James Joyce “Dubliners”, story “A Painful Case”

I have chosen to analyze the short story titled “A Painful Case” from James Joyce’s collection “Dubliners”. “A Painful Case” is a short story from this collection dealing with the theme of isolation. The main character whose name is Mr. Duffy (in Gaelic it means ‘dark or black’) “is the outcast from life’s feast” and isolates himself from society and even from true love. Many critics, reviewers make allusions to mythology and find this story to be similar to Celtic legend of Tristan and Iseult. It is thought that the allusion to mythology makes the story “A Painful Case” more biting. This is the legend of love that brought Tristan and Iseult great happiness and immense grief. Also it is a tale of chivalry, doomed and transcendent love. The love story between the main character Mr. Duffy and his companion Mrs. Sinico is similar to the Celtic legend of Tristan and Iseult. The love story revealed in “A Painful Case” can be named as noble and chivalrous. The title of the short story “A Painful Case” foreshadows the cause of the main character’s inner conflict. The main character Mr. Duffy chooses isolation, loneliness by himself. Probably he makes it unconsciously as only after the “painful case” or Mrs. Sinico’s death he realizes the extent of his loneliness. But he realizes it too late. “A Painful Case” is a situational short story as Mr. Duffy’s inner conflict prevails. It is a psychological story focusing on the main character’s inner state. Mr. Duffy’s inner conflict is caused by the doubts related to his beloved Mrs. Sinico’s death. There is a clash of two strong impulses within the main character: his wish to be with his beloved woman and his inability to take a decisive action in order to segue into a closer relationship. Mrs. Sinico’s death raises doubts whether the main character was right choosing to leave his beloved woman or not. Her death plays a really significant role in the short story as it makes Mr. Duffy understand how lonely he is in this world.

The place of the short story is Dublin. The author James Joyce chooses Dublin as a scene for an action because he realizes Dublin to be “the center of paralysis”. In this short story the main character Mr. Duffy is paralyzed mentally and is unable to take a decisive action, he cannot offer his love to Mrs. Sinico because of his mental paralysis. I have divided the whole short story into four episodes which help me structuralize the development of the main character’s inner conflict. In the first episode Mr. Duffy’s character is disclosed through the appearance of his living place, his character’s direct description and his relationships with other people. To start with, the author begins the description of Mr. Duffy’s living place by the description of the suburb where the main character lives. (“Mr. James Duffy lived in Chapelizod because he wished to live as far as possible from the city of which he was citizen and because he found all the other suburbs of Dublin mean, modern and pretentious”). By the reasoning of Mr. Duffy’s choice of the suburb to live in the author reveals the minor theme of the short story- longing to escape from the paralyzed city and characterizes the main character to be a real recluse (atsiskyrelis). The author portrays the main character’s living place in detail with the help of the third person narration. (“The lofty walls of his uncarpeted room were free from pictures. He had himself bought every article of furniture in the room: a black iron bedstead, an iron washstand, four cane chairs, a clothes-rack, a coal-scuttle, a fender and irons and a square table on which lay a double desk”). The author creates a cold and unpleasant view of the main character’s living place with the help of an epithet “black iron bedstead” and prevailing material- iron. The author creates the image of an individualist with the help of diction, for example, “himself”. The enumeration strengthens the extent of the main character’s individuality. All the things at home have their own place as we can see it from the direct description and it helps to reveal one more feature of protagonist’s character (pedantry). (“A little hand-mirror hung above the washstand and during the day a white-shaded lamp stood as the sole ornament of the mantelpiece. The books on the white wooden shelves were arranged from below upwards according to bulk”). Besides, the image of the sole white-shaded lamp foreshadows the main character’s fate. The main character could be described to be a real recluse, individualist, pedant, and loner with the help of Mr. Duffy’s living place description.
The author continues describing the protagonist. In the second paragraph Mr. Duffy is described directly. Mr. Duffy’s pedantry is emphasized. (“Mr. Duffy abhorred anything which betokened physical and mental disorder”). Also the main character is described to be “saturnine” (it means looking sad and serious, especially in a threatening way). Besides, the physical appearance is revealed. (“His face, which carried the entire tale of his years, was of the brown tint of Dublin streets. On his long and rather large head grew dry black hair and tawny moustache did not quite cover an unamiable mouth. His cheekbones also gave his face a harsh character; but there was no harshness in the eyes which, looking at world from under their tawny eyebrows gave the impression of a man alert to greet a redeeming instinct in others but often disappointed”). With the help of the direct physical Mr. Duffy’s description the author discloses another trait of protagonist’s character (“harshness”). The dominating colours in Mr. Duffy’s physical description are yellow and brown (“brown tint”, “tawny (or brownish-yellow) moustache”, and “tawny eyebrows”). In the James Joyce’s writing these two colours symbolize paralysis. In the concrete short story it symbolizes mental paralysis of the main character and makes Mr. Duffy unable to make a decisive action. Although Mr. Duffy lives a monotonous and lonely life he had some “dissipations of his life”. They were opera and concerts. Exactly one of the dissipations brought a chaos and disorder to the main character’s life. In the second episode the author reveals the sequence of relationships between the main character and Mrs. Sinico whom he accidentally met in one of the concerts. I would like to analyze a love story beginning with Mrs. Sinico’s description. She is described directly and poorer than Mr. Duffy is described. (“young girl”. “Her face, which must have been handsome, had remained intelligent. It was an oval face with strongly marked features”). Mrs. Sinico is described from Mr. Duffy’s view point. It is easy to identify that Mrs. Sinico’s physical description is not important to Mr. Duffy. He is looking for the beauty of her inner world. A pretty face is mentioned only as a parenthesis. As I have already mentioned it is a noble and chivalrous love story.
The development of the love story takes the biggest part of the short story. It develops from the first meeting till Mr. Duffy and Mrs. Sinico’s separation. All these meetings were as a routine. Meetings were defined directly. (“they met always in the evening and chose the most quiet quarters for their walks together”). The atmosphere of meetings was calm, relaxed. Really calm and quiet atmosphere is created with the help of an epithet “the most quiet”. Mr. Duffy feels dissatisfaction and his inner conflict develops together with the development of the love story. (Mr. Duffy, however, had distaste for underhand ways and, finding that they were compelled to meet stealthily, he forced her to ask him to her house”). Their relationships are purely sexless and are caused by both characters’ loneliness. Although Mrs. Sinico has family she feels lonely too. (“As the husband was often away and the daughter out giving music lessons Mr. Duffy had many opportunities of enjoying the lady’s society. Neither he nor she had had any such adventure before nor neither was conscious of any incongruity”, “shared his intellectual life with her”). Step by step the relationships between Mr. Duffy and Mrs. Sinico are getting closer. As a consequence the inner conflict is developing too. The evening walks changes into the meetings at Mrs. Sinico’s “little cottage outside Dublin”. Tension grows with getting the couple physically and emotionally closer and closer. The innocent share of intellectual ideas changes into romantic evenings at the cottage. The highest point or the last step is a physical contact in the purely sexless love story (“Mrs. Sinico caught up his hand passionately and pressed it to her cheek”). During their meetings Mrs. Sinico’s character serves as a seducer and she becomes the cause of the main character’s inner conflict. Step by step she tries to break down the barriers standing between them. “<…> she urged him to let his nature open to the full”, later on, “Many times she allowed the dark to fall upon them, refraining from lighting the lamp” and the last step was passionate touch. The main character seeks for a seraphic love and cannot let their relationships become physically close. (“He thought that in her eyes he would ascend to an angelic stature”). In the first two episodes Mr. Duffy is described to be the “unique figure” for whom physical things are not important. Beginning with the fact that the main character does not pay attention to Mrs. Sinico’s physical appearance from their first meeting and finishing with their separation because of physical contact. The other reason why the main character tries to escape from the relationships is stated directly. (“every bond, he said, is a bond to sorrow”). Also, it is the reason why Mr. Duffy chooses a lifestyle of a recluse.
Already at the beginning of my presentation I have mentioned that Mr. Duffy unconsciously chooses isolation from society and even from a true love. As his decision is unconscious in the third episode could be identified a clear stimulus of his self-realization. The article read after four years after their last meeting with Mrs. Sinico enables Mr. Duffy to realize the extent of his loneliness. Both the article and Mrs. Sinico put a chaos and disorder into Mr. Duffy’s life. (“Four years passed. Mr. Duffy returned to his even way of life. His room still bore witness of the orderliness of his mind.”). The main character’s inner conflict is revealed by the parallel construction and the theme of physical relations prevails here. (“Love between man and man is impossible because there must not be sexual intercourse and friendship between man and woman is impossible because there must be sexual intercourse”). The biggest part of the third episode takes the article from the newspaper about Mrs. Sinico’s death. The article “DEATH OF A LADY AT SYDNEY PARADE, A Painful Case” serves as a catalyst for Mr. Duffy’s revelation because of the confrontation of Mrs. Sinico’s images in his mind. She is pure woman for the main character while in the article Mrs. Sinico is said to be “in the habit of going out at night to buy spirits” and even according this article there is a possibility of a suicide. (“No blame attached to anyone”). In this quotation there is an allusion to the suicide. The confrontation of two images as I have already mentioned serves as a catalyst, so the tension grows and the protagonist’s inner conflict develops too. The fourth episode is the episode where the main character finds himself to be utterly alone in this world. In this episode the tension grows and the inner conflict becomes sharper and sharper. The episode, similarly to the first one, begins with the description of the environment. In the first episode the milieu was described with the help of the diction “mean”, pretentious”, “somber” and so on. The same mood also dominates in the fourth episode. It is described with the help of diction. For example,” cheerless”, “empty”. In the first episode Mr. Duffy’s loneliness is described by the third person narrator as only in the fourth episode the main character himself reveals the extent of his loneliness. Comparing the first and the fourth episodes I want to clarify that this story is of the circle structure. The circle in the James Joyce’s collection means paralysis and could be understood as a vicious circle from which the protagonist cannot escape. Duffy cannot change the situation. Mr. Duffy cannot change his fate and cannot escape from his loneliness.
I have already mentioned that the inner conflict is influenced by the confrontation of Mrs. Sinico’s two images and the inner conflict is dramatically developing in the last episode. The sharpness of the protagonist’s inner conflict is revealed through the exclamatory sentences. (“What and end!”, “His soul companion!”, and “Just God, what an end”). The inner conflict is revealed in the last episode step by step. The protagonist blames himself and tries to disclose the reasons of their separation. (“He could not have carried on a comedy of deception with her; he could not have lived with her openly”). The atmosphere also becomes gloomier step by step. It develops from “cheerless evening” into the cold and gloomy night. Moving forward the deeper sharpness of the inner conflict is felt from the third person narrator’s description of Mr. Duffy’s inner state. (“He gnawed the rectitude of his life; he felt that he had been outcast from life’s feast. One human being had seemed to love him and he had denied her life and happiness: he had sentenced her to ignominy, a death of shame”). This sentence foreshadows her suicide. The main character understands his paralysis and impossibility to escape from loneliness. It is revealed with the help of the simile. (“Beyond the river he saw a goods train winding out of Kingsbridge Station, like a worn with a fiery head winding through the darkness, obstinately and laboriously.”). The train is compared with the worn in this simile. This worn is symbolic and reveals the main character’s inner state. During all his life Mr. Duffy is also “winding through the darkness” and cannot change anything in his life. The prolongation of his life is revealed with the help of this simile as it is impossible to change anything. The theme of a mental paralysis predominates. A perfect silence dominates in the end of the episode. (“the night was perfectly silent. He listened again: perfectly silent. He felt that he was alone.”). It is said directly that the silence means the perfect loneliness. Similarly to the beginning of the story, the main character returns to his previous inner state in the end of the story. He is absolutely lonely. The conflict is not resolved but differently from the beginning of the story Mr. Duffy himself understands the extent of his loneliness. He also understands that “His life would be lonely too until he, too, died, ceased too exist, became a memory- if anyone remembered him.”
The theme of the whole short story is stagnation, paralysis, and inability to make any changes in Mr. Duffy’s life and in the life of the whole Dublin’s society.