2. James Joyce

2. James Joyce
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1. Biography

James Joyce was born in Dublin in 1882 and he was educated at Jesuit schools. He graduated in Modern Languages in 1902. He grew up a rebel among rebels and those movements held attraction for him. 

His attitude contrasted with that of his literary contemporaries, like W.B. Yeats rediscovered the Irish Celtic Renaissance. Joyce, on the contrary, believed that the only way to increase Ireland’s awareness was by offering a realistic portrait of its life from a cosmopolitan European view.

In 1904 he met and fell in love with Nora Barnacle. In October they moved to Italy (Trieste) and Joyce began teaching English and made friends with Italo Svevo. In 1931 he got married to Nora. The years in Trieste were difficult and Joyce was soon in trouble with publishers and printers on account of obscene elements in his prose. His first work was 36 short poems (Chamber Music, 1907). 

Dubliners, a collection of short stories all about Dublin and Dublin’s life was completed in 1905. In 1914 Joyce wrote his naturalistic drama Exiles, after he moved to Zurich with his family. In 1917 he received the first of several anonymous donations which enabled him to write Ulysses (published in Paris in 1922). 

In March 1923 he began to work on Finnegans Wake, published in 1939. Joyce died in 1941. 

The rebellion against the Church

Joyce was well-trained by the Jesuits but his hostility was the revolt of the artistic-heretic against the official doctrine or the struggle between an aesthete-heretic and a provincial Church which had taken possession of Irish minds. 

A subjective perception of time

Joyce was a modernist writer and he transcends photographic realism. Joyce’s stories and novels open in media res with the analysis of a particular moment and the portrait of the character is based on introspection rather than on description. Time isn’t perceived as objective but as subjective, leading to psychological change. 

2. Dubliners (1914)

The plot

Dubliners is a collection of 15 short stories set in Dublin, published in 1914 by James Joyce. These stories lack action but disclose human situations and lead to a spiritual revelation.

The stories are divided into 4 groups, which represent phases of human life: 

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– childhood;

– adolescence;

– mature life;

– public life.

All these stories (3 or 4 in each group) have the same themes, narrative techniques and symbols.

They are set in Dublin, the most important city for the poet, described in every part: it’s the object of his love (it collects all his young memories) but also of his hate.


There is the use of realism and the use of symbolism. This is a similar technique to epiphany ‘the sudden spiritual manifestation’ caused by a trivial situation or a banal object through which the main character became aware; they don’t know themselves until they have an epiphany. But at the end, in spite of the epiphany, they come back to paralysis because they are anti-heroes, inepts.

Paralysis and escape

The paralysis wants to represent results from external and moral forces linked to religion, politics and culture. 

Dubliners are weak, scared people with a lack of self-knowledge. The opposite theme is ‘escape’, it is originated by a sense of enclosure but characters have no courage to overcome.

Narrative technique

Each story is told from the perspective of a character, with the presence of the free direct speech and free direct thoughts with some mediations of the narrator. Language suits the social class, the position, the age of the characters.

3. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916)

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is James Joyce’s second novel. It was published in Dublin in 1916, it’s a semi-autobiographical novel.

The title of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man relates to its main character, Stephen Dedalus. Joyce portrays the life of the young Stephen Dedalus: the novel deals with Stephen’s childhood, adolescence and finally with his life as a young artist.

The name Stephan Dedalus is very significant:

– Stephen is the first christian martyr (somebody who dies for his own ideals. He was stoned to death. The protagonist feels him as a martyr, somebody who is not understood, who had to obey to the others;

– Dedalus is a mythological name (Dedalus was closed in a maze, like the poet is closed in a prison. He made a pair of wings made by wax in order to get free in the same way Stephen and the poet himself feel in prison in Dublin – they want to escape on the wings of his art.


Everyone wants him to become a priest but he understands he has another way: becaming an artist. So he breaks up with his family with its strict education and he flies away from Ireland. Stephan Dedalus is also one of the three protagonists of Ulysses.


This novel shows Joyce’s innovation in the literary world: it starts to make use of new techniques such as stream of consciousness narration, the interior monologue. There is also an evolution of the language. At the beginning we found an infant language, then the slang of university’s students.

4. Ulysses (1922)

The plot

Ulysses tells the story of a day in the life of advertising salesman Leopold Bloom.
During this day three main characters wake up, have various encounters in Dublin, and go to sleep eighteen hours later.

The central character, Leopold Bloom, is Joyce’s common man. During his wanderings he meets the indigent writer Stephen Dedalus (he is considered Joyce alter ego).

Stephen momentarily becomes Bloom’s adopted son: the alienated common man rescues the alienated artist and takes him home.
At home there is Molly, the Bloom’s wife, a voluptuous singer who is planning an afternoon of adultery with her music director.

The relation to Odyssey

Ulysses is related to Homer’s great epic the OdysseyJoyce used the Odyssey as a framework for his book, arranging its characters and events around Homer’s heroic model, with:

  • Bloom as Ulysses;
  • Stephen as his son Telemachus;
  • Molly as the faithful Penelope.

Ulysses is divided into three parts, imitating the three parts of Odyssey.

The setting

The set is in Dublin, in the street that Joyce knew,  in the house that he knew and in the pub he had frequented. He made the very air of Dublin, the atmosphere, the feeling, the place. Consequently, Dublin becomes itself a character in his novel.

The mythical method

Joyce’s method is a new form of prose based on the “mythical method”. This allowed the author to make a parallel) with the Odyssey.

Joyce wanted to write a “modern epic prose” and he achieved a new form of realism.

The representation of human nature

Stephen Dedalus, Ms Bloom and Mrs Bloom represent different aspects of human nature:

  • Stephen is pure intellect;
  • Mrs Bloom represent sensual nature and fecundity;
  • Mr. Bloom is everybody, the whole of mankind.

Joyce’s prose

Joyce combined several methods to present a variety of matters (stream of consciousness technique, the cinematic technique, flashbacks, suspension of speech, etc) creating the so-called “collage technique”, quite similar to the techniques used by the cubist artist who depicted a scene from all perspectives.

Joyce use the interior monologue and there are two levels of narration:

  • One external to the character’s mind;
  • The other internal with the character’s thoughts flowing freely without any interruption coming from the external world.

The language is rich in images, contrasts, paradoxes, symbols etc. He also used slang, nicknames, foreign words, literary quotations and allusions to other texts.

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