Joyce was born in Dublin into a middle class family that gradually became impoverished during James’ childhood. He was sent to a boarding school run by Jesuits who were also responsible for his whole education. In 1904 Joyce moved away from Dublin with Nora Barnacle, who later was to become his wife, declaring that he had chosen voluntary exile from his motherland. He has been defined “a citizen of the world” because he lived in Paris, Switzerland and Italy, where he taught languages at Trieste and met Italo Svevo. But he remained an Irish and a Dubliner at heart.
The sense of oppression and limited opportunities that Joyce found in Dublin are clearly and deeply sketched in one of his first books, “Dubliners” (1914). It is a collection of 15 stories, narrating the decay and stagnation of Dublin, a city where immobility is the living attitude towards life and experiences. The stories, each describing a typical character of Dublin, are unified by common things: escape, paralysis and epiphany. Every character tries to escape from his reality but when the time comes to cut the links with the past, will is paralyzed and men and women surrender to the limitations imposed by the place and the society they have to live in. During the development of the story the character has experienced an “epiphany”, that is a sudden revelation brought about by a casual and common episode, that, at certain moment, made the subject have a sudden awareness of his dark condition and to understand the sense of his all life.
In 1922 Joyce published his masterpiece “Ulysses”, a great example of innovation both for the context and for the literary technique used by the author. The narration describes one day, June 16th 1904 in the life of the Dublin advertising agent Leopold Bloom. This character, together with the other two, Steven, Daedalus and Molly Bloom, are symbols that Joyce uses to represent all mankind. Leopold is the modern Ulysses who wanders through the streets of Dublin and when he comes home Molly/Penelope is waiting for him. Steven, the main character of the first part, homeless and fatherless, corresponds to Homer's Telemachus; also the structure reproduces the Odyssey: the 24 hours of Ulysses represent the 24 books; the adventures that Joyce's characters live are similar to those experienced by Homer's. The novel cannot be considered traditional, it is a series of particulars, of epiphanies narrated from the point of view of the character. The narrator disappears completely from the narration. There is the continuous and uninterrupted flow of thoughts, expressed just as they appeared in the mind, without any logical and syntactical organization. That is why Joyce chose to eliminate punctuation in order to not interrupt the flow of thoughts.
The novel was banned for obscenity until 1936, and also the other books were never accepted positively by his contemporaries, probably because of the nobility of the style and the directness of speech. Recognition came late in Joyce's life.