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James Joyce

Joyce was one of the most important writers of XX century who completely changed the way of writing because he didn’t only changed the technique and he used new techniques, but also because he brought this experimentation to the stream, especially in the last part of his work.
He was Irish, he was born in Dublin and Ireland (and Dublin in particular) have a great importance in his works. In fact all his works are set in Dublin. In spite of this he refused Irish culture and he was very critical about, for example, the independence movement that there was in Ireland. Ireland, at that time, was still part of Great Britain, it hadn’t gain its independence and Joyce refused to take a clear position in this, especially because he considered Irish life and Irish culture as a close culture and for this he decided to spent his life abroad. He left Ireland and he lived in many countries in Europe: he also spent some years in Italy, in Trieste where he lived as an English teacher. There he met Italo Svevo and Joyce was Italo Svevo’s English teacher.
So Joyce spent his life in a sort of self-exile and he decided not come back anymore because he refused the close culture of Ireland and he wanted to know other intellectual traditions.
He studied Freud’s theories and in fact he was one who experimented the stream of consciousness new technique and used the interior monologue. Not only, he created the so called dream language that was made of a mixture of existed words, not existed words and words that were created combining both these words. One of his most important characteristics is the use of the interior monologue. This, especially in the last part of his literary production, is disordered, it doesn’t follow normal rules and punctuation is almost not existing.
When he was still a young writer he wrote a novel, “The portrait of the artist as a young man” who really follows the rules of syntax, of word order, of punctuation. Another very important work is “The Dubliners”, a collection of short stories. This work is a very important point in his literary production and Joyce talks about Dublin, the people in Dublin and culture atmosphere in Dublin. This work is divided in 4 different sections. Each section talks about a certain stage in human life: the fists three short stories in the collection are dedicated to childhood. Then there are other four stories that are dedicated to adulthood and in the last section, with other four stories, Joyce talks about public life. These stories are not about a particular character in Dublin, but about relationship among Dubliners. The last story of the collection which is “The dead” is considered, in the collection, a masterpiece because it differs from the others because it follows the same themes of the collection but it is much denser, deeper, it is more elaborate and the interior monologue, especially at the end of the story, is written in a poetic language using same figure of speech which are typical of poetry. And it is considered the climax in “Dubliners”, a sort of summary of the collection. In this short story the narrator is always an omniscient narrator and each story is told following the point of view of the main character of the story and there is the interior monologue (it is presented in the form of free direct speech). The linguistic register is still quite formal: Joyce tried to adapt to the story the age of the protagonist, the social classes of different protagonists and their role in the society.
An important technique that Joyce used for the first time in “Dubliners” is the so called epiphany: a sudden spiritual revelation. Joyce used the quite everyday events or objects. He said that the characters, at a certain point of their life, thanks to an external stimulus which can be an object, a music, suddenly aware of something in their life that they had never realised. So this sudden spiritual revelation can be also something that other people can defined no important, unimportant but that for all the characters acquired an important meaning. So the epiphany is a sort of revelation in the life of these characters. For all the characters the only way to change this way of things is to escape but they can’t do it.


The main theme in the collection is paralysis. Joyce said that Ireland is a paralysed country. Dublin is a city in which no one had the possibilities to change, to find a way out from this close world in which religion, political institutions, society, traditions keep the people paralysed. It is impossible for the people in Dublin and in Ireland (more in general) to change this status of things. So paralysis is the common theme of the collection and in all the stories the epiphanies of the characters are a revelation of this. There is always in Joyce the double feeling about Dublin, because he doesn’t accept this situation and in spite of this all his works are set in Dublin. “Eveline” is probably the most famous short story in “Dubliners” and it is one of the second section of the collection.

Another important work of Joyce is “Ulysses” that is a complex novel. It is a multilayered novel and it can be read, analysed under different point of view. It is different from the tradition novel of the past: all the actions take place in one single day (16 June 1904: the date he first dated his future wife). The book described this date on the life of 3 Dubliners: Mr Leopold Bloom, Molly Bloom (his wife) and Stephen Daedalus. It is divided into three parts and each part is dedicated to a character: the first part is Telemachiad, the second is Odyssey and the third is Nostos. Of course “Ulysses” have some correspondences with the “Odyssey” of Homer. The central character in the first part is Stephen Daedalus (who represented Telemachus), and it can be considered Joyce alter ego. In the second part the protagonist is Leopold Bloom, a middle age married man. In the novel he goes around Dublin (an allegory for Ulysses voyages) and he lives some adventures that recall “Odyssey”. In the third part the protagonist is Molly and the name Nostos came from Greek and means the coming back home. Molly represented Penelope but she isn’t faithful like Penelope in “Odyssey”.
The method used by Joyce is defined the mythical method (mythical because Ulysses by Homer has became a myth). Joyce used this myth to describe a modern Ulysses and so this mythical method is a way to transform the particular in an universal story just like the story described by Homer has become a myth.
Each chapter is organised around a certain hour, colour, organ, sense and symbol. The plot is not existent: nothing important happens and the novel ends with Molly’s monologue that is about 10, 15 pages long.

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