Modernism - Things aren’t always what they seem


Litt om modernismen samt "short-story" analyse av Eveline og Arabia fra James Joyces novellesamling "Dubliners".

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Modernism is a term that can be linked with many of the avant-garde movements in art, literature and music, that truly took hold in the early 20th century. On the eve of Word War 1, the growing tension and unease with the social order manifested itself in artistic works in every medium, which radically simplified or rejected previous practice. These developments began to give a new meaning to what was termed “Modernism”, now it embraced disruption, rejecting or moving beyond simple Realism in literature and art.

These set modernists, apart from 19th century artists, they tended to believe in 'progress', while they wanted to experiment with new forms of writing in order to express themselves.


James Joyce was widely considered to be one of the most influential writers of the 20th century. Along with Virginia Woolf and Marcel Poust, he was a key figure in the development of the modernist novel. He was a satirical writer as well.


I choose to analyse two short-stories from James Joyces “Dubliners”. “Dubliners” is a collection of short stories and it was published in 1914. There are fifteen stories and they were all meant to be a frank satirical depiction of the middle class living in and around Dublin in early in the 20th century. All of them are written in a third person point of view.


The first one I choose to write about is called Eveline. This story is about a young girl called Eveline. She sits by her window awaiting the return of her sailor boyfriend named Frank. He is going to rescue her from her monotone lifestyle. Still, she abandons her plans to elope.


Eveline is a hard working young girl, who has lost her mother and one of her brothers. She is left with her alcoholic father, who nags at her all the time. On top of this she has a full time job and is responsible for two small children. In this story she express her pain and discontent with her current lifestyle, but as she sits by the window reminiscing, she thinks of the good old times. Although the occasions were few, she holds on to the memories.


Frank the sailor is an honest person with a big heart. I believe he is infatuated with Eveline because he is the first person that takes her out of her boring everyday life. He shows her new and exciting things and that may be the prime reason why she is so fond of him as well. It seems that she appreciates the things he stands for, like adventure and freedom, in a greater sense than who he is as a person. His character in this story is static.


The father is a very bitter person who probably is an alcoholic. He has severe problems with expressing feelings, so he swallows many camels before losing his temper over irrelevant things later. Eveline’s whole salary goes to supporting the family, still her father gives her no spending money. This is another clear sign that her father is an irrational person. He is also a static character.


“Eveline” portrays Irish middle class around Dublin early in the 20th century. There are many interesting effects used in this story, one of them is the choice of destination to which they were suppose to flee; Buenos Aires, which means “good air”. I think that this is a symbol of a new start, clean sheets. Here, all her worries will disappear and she will literally breath “good air” for the very first time.


The field where Eveline used to play with her friends when she was little and which was later turned into a block of houses stands for her childhood, which she idealises a little because it was a time where everything used to be better. The fact that there is a block there symbolises that Evelines view has changed over the years.  In order to connect certain trains of thought James Joyce applies associations and repetition of key words and terms like; "in her nostrils was the smell of dusty cretonne". In the start of the story this is used as a description of the environment, but later in the text he repeats himself and it unravels a much deeper meaning, a promise Eveline gave to her dead mother.


This story begins as Eveline starts to have second thoughts; “She had agreed to leave, abandon her home. Was this wise?” So I believe that the turning point is in the beginning of the story, while the climax or anti- climax is when she decides not to go. Even thought it is written in a third person point of view the reader has access to the main characters thoughts, something I’m personally very fond of. In the text it says; She looked round the room, reviewing all its familiar objects which she had dusted once a week for so many years, wondering where on earth all the dust came from. Here we access her thoughts because we now know that she was “wondering where on earth all the dust came from.”


The main theme in Eveline is personal interests versus family interests. Eveline wants to leave, but she knows that without her income and help around the house her family’s situation is going to take a drastic turn for the worse. Another factor is her promise to her dead mother; Eveline promised that she would take care of the family for her. A unique thing in this story is that despite her discontent with her current lifestyle, she doesn’t try to change it. Running away should have been the last resort, but instead it’s her first choice.


The second short story I choose to analyse is also from “Dubliners” and it’s called Arabia. This is a story about a young boy who falls in love with his sister’s friend. This friend does not know about his crush, but one day she stops and talks to him. She asks if he’s going to the Arabia Carnival, a local bazaar. He says yes and promises to bring her a gift.


The main character is a smart young boy who lives with his aunt and uncle. The story portrays an Irish middle/under class family early in the 20th century. You get the impression that they live on a tight budget. So this trip to the bazaar is a symbol of leaving Dublin and travel to places far away, like Arabia. The reality hits him hard, when he realises that Dublin is still Dublin. Another effect that was used in this story is the fact that one of the workers at the bazaar talks British; I believe that this is meant as a reminder that Dublin is a colonized city.


The main theme in this story is frustration. The nameless boy is frustrated because of the limits that are pushed upon him because of his unfortunate situation. Other relevant themes are; adventure, travel and love. It’s a story of a boy who travels to a place that, in his mind, was suppose to be fantastic. But in reality it was a flop, and he returns with nothing more than a depressing life experience; he learns that life isn’t always fair.


In most of James Joyces short stories there is clear and defining moral, the end justifies the means, and in Arabia it must be “things aren’t always what they seem”.


James Joyce's modernism throughout Dubliners, sought to give expression to the hopes and pain of Irish society, and create a new and liberating freedom in language. And as I have mention before, the modernist writer is engaged in a revolution against nineteenth-century style and content in fiction, and without a doubt is Dubliners one of the landmarks of that particular struggle.

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