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Joyce knew how to shake it up...

With new beginnings aplenty, Femke Gow takes a look at one author who knew a thing or two about new adventures (Thumbnail credit The Master himself)

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Through a collection of short stories, James Joyce creates a world in which Irish middle class characters in 20th century Dublin try to escape the mundane rituals that their lives have become. His works illustrate the vitality of taking chances regardless of the possible outcomes, and the overpowering regret that follows if such chances are passed up.

An Encounter

Joyce captures the lives of two young schoolboys seeking excitement away from their regimented academic days. Their infatuation with adventurous games and cowboy comics leads them to build up the courage (after much careful planning and saving of three sixpences) to skip school for a day. As they wander further away from school, they sink deeper into their adventure and their excitement builds. However, the reader sees their endearing immaturity as they sit along a wall with their legs too short to reach the ground, grinning at each other in their boy-sized blazers and ties. Although the story ends with the two boys desperately running home after a long day of being grown-ups, they finally felt the thrill of a real adventure.


An unnamed boy living in a melancholy house on a street that thrives off its barely lit lamps is asked by a glowing young girl if he planned on going to Araby, a Dublin bazaar. Infatuated by her beauty and the possibility of experiencing the wonderfully colourful bazaar, he naturally says yes and commits to buying her something, as she is unable to attend. Here Joyce shows the other outcome of taking chances on adventures, as the narrator is held up at home and arrives at Araby as it starts to close. All he sees is the remnants of colours and fading excitement. He is forced to return home with no gift for his new friend. He blames his disappointment on his father for coming home late, and is left wondering what could have been if only he had arrived minutes earlier.


Following the death of her mother, Eveline finds herself desperate to flee from her abusive father and the monotony of her household duties. Joyce provides her with an escape, as she falls in love with a sailor and agrees to elope to Buenos Aires. After nearly succumbing to her fear of the consequences of leaving her cruel father, she is convinced by the memory of her mother's sad and uneventful life, that she can escape that fate. She decides to meet her lover at the dock to board the vessel of their escape, illustrating that even the most powerful of conflicts can be overcome by courage and self-belief.

A Mother

As irritating as the over-bearing parent may be, they generally act out of too much love for their children. Kathleen's mother dedicates her life to ensuring that her daughter's piano concerts are the epitome of perfection. However she fails to see that these piano recitals are no longer her daughter's passion. Joyce tells the story from the mother's perspective, and scarcely mentions Kathleen's attitude towards her piano playing. The initially good intentions of her mother drove her to forget the original purpose of helping her daughter happily succeed, causing a rift between herself and Kathleen. Kathleen's mother's over-involvement results in various arguments with others organizing the recitals, forcing her to see that her inflexible and overbearing attitude was causing more harm than good.

The Dead

In a more upper-class setting than the previous stories, Gabriel and Gretta Conroy attend a dinner party at which Gretta becomes transfixed by a performance of a song previously sung to her by a former lover. Whilst staring out into a snowy graveyard, she gently recounts to her husband the heartbreaking story of Michael Fury who died after waiting outside her window in the cold. Joyce creates this still, quiet image of Gretta stuck in her own memory of Michael as she gazes out at the snowflakes sailing slowly down to the ground. She is captivated by a beautifully sad experience that she had the opportunity to live. Despite the hollowing ending, she is left with a memory that even after a lifetime, she would never wish to replace.

When faced with new opportunities, the idea of failure can sometimes be too daunting to wish to continue. It is often terrifying, and can tempt one to remain in their niche, comfortable and risk-free. But as Joyce demonstrates through his short stories, succumbing to the easiness of comfort will never as rewarding as excelling in an environment that challenges and excites.

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