Dubliners

‘The mundane’ in the short stories of James Joyce and Virginia Woolf College

‘How readily our thoughts swarm upon a new object, lifting it a little way, as ants carry a blade of straw so feverishly, and then leave it…’

Virginia Woolf’s The Mark on the Wall suggests a number of ways of considering the mundane in literature. The line both isolates ‘thought’ from ‘object’ and shows them to be fundamentally connected. It communicates interplay between physical and mental reality, yet, at the same time, Woolf makes it clear that their relationship is abstract and subject to the ‘swarm’ of the thousand different ‘thoughts’ that surround them. Emily Dalgarno writes of ‘a kind of power’ in Woolf’s writing ‘to see beyond the horizon of ordinary perception.’ The Mark on the Wall is concerned with this perception, as it explores the distinction between the world of individual thoughts and the mundane reality from which they stem. This symbiosis between objects and sign is central to Joyce’s Dubliners. Here, Joyce constructs conflict as his characters are unable to perceive one thing, in the same way, imbuing the mundane with significance as banal reality gives way to individual interpretation.

In order to examine the role of the mundane, it is necessary to define and clarify the term. According to the Oxford...

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