James Joyce, writer and literary critic, is respected as the most valuable and influential authors of his time. ‘Dubliners’ is one of his major works which is a set of fifteen short stories based on simple plots. This book forms a practical illustration of Irish folks living in the early years of the 20th century. Some of the major themes of the stories include hidden impeccability, missed breakthroughs and an inability to escape one’s destiny (Joyce, 1914). In this essay, the comparative analysis of the notion of epiphany in two of these stories, “Araby” and “The Dead” is done. In both the stories, characters are caught in a moment of sudden realization and striking feeling that gives them an intuitive perception about reality. This essay explores how the characters in the two stories have experienced a sudden spiritual manifestation.
Joyce selected Dublin to have a geographical setting as well as a psychological status within this collection. He appropriately collected original epiphanies and practical glimpses that he observed of life in Dublin. He uses epiphanies and symbolism to endow the affinity of life and glamour with the help of simple plots of his stories. In the story, “Araby”, the protagonist is a small boy who is impelled by the deep-rooted liking for a girl and attempts to use romance as an escape. However, while attempting to escape reality, he faces the bitter truths of life. In the other short story, “The Dead”, the main character can be seen as being completely oblivious to the people and his environment and paralyzed within himself. In the story, his wife reveals about her past lover who sacrificed his life for her which made Gabriel unanticipatedly conscious about the extent of human enigma and significance of the dead.
The unique solace found in the bleak and classic world of the authors' stories is from the beauty with which he writes them. The stories in Dubliners were a depiction of acceptance of abrupt realism among the main character of the respective story that can be understood as a behaviour and as a moral. These stories have the characteristically contemporary ambition to tell things as they are (Perry, 2016). In “Araby”, there is a young boy who fantasizes about a girl with whom he has never talked with. He spends much of his time glaring and obsessing over his friend, Mangan's, sister who on the other hand have no clue about it. He envisions that he has to buy a gift for the girl he likes. When the boy reaches the bazaar, the moment he hears a conversation between two young men and a girl, he suddenly realizes that he has been confusing between the truth and imagination. It was at this point that it occurs to him that the marketplace, which he thought would be so glamorous and exciting, is a simple market place. Moreover, he realizes that his friends’ sister is just a girl who does not care if he buys her present or not as did not make a promise. This sudden realization of reality is the feeling of epiphany exquisitely depicted in this story. This is the moment when the boy experiences a disappointment so deep and overwhelming that it amounts to the death of his vision and he comes out of his imagination. The inability of the boy to move forward with his vision is depicted at the very start of the story by foreshadowing the loneliness and darkness he faces (Wheatley, 2018). He is shown to be irritated and anxious by the apparent factors which bring about the paramount sense of epiphany at the end of the story (Rokeya & Ahammed, 2017). After realizing all his contemplation about the girl and Araby were nothing but just his superficial thoughts, he feels ludicrous. He recognizes that he has become the victim of his pretension and was unable to distinguish imagination from reality and forthwith faces stark realism.
In “The Dead”, the author depicts a comical but sympathetic image of his imperfect character, Gabriel, well-studied and socially-awkward, who along with his wife, Gretta, attends a party hosted by his aunts. It is shown how he exerts a sense of superiority among the people in the party and about how he is fixating on the speech he had to give at the party. It is depicted that he lacks the emotional attachment with the people around him and even with himself. He is constantly dealing with self-identity and letting validation from people around him be a factor for feeling good about himself. This leads him to brag about his work and make meaningless conversations. During the party, many instances are shown where he is quick to disregard any woman who comes across. Later that night his wife told him about his past lover who sacrificed his life for her. She reveals that he was very ill and yet came out in the rain to see her and died shortly afterwards. Gabriel heard about this for the first time and realized how less he knows about her. This sudden revelation by his wife made him realize that he cannot separate the dead from the living and the eternal connection one can have with someone who has long gone. Joyce depicts that his selfhood was blurring out into an intangible world. At the end of the story, Gabriel connects the snow falling all over the country in the dark cold and numb night to the relation between past and present, life and death.
Both the stories uniquely give a glimpse of epiphany. The main character in the story “Araby” felt a sudden sense of failure at his romantic quest. The epiphany comes at the close of the story where the boy gazed up in darkness and thought of himself as a person driven and derided by vanity. His eyes thereby burned with anger and anguish. On the other hand, in “The Dead”, the main character is somewhat accepting his limitations and feeling empathy towards those close to him. He is now becoming emotionally aware of the people around him and human connection with the dead. According to Lavin (2013), Gabriel’s crude impression of the dead appears similar to the crude impression depicted by the snow finally dissolving into water.
Dubliners make one realize what humanity is all about and indulge oneself in its stories by connecting with it at an intellectual level. The epiphanies depicted in both the stories are different, yet similar. Both main characters in respective stories realize that they are more caught up in their thoughts rather being fully aware of the present and the people around them. The story “Araby” ends with a fragmenting epiphany which leads to realization and advancement of the young boy. It makes him realize that he has been living in his imagination of a girl and market place he has not encountered with before and this leaves him in sudden darkness and apprehension. The story “The Dead” culminates with a man realizing how he has been oblivious to the people and environment around him. He watches his wife sleep with generous tears and felt something that he had never felt towards any woman. The sudden moment of insight in both characters depicts the turning point of the stories where they become more aware of the presence.
Joyce, J. (1914). Dubliners. London: Grant Richards Ltd.
Lavin, L. (2013). Epiphanies | On Joyce’s ‘The Dead’. Wales Arts Review. Retrieved from https://www.walesartsreview.org/epiphanies-on-joyces-the-dead/
Perry, S. (2016). City, paralysis, epiphany: an introduction to Dubliners. British Library. Retrieved from https://www.bl.uk/20th-century-literature/articles/city-paralysis-epiphany-an-introduction-to-dubliners
Rokeya, & Ahammed, A. K. Z. (2017). A Shattering Epiphany in James Joyce’s “Araby”. Advances in Language and Literary Study, 8(5). Retrieved from https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1160330.pdf
Wheatley, A. M. (2018). The Desire to Escape and the Inability to Follow Through in James Joyce’s Dubliners. TheUniversity of New Orleans Theses and Dissertations, 2556. Retrieved from https://scholarworks.uno.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=3693&context=td
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