Dubliners: An Analysis Of Religion As A Captor

Kristina Lee
A collection of short stories published in 1907, Dubliners, by James Joyce, revolves around the everyday lives of ordinary citizens in Dublin, Ireland (Freidrich 166). According to Joyce himself, his intention was to “write a chapter of the moral history of [his] country and [he] chose Dublin for the scene because the city seemed to [b]e the centre of paralysis” (Friedrich 166). True to his goal, each of the fifteen stories are tales of disappointment, darkness, captivity, frustration, and flaw. The book is divided into four sections: childhood, adolescence, maturity, and public life (Levin 159). The structure of the book shows that gradually, citizens become trapped in Dublin society (Stone 140). The stories portray Joyce’s feeling that Dublin is the epitome of paralysis and all of the citizens are victims (Levin 159).
Although each story from Dubliners is a unique and separate depiction, they all have similarities with each other. In addition, because the first three stories – The Sisters, An Encounter, and Araby parallel each other in many ways, they can be seen as a set in and of themselves. The purpose of this essay is to explore one particular similarity in order to prove that the childhood stories can be seen as specific section of Dubliners. By examining the characters of Father Flynn in The Sisters, Father Butler in An Encounter, and Mangan’s sister in Araby, I will demonstrate that the idea of being held captive by religion is felt by the protagonist of each story. In this paper, I argue that because religion played such a significant role in the lives of the middle class, it was something that many citizens felt was suffocating and from which it was impossible to get away.
Each of the three childhood stories uses religion to keep the protagonist captive. In The Sisters, Father Flynn plays an important role in making the narrator feel like a prisoner. Mr. Cotter’s comment that “… a young lad [should] run about and play with young lads of his own age…” suggests that the narrator has spent a great deal of time with the priest. Even in death, the boy can not free himself from the presence of Father Flynn (Stone 169) as is illustrated in the following passage: “But the grey face still followed me. It murmured; and I understood that it desired to confess something. I felt my soul receding into some pleasant and vicious region; and there again I found it waiting for me”. The boy feels the need to get away from the priest, but this proves to be impossible. When he ran away into his “pleasant and vicious region”, the priest was still there—haunting him. In fact, even before the narrator is thoroughly convinced that the priest is dead, he is worried that Father Flynn will haunt him (Stone 169): “In the dark of my room I imagined that I saw again the heavy grey face of the paralytic. I drew the blankets over my head and tried to think of Christmas”. These passages convey the idea that the boy was afraid of the priest and felt somewhat freed by his death. This is further proven when the boy, after having seen the card announcing the death of the priest, thinks it “strange that neither [he] nor the day seemed in a mourning mood and [he] even felt annoyed at discovering in [him]self a sensation of freedom as if [he] had been freed from something by [Father Flynn’s] death”. This feeling of freedom suggests that the boy understood that he was a captive of Father Flynn, and thereby, also a captive of the church. With the Father’s death, perhaps the death of his captivity came as well.
The idea of religious bondage can be seen in An Encounter by examining the relationship between the boys and Father Butler. When Leo Dillion is caught reading The Apache Chief in class, “everyone’s heart palpitated” as Father Butler frowns and looks over the pages. Shortly thereafter, the narrator claims that “[t]his rebuke…paled much of the glory of the Wild West…But when the restraining influence of school was at a distance [he] began to hunger again for wild sensations…”. This passage demonstrates the control the church