Motionless Citzenry: A Look at the Theme of Paralysis in James Joyce's Dubliners

Every night as I gazed up at the window I said softly to myself the word,

paralysis. It had always sounded strangely in my ears, like the word gnomon

in the Euclid and the word simony in the Catechism. But now it sounded

to me like the name of some maleficent and sinful being. It filled me with fear,

and yet I longed to be nearer to it, and to look upon its deadly work.

------boy narrator, The Sisters

Paralysis. For the characters in the works of James Joyce, it is a literal force that prevents them from moving physically, from developing and maturing, from forming or honoring a truly realized sense of self.

Although expressed through the immature vocabulary, naivete, and limited life experience of a child, the quote above is profound for the ostensibly contradictory and surprising sentiment it suggests. Are Joyce's characters helpless in the matter of their own lives, strangely attracted to the forces of paralysis that hold them captive? Do they simply choose to back away from risk, from the leap of faith that profound change necessitates? Or, as citizens of Dublin, of that "dear dirty" city, are they victims of a fate inflicted upon them by their frozen metropolis, a proverbial dead-end street paved with the...

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