22nd February 2015
Snow and Sunshine as a lens into the souls of characters in Joyce’s Dubliners
In his essay, Robert Scholes provides an intuitive link between the title “Counterparts” and how Joyce arranges themes in Dubliners. He argues that Joyce sets up the themes in Dubliners to act as counterparts for one another, which Scholes envisions is almost like the “anonymous interchangeability of cogs in a great machine” (Scholes, 339). Scholes further claims that these counterparts function as the fabric of the stories, interconnecting the important themes and motifs, such as financial stagnation and spiritual paralysis.
While Scholes does cover most of the main ideas of Dubliners, such as stagnation and paralysis, the strength of his analysis could be expanded by addressing the symbolical importance of weather. Weather, both figurative and literal, is used quite frequently within Joyce’s stories and acts as a lens to peer into the inner emotions of different characters in Dubliners. It is employed by Joyce to document his characters’ progression of emotions and eventual collapse into turmoil. Because weather functions as a symbol for the eventual paralysis that envelops Joyce’s characters, it takes on the role of a counterpart to the characters’ attempt to undertake change. Although weather appears in every story, it is most apparent in the stories, “Eveline,” “A Little Cloud,” and The Dead.”
In “Eveline,” Joyce’s description of the physical weather corresponds to Eveline’s mood. The story begins with Eveline watching the evening “invade” her avenue (Joyce, 36). This use of the word invade suggests a feeling of being rushed and exacerbated. Eveline cannot decide if she should leave with her fiancé, and the invasion of the evening reminds her that she does not have much time left. Without this opening description of weather, readers would initially be blind to the mood that Eveline is in. Other then her statement later that she is tired, Eveline reveals little about how she feels when she is pondering running away to Buenos Aires. Therefore, the setting around her grows in importance because it gives a glimpse to the inner-turmoil that Eveline is experiencing.
Before Eveline heads to the docks, she comes to the conclusion that “she has a right to happiness” and the only possible way to potentially be happy is to go to Buenos Aires (40). However, when Eveline attempts to leave Dublin for Buenos Aires with Frank, her inner-storm of emotions paralyzes her and threatens to drown her. As she grips onto the railing, it felt like “all the seas of the world tumbled about her heart” (41). In this moment Joyce uses weather to allow the reader to become perfectly aware of the turmoil within Eveline. The reader is also able to see that the storm impedes Eveline from acting and taking a chance: it is a counterpart to Eveline’s potential life in Argentina.
This turmoil causes her to send out a “cry of anguish” because she knows that she cannot fight the storm. The thought of Eveline screaming creates the image in the mind of the reader of a lost life raft in a storm where a person can yell but their voice is drowned out and cannot be heard. Therefore, despite experiencing an untold amount of emotion, she is forced to become expressionless, only looking passively as her only chance for happiness floats away. Without this image of figurative weather the reader would not be able to fully comprehend the vastness Eveline’s inner-turmoil.
While Little Chandler does not experience the same type of physical paralysis in “A Little Cloud,” his inner-turmoil is also symbolized by the use of weather imagery. In this story, Little Chandler constantly contemplates escaping his sad life and potentially becoming a poet. He is jealous of his old friend Gallaher who was able to leave Dublin and now seems to be experiencing life. While walking down the street, Little Chandler repeatedly remarks about the “glow of a late autumn sunset” which casts “a shower of kindly golden dust” onto the street (71). These comments about the sunset take place while Little Chandler is considering a new life as a poet. The golden sunset suggests a glimmer of hope and aspiration that exists within Little Chandler’s heart. However, this golden light is cast onto “the untidy nurses and decrepit old men,” creating a scene of opposites: the beauty of the sun’s rays versus the ugliness of the city (71). Thus, while Little Chandler does experience moments of joy, he also feels bouts of pessimism about his future. By creating the image of the sunset upon the city, Joyce is allowing the reader to peer into the feelings of Little Chandler and his inner turmoil over the future.
While talking to Gallaher, Little Chandler feels a rush of certainty, believing that he surely “could do something better than his friend had ever done” (Joyce, 80). This certainty collapses in the last scene when Little Chandler realizes that he is stuck forever in his current life. While there is no specific mention of weather in this climatic moment, it appears in the title of the story. “A little Cloud” creates a cartoon-like image of a man with a cloud constantly over his head. This image works perfectly to describe the life of Little Chandler, because he wants to create a new and happy life but he cannot escape from the issues and monotony of his current life. This cloud is a counterpart to Little Chandler’s glimmers of hope at creating a new life. However, in the end, he succumbs to this realization that he is “a prisoner for life” (Joyce, 84). He will never be able to break free from the cloud that hangs over him. Therefore, just like Eveline, Little Chandler experiences a physical paralysis, which is embodied through Joyce’s use of weather.
Just like in “A Little Cloud,” and “Eveline” Gabriel, from “The Dead,” begins with glimmers of hopes that are quickly stifled by weather. The story opens with Gabriel walking inside and brushing the snow off of himself. This layer of snow is restrictive, being described as a “cape” and creating a “snow-stiffened frieze” over Gabriel’s body (177). This image of snow impairing Gabriel’s movement shines a light on a Gabriel’s constantly changing attitude. Throughout the story Gabriel attempts to be happy; In spite of his efforts, Gabriel constantly reverts back to a somber and melancholy mood. Thus, the image of snow acts as a physical symbol for the inability of Gabriel to escape his somber and melancholy attitude. While his personality is not evident this early in the story, Joyce gives the reader a glimpse at what is to come.
Weather reappears in the concluding scene, allowing the reader to once again gaze into the conflict that exists within Gabriel. Up until the final scene Gabriel is firm in his belief that one must separate themself from the past in order to be happy. This resolute stance begins to weaken after he hears the story of Michael Furey. While pondering the idea of past and present, Gabriel looks out the window and sees that snow is “falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, farther westward” (223). This listing of all the places in Ireland creates a unifying effect, showing that everything is interconnected; everything is bound together by a blanket of snow. The snow descends upon the grave of Michael Furey as well as the hotel where he is staying, thus breaching the gap between the past and the present. By tying everything together, the snow symbolizes Gabriel’s inner-realization that one cannot separate themself from the past. Therefore, in this moment Gabriel becomes paralyzed like every other character in the Dubliners. The snow allows the reader to realize that this paralysis has descended upon Gabriel, just like the snow descends upon Ireland.
These three texts demonstrate how weather is used as a lens in Dubliners to allow the reader to glimpse into the inner emotions and turmoil of his character. Because Joyce uses weather in this way, it takes the function of a counterpart to the theme of turmoil. However, the significance of weather is not confined to this one role. Rather it is also an element in Scholes’s concluding idea that the structure of counterparts can be taken beyond the stories themselves. Scholes resolves that by leaving things up to the interpretation of the reader, we, the readers, become Joyce’s counterpart. Therefore, since weather is a way to help the reader gaze into the inner feelings and turmoil of Joyce’s characters, it acts as a counterpart to the reader’s interpretations.
Joyce, James, Robert E. Scholes, and A. Walton. Litz. Dubliners: Text, Criticism, and Notes. New York: Penguin, 1976. Print.
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