Generational Voices

When I was first introduced to James Joyce, it was during one of my classes that focused on fiction masterpieces in the MFA Creative Writing program. That book was the monumental Ulysses, and one of the course’s agenda in analysing these novels was to read one per week before the Saturday class came about for the corresponding class discussion and critique paper from it. So imagine me with a nearly five-inch book and trying to read it. I only got until three chapters before I got dizzy. That was around two years ago. When I saw the short story collection of Dubliners, I was a little hesitant to go through it. The sting of Ulysses has gone far with me, and I thought that this particular work will have the same effect. I’m glad I made a mistake. The Dubliners is quite different both in scope and language, and that’s good because even those of today’s generation can understand this.

This short story collection contains 15 tales. Ranging from those just breaking into their adolescence to those in maturity, the protagonists of these stories look into epiphanies of their lives. These epiphanies are not so directly stated, though. Unlike the blissful migraine that is Ulysses, these stories have a simpler tone and language. Also, the stories are presented from the protagonists’ standpoint, albeit avoiding the first person point of view. This then presents the protagonists very much in line with their surroundings, though the surroundings themselves look to fade as we are faced with how the characters view their environment, their situation, and thus, their relationship with such. One more thing that looked to be in common with these stories is that the endings are not so clear cut. There are no definite mentions on what really happens in the end, where the reader is presented with either the protagonists’ final thoughts or impressions on what was done, seen or heard. With such techniques, the reader is left to her or his own in drawing conclusions on what could be the most possible ending.

Reading through these stories did not make me lose my mind, if that’s a good thing. It has been said that Joyce wrote these stories at the height of Irish nationalism. You can definitely feel that as Joyce is particular in mentioning each place in Ireland. The simplicity of the language contributed to a certain “silence” that the protagonists are going through, even as they go through their own confusions, questions, and ruminations. This gives me the impression that the stories can be relatable for any reader of any age. What everyday scene after all wouldn’t lead to a more “contained” manner of response? Except for truly excitable, squeal-or-shriek worthy moments, we face life with a more subdued view, unwilling to let our thoughts really come out and be seen by others. And with that, I am thankful that reading these stories did not make me go all woozy.

If you’re not familiar with James Joyce, then this collection would be a good primer. At least it will give you a sense of how his writing style, which changes a lot when he worked on Ulysses. Trust me, you’d be glad if you started with this one.