Table of Contents
- Language and Perspective
- Literary Elements
- Intentions of the Author
When James Augustine Joyce died in Zürich in 1941, he left behind a rich legacy of literary masterpieces. The most popular among his works, “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man”, and “Ulysses”, all of which are distinguished by the use of not only highly sophisticated language, but also a profound linguistic dyeing, are today considered invaluable classics of English literature. Though his talent for words was not fully appreciated to this extent in his day, yet he was known for being a gifted writer with excellent narrative abilities. Literature experts agree that these skills were mainly shaped during the creation of “Dubliners”, a volume of more comprehensible short stories published in 1914.
The genius of this collection revolving round the, in some ways, ill-fated lower middle class life in early 20th century Dublin is undoubtedly the lively description of the individual characters contained therein. It is no secret that Joyce accomplished his detailed characterizations by using actual friends and acquaintances as well as enemies as models for his characters.
“A Painful Case”, the probably “most sophisticated and complex ‘Dubliners’ story” (Sexton:36) is no exception—the more so, as it bears very distinct resemblance to actual events in the life of the author. Therefore, this paper boldly assumes that James Joyce himself served as a model for the main character of the story, James Duffy, and further contends that the story is in reality a glimpse at Joyce’s relationship to his future wife Nora Barnacle through a distorting mirror.
Language and Perspective
Before one endeavors to interpret “A Painful Case”, a number of literary elements need to be assessed, such as the particular use of language, perspective, focalisation, narrative and time.
First of all, the story is written in the past tense, and from a third-person perspective, with a fixed focalisation on the character’s limited perceptual grasp of the world (Meyer:63,68). This places the story in what Franz Stanzel refers to as a figural narrative situation (Meyer:63) that forces the reader to rely on the character’s perceptions and concepts. At the same time, being told by a covert narrator, the story only contains information and thus leaves the entire task of evaluation to the reader (Mayer:65). Even the brief supposed shift into a variable focalization (Meyer:68) in form of a newspaper article on pages 109—111 is in reality a mere gathering of information that is in turn filtered through the eyes of James Duffy, yet again without evaluation.
This also applies to the descriptions of interaction between the characters that are, with but one exception, limited to the use of narrative report of speech acts (Meyer:69). The mentioned exception is found in line 16 on page 105, where Joyce introduces James Duffy and Emily Sinico to each other. It is most likely that the author chose direct speech here in order to emphasize the change that takes place at their moment of encounter. The fact that he then returns to the mere reporting of speech acts, however, indicates that the change did not have the anticipated result, meaning that their relationship did not develop according to the expectations fueled by the intensity of their first contact.
As for the duration of the narrative, Joyce only uses simple past tense, so as to ensure compatibility with the figural narrative situation he employs. At the same time he mostly summarizes the story time in order to emphasize the unspectacular manner in which Duffy’s life “rolled out evenly” (Joyce:105, line 5). This point of view is supported by the fact that Joyce allows an unspecified amount of story time to pass before Duffy eventually encounters Emily Sinico, whereas, as their “affair” begins, time seems to pass more quickly than before. And after their eventual breakup, Joyce allows four years to pass within a single sentence without revealing any information on what has happened during this period. These examples strongly suggest that Joyce consciously employed time as a narrative element to emphasize the “hopelessness” of the overall story.
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- Institution / Hochschule
- Johann Wolfgang Goethe-Universität Frankfurt am Main – Institut für England- und Amerikastudien
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