I believe that this statement is true. Many of the short stories in James Joyce’s ‘Dubliners’ do seem to portray an environment which is distinctly misogynistic and where women are marginalised and forced to conform to the expectations of patriarchal Dublin. Some of the main ways in which the plight of women in ‘Dubliners’ is expressed are patriarchal oppression, the besmirching of feminine ideals and degradation. Historically this was the case in early 20th century Dublin that female citizens of the city were downtrodden and suppressed.
For example, up until the 1870s, generally, women did not own any of their possessions. Out of wedlock their fathers had control over them and then when they married their belongings went to their husband. Also, even at the time when Joyce was writing there was still not universal suffrage in England or Ireland, indeed, it was only until after the war that the British government finally gave in to the pressure of the suffragettes.
These facts give us an idea of how society, up until quite recently, was very male dominant and so it is likely that if Joyce is writing in his period then the dominance of men and therefore the suppression of women will come through in his work. However, that is not to say that the plight of men is not shown in ‘Dubliners’. Although I would say that men had a better chance in Dublin life, they are still shown in ‘Dubliners’ to suffer from it and seem to succumb more easily to sins such as lust and alcoholism which could lead damage their lives.
The first main signs that Dublin society is misogynistic are seen in ‘Eveline’. In this narrative the young teenage protagonist, from which the short story gets its name, comes very close to escaping the confine of Dublin but cannot due to the societal values she has subsumed from the patriarchal hegemony of the time. I will focus on this discourse when dealing with patriarchal oppression as it, I believe, gives the best example of this subject. One of the forms which patriarchal oppression takes in ‘Eveline’ is the abusive and manipulative nature of the father.
Eveline never actually mentions this through the free indirect speech which is used, but it is through the hints she drops and also the conceptual ellipsis or, as Joyce implies in ‘The Sisters’, ‘gnomon’ that we see the way she is exploited by her father. One could argue that how her father treats her in reality is so awful that she chooses to psychoanalytically suppress it and just remember the good memories when ‘sometimes he could be very nice’. We see in Eveline’s father the embodiment of the unjust and corrupt patriarch.
Eveline’s father demands that he, following tradition, is the economic head of the family and so ‘she always gave her entire wages’ but he does not live up to the responsibilities he should undertake if he makes such a claim. Instead of providing protection and paternal comfort there is just egocentric dipsomania and ‘sometimes she felt herself in danger of her father’s violence’. He is also very hypocritical, saying that she will ‘squander the money’ and that she ‘had no head’, when he uses all the money for his own selfish escape from Dublin life through alcoholism.
We also see financial manipulation and oppression of women by the men around them in ‘Two Gallants’. Here the male figure is, deliberately named as in Irish this would be pronounced horely, or more appropriately whorely. This is appropriate because as we see in the novel he manipulates the ‘slavey’ for financial and sexual gain, just like a prostitute (presuming the prostitute enjoys the sexual act). In this case however the dominant male does not use threat of physical violence to gain money but a far more sinister method.
Corley makes the slavey think that he is ‘a bit of class’ and so is an escape route out of her squalid, quotidian lifestyle. She is therefore willing to offer him many gifts such as ‘fine cigars’, ‘cigarettes every night’ and ‘a small gold coin’ in the vain hope that he might marry her and so give her some way to escape the lower classes. Corley objectifies the slavey and treats her as a commodity, even priding himself in his deceptiveness (he is ‘too hairy’ to give her his name). The plight of the oppressed and manipulated individual is expressed through these characters.
Another way in which the plight of the individual is shown through the plight of women is their paralysis. Paralysis is an ongoing theme throughout ‘Dubliners’, indeed, on the first page of the compilation the protagonist repeats the word to himself and so introduces the theme from the very start. I believe that this is one of the main reasons for the plight of the individual being expressed most pertinently through women as, being recessive; they seem to be the sex most affected by this. Women at the time had little options in life.
As I have mentioned before, they had very little rights and so this severely limited their opportunities and ambitions. Apart from marriage or a convent there were precious few careers available. This is shown in ‘Dubliners’ as the only woman we see earning a living through work is Mrs Mooney in ‘The Boarding House’ and even she is referred to as ‘The Madam’ (a term commonly used to address a female owner of a brothel) due to her tendencies to ‘give her (Polly) the run of the young men’. ‘Eveline’ is also a good example of paralysis of women in Dublin.
One of the ways in which it is such a poignant discourse is that she, unlike the other Dubliners, is offered a way out of Dublin life but tragically she decides in the end not to take it. We see throughout the short story that she has subsumed the hegemonic, degrading view of what she must take the place of her mother and be a servant to her father. Her denial of self definition and individuality has chipped away at her courage and has lead her to become infected with the paralysis that will prevent her from escaping her circle of Weltschmertz.
We see the signs of this throughout the book when she tries to convince herself that she does ‘not find it a wholly undesirable life’ and that her father ‘could be very nice’. It is clear that she is deluding herself as even in the first paragraph we see that Dublin life is having a negative affect on her. The fact that she is sitting at a window watching the world pass by is significant as this is symbolic of her life – she cannot develop normally or experience the world because of her entrapment and paralysis.
It also say that ‘she was tired’ showing not only her physical fatigue but also the fatigue of her spirit. More implicitly, later on in the short story, she says that it is her father’s violence which had ‘given her the palpitations’. This makes it clear that her father’s violent nature is having a long lasting damaging affect on his daughter and he clearly cannot be ‘nice’ if he is damaging her to such an extent. There are also bad omens such as the street organ player reminding her of her mother and the fact that she prays ‘to God to direct her’ which show familial and religious ties to Dublin.
Also, she is described as standing ‘among the swaying crowd’ which shows her loss of identity and her inculcation into Dublin and the colours used are ominous: ‘brown baggages’ linking to the ‘brown imperturbable faces’ of the houses in ‘The Sisters’ and ‘black mass of the boat’ making the freedom sound sinful. When time of her decision comes, she experiences a moment of kairos. This is a term coined by Frank Cermode in his critical work ‘The Sense of an Ending’ meaning an occasional moment of crisis where someone is overcome by the significance of a decision.
Eveline is overcome because she is battling with the forces of societal and religious pressure and hegemonic uniformity which she has subsumed in the ‘swaying crowd’. Ultimately this is what paralyses her because she does not have the strength of will to overcome these pressures and chooses to remain in Dublin where she is doomed to repeat the unfulfilling and worthless life of her mother. It is worth noting that the only way Eveline’s chance of escape came about was through the help of a man – she did not instigate it herself.
As Eveline puts it (she is the ‘lucid reflector’ at this point): ‘Then she would be married – she, Eveline. People would treat her with respect then. She would not be treated as her mother had been’ This shows how the only way out of the circle of Weltschmertz for women is marriage and therefore some like the slavey in ‘Two Gallants’ are willing to go to extreme measures to ensure this escape. However, as we see in ‘A Painful Case’ marriage can be paralysing, indeed, even Frank with his name and associations with the romantic and exotic may be leading Eveline into a trap.
The fact that their destination is Buenos Ayres is slightly ominous as although explicitly it may have connotations with the exotic, ‘Going to Buenos Ayres was also slang for taking up a life of prostitution. In ‘A Painful Case’ Mrs Sinico is trapped in a seemingly unhappy marriage. When she meets Mr Duffy she finally feels that she can express herself and speak freely. Being a captain Mr Sinico was presumably quite dominant in the household and so his wife was forced to keep her views and aspirations to herself.
When this way out of her marital paralysis is closed, she cannot bear to return to a life without the passion of their brief relationship and so turns to alcoholism and eventually suicide. Joyce deals with paralysed women of different age groups in ‘Dubliners’ – we have already seen how it affect the young unmarried adult and the married middle aged woman but he goes on to explore the older age range in the short story ‘Clay’.
This narrative follows an old, single woman, ironically named Maria (relating to Catholic ideals of the Virgin Mary), who only survives Dublin life by holding an unrealistically optimistic and positive view on the world and censoring any of the harsh and hopeless realities which surround her. She is paralysed because of her age and physique (she is ‘a very very small person indeed bet she had a very long nose and a very long chin’) and so is unable to escape the mundane routine which her life has been reduced to. The short story revolves around a Hallow Eve game at Joe’s, a man which Maria was almost a surrogate mother to, house.
In the game the player is blindfolded and has to choose an object which will predict their future. When Maria plays she first picks clay (from which get the title), signifying ‘death’. It turns a neighbour girl deliberately fixed the game to make Maria pick the clay and so she chooses again, this time picking the ‘prayer- book’ signifying a vocation in the church. This is deeply symbolic as Maria is Joyce is showing that the only way out of a quotidian routine lifestyle which Maria, representing old insignificant women, is death or joining a convent.
This is another deeply pessimistic view and shows how the older age range of women in Dublin were just as susceptible to paralysis as the young. In Joyce’s rigorous cross section of paralysis throughout the age groups he illustrates how it was a universal problem for in Dublin life for people in all walks of life. We have seen how the women of Dublin can be more easily and intensely affected by paralysis than men and also that a way out paralysed life is very hard to open and even when opened may prove fruitless.
Women are trapped by Dublin societal values of marriage and servitude and so the plight of the individual may be expressed more pertinently through them as they are the weaker more vulnerable and more paralysed sex. Finally, the plight of the individual it most pertinently expressed through the plight of women because if shows how much ideals in Dublin had been besmirched and corrupted. For example, in ‘Two Gallants’ it opens with a description of a balmy evening with ‘mild warm air’ however this is undercut by the ploche of the word ‘grey’.
This corrupts the convention of a Mediterranean Romantic liaison and shows how far from ideals it is. Instead of love there is exploitation. Not only does the meeting fall short of ideals but the participants of the meeting, Corley and the slavey, also do. Firstly, Corley describes his lover as a ‘fine tart’ and that he was pleased because she was ‘up to the dodge’ showing how degraded and misogynistic his view of women is. Also, the slavey is described as wearing ‘her Sunday finery’.
This in itself is unsettling as she if wearing clothes which as supposed to be reserved for the Sabbath for an exploitative meeting in hope of financial gain. But the colours of her ‘Sunday finery’ are also relevant; she is wearing a ‘blue serge’ and a ‘white blouse’. These colours are traditionally symbolic of the Virgin Mary. She is dressing up, although probably unintentionally, in the likeness of a saint when the meeting she will have will be carnal and exploitative. Joyce also uses this theme of a corrupt Virgin Mary in other short stories.
In ‘The Boarding House’ Polly is described as looking like ‘a little perverse Madonna’ and the protagonist of ‘Clay’ is called Maria. This shows the how far the ideal Irish woman falls below the ideal and how besmirched it has become as Mary in Catholicism, and therefore Irish culture, is the perfect ideal of a woman. Therefore by corrupting the most perfect human since Adam and Eve (in Christian teaching) Joyce is portraying a society with corrupted ideals. So here we see how women in the form of the Madonna are used to show the plight of the Dubliners.
However, that is not to say that the plight of the individual is not shown through men in ‘Dubliners’. They are also affected by paralysis and ensnarement in societal values. One of the best examples of male paralysis is in ‘A Little Cloud’. Here Little Chandler, a man approaching settling married life and in his early thirties, receives a visitor who has managed to make it out of the mundane existence of Dublin life and has travelled around Europe. He, slightly patronisingly, tells Chandler of his experiences and so like Mrs Sinico he is given hope.
His dreams to becoming a poet are reignited and he feels he may be able to escape Dublin life. However, these are undercut by his corrupted ideals of how to be a good poet: he wants to please potential English patrons by conforming to the ‘melancholy tone’ of the ‘Celtic school’. He also wishes his name was ‘more Irish-looking’ again to conform to the patronising interests of rich Englishmen. We see that Dublin does not the chance to fulfil his ‘artistic’ ambitions and London is seen as his escape – ‘every step brought him closer to London, farther from his own inartistic life’.
However, when Gallagher (his visiting friend) leaves he realises the futility of his dreams, his paralysis and shouts at his baby daughter. He realises how he can never be ‘brave’ and adventurous like Gallagher because of his responsibilities to his family and again like Mrs Sinico he realises how paralysing marriage can be to ones hopes and dreams. We see his hopelessness of his situation in the quote: ‘he felt how useless it was to struggle against his fortune’. This shows how before Gallagher came he was resigned to the fact that he would never escape the paralysing Dantean circle of Dublin.
After his hopes are dashed he goes back to these pessimistic views and in his epiphany: ‘it was useless, useless! He was a prisoner for life’. These words clearly show the feeling of many married men with ambitions in Dublin; they have reached all their initial goals but find that fulfilling their true ambitions is near to impossible. We see the start of this trap in ‘The Boarding House’ where Mr Doran is caught in a trap laid by Mrs Mooney to ensure that her daughter broke free of the paralysing nature of middle class Dublin life through marriage.
However, he is paralysed as he is unable to choose his wife because of the societal values and decencies which he must abide to. We also see the hopelessness of escaping the paralysis of Dublin in ‘Two Gallants’. The fact that Lenehan ends up walking in a complete circle mirrors the inescapable circles of the Dante’s Inferno in the same way that Little Chandler’s views start and end the same in a circle of hope and then destruction on hope similar to that of Steinbeck’s ‘Of Mice and Men’.
The religious high burlesque style which Joyce employs at the end of the short story illustrates how corrupt and deluded their values are. They find almost spiritual joy and excitement in exploiting a woman for financial gain and parasitically living off others. This inescapability from their deranged lives and also the complete immorality of their values ironically contrasts with the title of the short story – these men are the complete opposite to gallants.
In conclusion, I believe that although the plight of men contributed to the expression of the plight of the individual in ‘Dubliners’ the plight of the individual is most pertinently expressed through the plight of women. This is mainly because women have less opportunity to break free of the paralysing mundane life of Dublin, because they are oppressed and abused by the patriarchal hegemony of the time and also because the ideals of women in ‘Dubliners’ are so besmirched and corrupted.