dream of change are often motivated by outside forces and fantasize about what their new life would be like, however, although they may end up being successful in breaking from their routines, the routine might end up sucking them back in at some point in the future. They may also come the conclusion that it is just a dream and that nothing will actually happen. In “Two Gallants”, Lenehan has a reputation of playing the fool and being carefree, but after a while he begins to grow tired of that lifestyle. It gets to the point that one night while eating dinner, “he thought how pleasant it would be to have a warm fire to sit by and a warm dinner to sit down to” and how “if he could only come across some good simple- minded girl with a little of the ready.” (Joyce 35). He would love to have an actual family with a wife and kids, but he realizes that with his job, that would probably never happen. Realizing that, he resigns himself to continuing to live with his old routine again. Just like Little Chandler from “A Little Cloud”. Little Chandler had always longed to be a writer but “he knew he would never be popular: he saw that” (46). Instead he decided to just continue living his boring life, which he has been doing for the rest of his life. Once people see that there is a chance of failing, they begin to lose confidence in themselves and give up hope and return once again to their prisons.
There are multiple reasons that can cause a person to give up a routine after multiple years of following it. Being paralyzed may not be exciting, but it is safer and more comfortable than jumping in head first into a brand new place with no warning. Some are able to escape, but they fear of the unknowns that the change may bring. Those unable to escape are probably paralyzed and are just afraid of changing up their lifestyles. Joyce’s Dubliners presents examples of these in all stages of life: childhood, adulthood, and the in between stages, the different social classes too. The novel talks about how people become paralyzed and how it mostly seems to take place in Dublin, as if it is the city itself that it keeping them imprisoned in their routines.
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