Short Story

Let’s Discuss — The Dead by James Joyce

He longed to recall to her those moments, to make her forget the years of their dull existence together and remember only their moments of ecstasy. For the years, he felt, had not quenched his soul or hers. Their children, his writing, her household cares had not quenched all their souls’ tender fire. In one letter that he had written to her then he had said: “Why is it that words like these seem to me so dull and cold? Is it because there is no word tender enough to be your name?

Honestly, I’m having a difficult time trying to piece together my thoughts on this short story…maybe it’s because I have very few thoughts on it.

I have never quite understood the hullabaloo about James Joyce. I read an excerpt of Dubliners in college and was bored to tears. And here I am, finished reading The Dead, the last story in Dubliners and once again–bored to tears. So instead of me focusing on how I was bored to tears (which would be boring) I’ll explore why I was bored (less boring maybe?)

Is it my inability to connect to the Irish experience? My ignorance of Dublin society circa 20th century? I can’t call it, but I highly doubt it. I’m more inclined to believe it has something to do with Joyce’s writing style. Not necessarily his modernist roots; emphasis on the subjective and the consciousness. But rather the fact that his writing lends itself to the experimental reader. And I am not an experimental reader.

What do I even mean–experimental reader? I guess I mean those readers that are open to interpreting and deconstructing every mundane “avant-garde” detail. When you read The Dead, you’re probably wondering what details I’m even referring to. On the surface it seems like an innocent story set around a winter holiday, where a social gathering of sorts evokes sad memories. And that’s primarily what I, the non experimental reader took from it. But it’s not what Joyce intended.

Rereading certain sections leads me to believe The Dead isn’t actually about lost romantic love or dead lovers. Allusions*, symbols, epiphanies, and Gabriel Conroy’s narrative shifts suggest it has something to do with year’s change, generation’s change, country’s change and how the crossing of all this change affects the heart, mind and soul.

But that’s the wannabe experimental reader part of me drawing these conclusions. Again, it’s hard to say what this story is about because I found it extremely difficult to care enough to dig deeper into the meaning**…It’s faux open-ended, haha. I don’t know. I just don’t know. You ever heard  the saying: music for musicians? This is writing for writers (and experimental readers)

*The following link only scratches the surface of how James Joyce uses Allusion in his writing. Ctrl +F “The Dead” to see Musical Allusion in The Dead

**At this point I’m not open to reading more James Joyce, but I’m always open to hearing other explanations. What is the meaning of The Dead?

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Let’s Discuss — Pierre and Jean and Selected Short Stories by Guy de Maupassant

Let’s start with some fun facts about the author:

  • Gustave Flaubert was his mentor.
  • He has written over 300 stories
  • He was the child of an unhappy marriage.
  • He was a naturalist.
  • He contracted syphilis and died in a sanitarium at the age of 43.
  • He is considered to be a father of the modern short story.

Interesting, right?

The nineteen short stories included in this collection are all written and translated very well. Maupassant precisely writes stories of love, society, rivalry, adultery; all filled with an array of darker human emotions: lust, jealousy, fear, guilt, hate, shame.

His novel Pierre and Jean is a quintessential example of simple and realistic writing. The short novel describes a typical sibling rivalry enhanced by the discovery of a mother’s infidelity and consequently, the illegitimate standing of a son and the wedge driven between brothers. While this is the leading story, it was not one of my favorites. I preferred The Roque Girl for its sadness, Marroca for its lightness, and Mad?, for its disturbing turn.

My friend, there are two tortures on this earth that I hope you never experience: lack of water and lack of women. Which is more horrible? I don’t know. In the desert, a man would do anything, however infamous, for a glass of cold, clear water. What wouldn’t he do in certain coastal towns for a fresh, healthy girl? There’s no shortage of girls in Africa, far from it: they’re in plentiful supply. But to continue my comparison, they’re as dangerous and tainted as the foul water of a well in the Sahara.

The one story I was really looking forward to, although I couldn’t pinpoint why, was Le Horla. And it wasn’t until after I read it that I remembered ( years ago, a discussion on Don Quixote’s sanity brought up Maupassant) It kind of makes sense now. Syphilis can make a person go crazy. This story of paranoia and clepto-vampires that will steal your breath, milk and peace of mind is odd, to say the least. But I don’t know that he was crazy when he wrote it…I felt the same way about Cervantes. I think Le Horla is an accurate portrayal of teetering over the edge.

I can easily see how his writing influenced generations of American and European writers. I don’t want to say he perfected a formula for his stories, but he was very successful in writing solid stories by exposing what he observed in the everyday, mixing in a little drama and including a ‘surprise’ ending.