Dubliners by James Joyce is a refined masterpiece, in which Joyce gives an exquisite portrait of the Irish people and society from religious, political and historical aspects.
In the Sisters, Joyce suggests that the Catholic Church is becoming increasingly decadent and the Irish would be probably better off without it. The story features Father Flynn, a Catholic priest who suffers from stroke and has an ominous vision of his own death: “I am not long for this world.” He is often found in a lifeless and morbid condition, “sitting in his arm-chair by the fire, nearly smothered in his great coat”. The infirmity of Father Flynn symbolizes that the Catholic Church is on the decline and may cease to offer salvation for the paralyzed and backward Irish society. Another powerful revelation to Joyce’s attitude towards the religious institution comes after the priest’s death, when the young narrator is taken aback by his sense of relief: “I felt annoyed at discovering a sensation of freedom, as if I had been freed from something by his death.” Joyce believes that only when the Irish people shrug off the influence of the Church can they truly regain freedom.
Joyce also gives a strikingly keen insight into politics, depicting the inferior situation of Ireland in contrast with other European countries. In After the Race, there is a sharp contrast between the “wealth and industry” of the Continent and the “poverty and inaction” of Ireland. Joyce refers to the audience of the race as “the gratefully oppressed”, because that those poor Irish people are satisfied to be mere onlookers of the car race, insensitive to the oppression they are in, deprived of any intention or ability to compete in the global arena. The upper class is no better in this case. Jimmy, the son of a rich Irish merchant, is a symbol of Ireland’s emerging upper class who want to get involved in the interior affairs like trade and investment. He wants to invest in the motor factory of his French friend, but feels that “it was by a favor of friendship the mite of Irish money was to be concluded in the capital of the concern.” It’s fairly obvious that the upper class in Europe hold a condescending attitude towards their counterparts in Ireland.
In the Dead, Joyce explored the theme of history, the inheritance of tradition between generations, and the individual struggle to reconstruct the Irish identity through memory. In the story, Gabriel attends the Christmas celebration held in his aunts’ house, and is assigned the task of making an after-dinner speech. Different form his aunts, Gabriel is better educated and more exposed to European and English culture, but he holds a perplexed attitude towards the Irish tradition: On one hand, he is reminiscent of the grandeur of the Irish history and proud of the Irish customs like hospitality; on the other hand, he “is sick of his own country”, and lost the interest to “visit his own land and know of his own people”. Because of the dominated and paralyzed situation of the Irish society, the new generation in Ireland struggle to establish their national and cultural identity, maybe the only possible way of which by remembering the history. The act of recalling links history to the present, pride to despair, the dead to the living. As Gabriel says in his speech: “We shall still speak of them with pride and affection, still cherish in our hearts the memory of those dead and gone great ones whose fame the world will not willingly let die.”
By delineating the lives of Dubliners from all walks of life, Joyce is able to shed light on the Irish society from religious, political and historical angles, with a touch of nature.