How James Joyce conveys his views on marriage and the relationship between men and women in two stories from Dubliners

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James Joyce’s views on marriage and the relationship between men and woman are emphatically expressed throughout Dubliners, his collection of short stories, but are particularly foregrounded in my two chosen stories from the married and celibate sections of the mature-life group: ‘A Little Cloud’ and ‘A Painful Case’.

These narratives present to the reader two different kinds of relationship between men and women: the actual experience of marriage and a growing friendship between a celibate man and a married woman, but both offer the same prospect that marriage and male-female relationships ultimately result in entrapment, violence and heartache. In Dubliners, Joyce presents marriage and relationships between the two sexes as not likely to end in matrimony, as in much conventional, stereotypical fiction, but in an existence of indignity, pain and misery.

Every relationship between the two sexes is presented as being very fretful and sour to the reader. As Joyce has his protagonist, Mr Duffy, tell Mrs Sinico when he puts an end to their meetings in a very formal ‘interview’ outside Phoenix Park: ‘every bond… is a bond to sorrow’ and, as he later writes in the sheaf of papers on his desk: ‘friendship between man and woman is impossible’. It is in ‘A Little Cloud’ that Joyce starts to express the idea of how marriage in Edwardian Dublin ultimately ruins men’s prospects and that it is equally damaging for the woman involved.

The idea that marriage is an entrapment is key in this story with Chandler, in the final section of the story, unable to move in his chair because of his sleeping son, incapable even of reading his Byron poem, reflecting on his present ‘useless’ condition as ‘a prisoner for life’ . Little Chandler is, like Farrington in ‘Counterparts’, a legal clerk: respectable and fastidious in his manners as he picks his way through the ‘minute vermin-like life’ that swarms across his path in Henrietta Street, but not highly distinguished in Dublin society.

Until he meets his old friend, Ignatius Gallaher in Corless’s bar, he had never crossed the threshold of this well-known Dublin meeting-place and, when he first enters, he is stupefied by ‘the light and noise of the bar’, suggesting he is essentially a timid man who dare not stray outside the bounds of his professional and domestic environment. As the dialogue develops between Little Chandler, the married man, and Gallaher, the bachelor, we sense an indignant, jealous streak in our central character. Read also battle of the sexes questions

He ‘drinks very little as a rule”, but as their discourse focuses on Gallaher’s exciting life, full of adventure, it only stresses the urgency of how dull and ‘adventureless’ Little Chandler’s own life is. And so as this feeling intensifies, he starts to drink more and even smoke – to drown these sorrows: “Little Chandler took four or five sips from his glass” He is desperately conscious of how his own life could be deemed a failure. He wants to escape, but is entrapped by the routine he has allowed to get hold of him, so his only means of temporary escape is through drink.

By accessing his consciousness through long paragraphs of interior monologue, we see how Little Chandler suffers from the constant conflict between his longing for and attraction towards the life promised by achieving more success in middle-class society (as Gallaher appears to have done as ‘a brilliant figure on the London Press’), and his current situation, making the prospect of happiness and balance in life very far from reality.

His battle between his current ‘poverty of purse and spirit’ and his longing to achieve this middle-class ideal or, more importantly still, make a success as a published poet ‘as one of the Celtic school’, are central elements in this story. The final section set in the Chandlers’ modest residence makes Chandler all the more aware of the difference between his life as a husband and father and the glamorous existence Gallaher claims he enjoys as a successful journalist and bachelor, who has not yet ‘put [his] head in the sack’ by getting married and who is able to travel, without restraint, around Europe.

While Gallaher allegedly enjoys the company of wealthy women with ‘dark Oriental eyes…. full of passion, of voluptuous longing! ‘ Chandler contemplates with disappointment and distaste the photograph of Annie and introduces the revealing self-interrogative: ‘Why had he married the eyes in the photograph? ‘ Little Chandler and his wife cannot afford a servant, and their furniture, although ‘prim and pretty’, like Annie, has been purchased ‘on the hire system’ which shows a definite distance between the Chandlers and the more comfortable upper-middle-class living of Jimmy Doyle’s parents in ‘After the Race’.

In a vain attempt to raise their standards of living, the Chandlers fill their house with furniture that they cannot afford to buy outright. This clearly shows the huge desire and disappointment Little Chandler feels in himself, that, for all his modest living and hard work, he is unable to grasp the middle-class comfort to which he aspires.

However, his friend Gallaher, who seems to have the money to do as he wishes, is able to dine out, travel, and socialise with ‘thousands’ of women. The juxtaposition between their two situations contributes to Little Chandler’s feelings of resentment: ‘He felt acutely the contrast between his own life and his friend’s, and it seemed to him unjust. Gallaher was his inferior in birth and education’. Although Chandler acknowledges ‘his unfortunate timidity! when considering his situation by comparison with Gallaher’s whilst ordering drinks in Corless’s bar, once he has arrived home to be greeted by Annie’s ‘bad humour’ and the burden of his sleeping child, he convinces himself that it is his domestic lifestyle and his wife Annie which prevent him from the type of lifestyle he desires.

He has a deep feeling of resentment towards his current life and the people within it, as he blames them for his unhappiness. “Could he not escape from his little house? Was it too late for him to try to live bravely like Gallaher? – Who is notably an unmarried man. But all the responsibilities of a married man require all his energy, so that there is no energy or time to do anything he would like to do. “… There was the furniture to be paid for… ” He is aching to read the Byron poem and keeps rehearsing in his head the possibility of ‘expressing the melancholy of his soul in verse’ but the crying of the baby distracts him from his creative state of mind, thus, robbing him of the one activity which seems to offer him an escape from domesticity: “…

It was useless… “. Chandler is not wealthy, although he might have been more affluent given his evident education, but he is only a clerk who probably spends too much time day-dreaming, just as Farrington seeks to escape the tedium of his routine work as a copy-clerk by slipping out for a drink or thinking about the prospect of an evening’s drinking: ‘The barometer of his emotional nature was set for a spell of riot’. Chandler’s poverty has contaminated his marriage as his marriage is the reason for his poverty.

In “A Painful Case”, Joyce presents a different type of relationship, something of an alternative to married life where Mrs Sinico, as the wife of Captain Sinico, might like to see herself as ‘the mistress’ of Mr Duffy, though he is inclined – as we can tell from accessing his consciousness – to see their friendship as Platonic, with Mrs Sinico an admiring listener who encourages him to open up and confess his innermost thoughts about politics and literature to her.

He interprets their relationship according to a gardening simile, in keeping with his nature as a man with a reflective, philosophical quality of mind: ‘Her companionship was like a warm soil about an exotic’ where Mrs Sinico is the homely earth and Mr Duffy sees himself as a rare and special plant. Intimacy, and moments of happiness are apparent, but without marriage to destroy their relationship. Joyce suggests that Mrs Sinico’s own marriage lacks energy and life: her husband has ‘dismissed his wife…. incerely from his gallery of pleasures’ and ‘was often away’ as a sea captain able to escape from the constraints of Dublin life. She has experienced the emptiness of marriage and is driven to search for something else to fill her loneliness. We can deduce from this that Captain Sinico probably found new pleasures elsewhere but has no interest in what his wife gets up to at home, therefore completely oblivious that any individual could be interested in her either.

With their shared interest in music, Mrs Sinico and Mr Duffy have a useful basis for striking up a relationship but she misjudges Mr Duffy’s inability to commit himself physically to her and, after his rejection, she has a breakdown which leads to her addiction to alcohol (a well-established form of both paralysis and brief escape in Dublin) and her undignified death on the railway.

Although Joyce does not access Mrs Sinico’s psyche in the same detail as he does Mr Duffy’s, we are given the impression that she is a sympathetic and loving character who would have made him happy but, once again, it is the man’s ‘unfortunate timidity’ which curtails what might have been a successful relationship. Mr Duffy works in a bank, and is reasonably well off. The description in the exposition reveals his class status with minor details of his way of life: his furniture is apparently paid for, he enjoys two meals in a restaurant every day, and he likes to read and attends concerts and operas.

He appears to have achieved the typical middle-class life and leisure, so desired by the likes of Little Chandler in ‘A Little Cloud’, but, in spite of his material affluence he does not have the necessary warmth of character to develop any meaningful relationship with any other person, he is ultimately alone: ‘He had neither companions nor friends, church nor creed’. Until he meets Mrs Sinico ‘his life rolled out evenly – an adventureless tale’ and after he severs connection with her, ‘he returned to his even way of life’ for four more years until he comes across the cliche ridden article in the Dublin Evening Mail, full of euphemisms and hypocritical phrases (‘the threadbare phrases, the inane expressions of sympathy, the cautious words of a reporter won over to conceal the details of a commonplace vulgar death’) from the inquest on Mrs Sinico’s body in which the police, railway officials and coroner cover up the truth of Mrs Sinico’s alcoholism and lonely death.

Although the coroner’s verdict is ‘No blame attached to anyone’, Mr Duffy comes to realise through an epiphany which he experiences after retracing his final journey with Mrs Sinico to Phoenix Park, that he was probably responsible for sending her on the road to self destruction and ultimately, her death.

He passes through a whole range of emotions after reading the article: disgust at Mrs Sinico’s degradation, (‘evidently she had been unfit to live’); revulsion over her behaviour when she seized his hand and ‘pressed it to her cheek’; realisation of her loneliness; beginning of acceptance of blame for her death through the self-interrogative ‘Why had he sentenced her to death? ‘ and finally self-recrimination: ‘One human being had seemed to love him and he had denied her life and happiness’.

Like Little Chandler, Mr Duffy embarks on several prolonged paragraphs of reflection in which he sees himself as ‘outcast from life’s feast’ and essentially alone, with nobody to share his life with. He has achieved the middle-class leisure denied to men who marry, but he is ultimately alone. However, with typical ambiguity, Joyce leaves us to decide for ourselves whether Mr Duffy will act on his epiphany and change his character and behaviour, under the influence of Mrs Sinico’s ‘ghost’.

We assume that he will probably revert to his previous life as ‘he turned back the way he had come’, implying he would prefer to stay alone rather than commit to a relationship with a woman. Joyce’s view, therefore of marriage and the relationship between men and women in Edwardian Dublin is that commitment between the sexes is usually only entered into for the sake of social respectability in marriage and economic benefits, and under the paralysing influence of the city, all male-female relationships are ultimately doomed.

The impulse to escape this world of marriage or to embark on a new potentially happy relationship with the opposite sex is constantly dismissed, as characters are almost plagued with the inability to move on in life and to grasp what they really want. In ‘A Little Cloud’ and ‘Counterparts’, Joyce portrays the notion that the responsibilities of marriage entail a life of crippling routine.

Farrington in ‘Counterparts’ is forced to stay in his job only to support his family. He works as a copy-clerk which as a job is one of ‘the indignities of his life that enraged him’ while “His wife was a little sharp faced woman who bullied her husband when he was sober and was bullied by him when he was drunk”. His violent fretful relationship with his wife aggravates his drinking and his feeling of inadequacy about his existence in general.

Violence for Farrington is a momentary release from his captivity but the irony is that the only character on whom he can vent his anger is his own small son. Joyce suggests that disappointment with what life can offer in terms of opportunities for romantic relationships in Edwardian Dublin derives from childhood or early adolescence. In the final childhood story ‘Araby’ the young narrator is struck by an epiphany that his ‘princess’ is only a girl, just like any ordinary girl.

When he realises this, his ‘eyes burned with anguish and anger’ and his romantic idealism, expressed through imagery from the semantic field of Medieval chivalry (‘I imagined that I bore my chalice safely through a throng of foes’) is irrevocably crushed. Similarly, just when Eveline is contemplating the possibility of freedom by escaping from the rigid stifling world of Dublin and finding excitement in the unknown, through her relationship with Frank she cannot help thinking of her promise to her mother to keep the home together for as long as she could.

Her thoughts veer from “why should she be unhappy? She had a right to happiness,” to remembering the last night of her mother’s illness and her ‘duty’, then back to “Escape! She must escape! Frank would save her. He would give her life, perhaps love, too. ” Little Chandler poses a similar self-interrogative: “Could he not escape from his little house? Was it too late for him to try to live bravely like Gallaher? Could he go to London? but he quickly remembers his marital duties (“There was the furniture still to be paid for”) and resigns himself to his ‘imprisonment’. While Joyce occasionally suggests that relationship with a man (Frank) or woman (Mrs Sinico) can provide his characters (Eveline or Mr Duffy) with the prospect of salvation, his general view is that marriage and male-female relationships are tainted by the paralysis which afflicts Dublin itself and are more likely to sentence his protagonists to a life of inadequacy and frustration.

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