A Painful Case by James Joyce

A Painful Case - James JoyceIn A Painful Case by James Joyce we have the theme of loneliness, isolation, guilt, order and paralysis. Taken from his Dubliners collection the story is narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator and very early on in the story the reader realises that Joyce, through the use of colour, is highlighting to the reader how lonely the main character, James Duffy’s life is. In his description of Duffy’s room, Joyce appears to focus on two main colours, black and white. This is significant as it symbolically suggests to the reader the lack of colour that exists in Duffy’s life. The reader is also made aware of the repetition that exists for Duffy. He goes to work every day, has his dinner in the same place and returns home to his lodgings after work is finished. This cyclical pattern or continued repetition suggests a paralysis for Duffy, similar to the paralysis that is felt by Maria in Clay and Farrington in Counterparts, two other stories from Dubliners.

It is also noticeable that the trigger for the possibility of change in Duffy’s life comes through his meeting of Mrs Sinico. However any chance he has off changing are thwarted by his inability to accept Mrs Sinico’s affection towards him. Duffy cannot overcome the fact that she is a married woman and as result of her act of spontaneity and holding his hand to her cheek, Duffy breaks off any engagement with her. It is only several years later when he is reading of Mrs Sinico’s death that Duffy begins to realise, not only how lonely she was but how lonely his life is too.

It is also significant that despite Duffy being aware of how unhappy he was in his life (prior to meeting Mrs Sinico), when he does have the opportunity of happiness, he steps away from it. Both Duffy and Mrs Sinico shared a similar unhappiness or loneliness and how unhappy Mrs Sinico really was is noticeable by the fact that after Duffy rebuked her, she took to alcohol to comfort herself. There is also a noticeable lack of empathy within Duffy for other people. First he cannot empathize with the workers from the Irish Socialist Party and their concerns about their wages. Also it is significant that when Duffy first reads of Mrs Sinico’s death, he feels not for her but for himself, considering himself to have been foolish in the first place to have shared his thoughts with her.

However Duffy’s lack of understanding of Mrs Sinico’s position shifts while he is walking in the Phoenix Park. He not only feels guilty about how he treated Mrs Sinico but he begins to understand how difficult her life must have been. It is while he is in the park that Duffy realises that Mrs Sinico’s  life must have become unbearable for her after he stopped meeting her. This epiphany or awareness from Duffy however is short lived. Rather than it being the impetus to bring change to his life by the end of the story the reader realises that there will be no change for Duffy. He is to remain as paralysed or as lonely as he was at the beginning of the story. This lack of movement or advancement by Duffy is significant as it is the second time in the story that he misses an opportunity to change his life. The first opportunity arose when Mrs Sinico held his hand to her cheek. There was a possibility then for Duffy to change his life, to defeat his loneliness and find some type of happiness in the company of another person, however he did not take advantage of this opportunity.

To have conducted an affair with Mrs Sinico would have been against how Duffy views life. Everything needs to be in place, to be ordered, or structured correctly for Duffy. Joyce uses symbolism in the story to highlight to the reader how important order is to Duffy. The books in the book case in his room are placed in an order. Also the reader learns that Duffy, ‘abhorred anything which betokened physical or mental disorder.’ Duffy’s belief in order is significant as it further suggests to the reader the idea of a routine, of things being done a particular way or having their place. Duffy’s inability to deviate from this order would suggest a continued paralysis.

Joyce again uses colour (brown), as he does in other stories in Dubliners, to symbolize the idea of decay or paralysis. The hazel stick (brown) which Duffy utilises when he goes walking is an obvious example of this symbolism. Another example would be the beer and biscuits that Duffy eats every day for his lunch, again Joyce utilising the colour brown to suggest to the reader the idea of paralysis or of repetition. The reader is aware that Duffy has the same meal every day, there is no change. Also the newspaper that Duffy is reading when he notices the article on Mrs Sinico’s death is buff (yellowish brown) in colour.

The most striking thing about the story is that despite being aware of how lonely he actually is, Duffy by the end of the story does not change. Rather he begins the story in the same position he started it, alone and lonely. And as previously mentioned, Duffy’s continued inaction and inability to change would suggest not only is Duffy to remain lonely but he is to remain isolated.

Cite Post
McManus, Dermot. "A Painful Case by James Joyce." The Sitting Bee. The Sitting Bee, 6 Jul. 2014. Web.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *