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Dubliners by James Joyce: Thematic Examination of Paralysis in Eveline and Clay

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Themes of Paralysis in “Eveline” and “Clay” from Dubliners by James Joyce

As a high school student who has compulsory schooling and required classes there is sometimes a sense of being stuck that I have felt. This sense of being stuck is also known as paralysis. Its not just high school or the 21st century where the feeling of paralysis is present, James Joyce refers to this sense of hopelessness in his book Dubliners about primarily adults and children in the early 1900’s in Dublin, Ireland. The themes about paralysis that appear in James Joyce’s Dubliners can be identified in the story “Eveline” and the story “Clay”. These stories both focus on the way that women felt paralysis based on social status, the way that Dublin isolated its inhabitants, and the way that marriage was viewed as a way to escape. The paralysis theme is applicable to people in their daily lives who feel stuck in their current occupation or position.

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In “Clay” and in “Eveline” there are female characters who are the primary focus of the story. Both of these characters feel like they have to depend on men. In “Clay” Maria feels that she is dependent on Joe who is her son figure. He invites her to come live with him because he feels like he can provide for her better than the laundry that she lives at. In this particular situation its likely true that he life would be improved by moving in with Joe. In “Eveline” the main female character feels that she is dependent on her father and tries to get married. She blames her father figure for a lot of the bad things in her life. These attitudes are representative of the attitude towards women in Dublin. These women have in common that they cannot provide for themselves and that they believe they need a strong male figure in their lives. The difference is that Maria would like a husband figure but has prospects for a son like figure and Eveline has a father figure who she wants to avoid and a prospect for a husband. The situations are different for both of these women but they both have the same mindset about how women are less than men.

Another reason that both of these women feel paralyzed is because they live in Dublin. More than other cities Dublin had an air of being trapped. People from Dublin longed to live on the continent or were advocates of Irish nationalism. Additionally Dublin was not a very wealthy community. This lack of resources is one reason that people could not leave. It physically took a lot of money to move from Dublin. The Irish nationalism aspect comes in to play when you think about Eveline deciding if she should leave her homeland, and the only father she’s ever known for traveling the world. This is just additional proof that for even those who want to leave they still have a sense of tradition to Dublin. Dublin’s physically geography also made it difficult to leave. It is a part of Great Britain and is surrounded by water on one side. This didn’t make it easy to pursue a career or education in France or Germany.

In both “Eveline” and “Clay” the main characters aspire to be married. Eveline has the chance to get married but she instead chooses to stay with her father and not leave to travel. The fact that she wants to get married though represents that she feels like she has no other options. For Maria it’s a bit different. She sees marriage as a goal for life that she has failed on. She does not think that she will be able to get married. Marriage is a goal that she has held her entire life an by the end of the story she ahs come to the realization that it will never happen for her. The way that marriage is viewed among these women is a huge example of paralysis. No woman would be expected to get married in order to live.

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