Irish Literature Paper
Olivia Barragree Mr. Green Irish Literature 3 17 February 2013 Irish Love In 20th Century Ireland, the practice of marriage remained very strict due to the religious standards of the time. The majority of the Irish population remained strictly Roman Catholic while a small population in the north remained Protestant. The Roman Catholic view on marriage remains to be that marriage should stay within the religion and be life-long, or until death due you part.
With divorce removed as an option for the women of the time, and the expectation that a woman would get married earlier in life, it became no surprise that many women became unhappy with their love lives. James Joyce’s Dubliners, a collection of short stories, tells the sad love stories of man Irish women of the time. These stories prove that women, whose only goal becomes to get married like society told them to do so at the time, will end up ultimately stuck in a lifelong pursuit of happiness in religious love that drives them to desperation.
One of the youngest love stories in the book presents itself in the story of “Eveline”. In this story Eveline, a teenage girl, finds herself struggling to make her next move in life. She longs for the love of Frank, her sailor, but feels conflicted about what her relationship with him entails. Eveline does not have an easy home life, which makes her decision to leave with her lover all the more difficult. Eveline lives and breathes the poverty stricken life of many Dubliners, and for her this remains familiar and tradition. Running away with a sailor to a faraway land would not be approved of by anyone in the town of Dublin.
Her longing to get married and have a normal life drives her to make plans to leave the country and elope. At first she believes that it will be a good thing when she says, “Then she would be married—she, Eveline. People would treat her with respect then” (21). Eveline believes that getting married will be the answer to all of her problems because traditionally marriage would be the only thing that should matter to a woman in life. In this time, getting married meant sacrificing everything about your previous life in the pursuit of happiness within someone else’s life.
The difference in Eveline’s story becomes that she has so many others depending on her already, and to totally give up her previous life would be a gigantic sacrifice. Eveline has many younger siblings who rely on her as a stand in mother, due to the fact that her mother had passed a few years before. Eveline must help also to provide for the family because her father has little drive and spends most of his time drinking and abusing the children. With so many people counting on her the decision to leave and do what most women of her age would do becomes even harder.
In her time of need Eveline, “prayed to god to direct her, to show her what was her duty” (23). Eveline holds faith in God, as most Irish did at the time, and her decision would be made by what she thinks God would most likely approve of. Although Eveline’s religion would approve of marriage, in this instance her marriage would take her away from the people who keep her within the religion. An elopement at the time would have been frowned upon, and although Eveline loved Frank she knew that God would not approve of what she was doing.
Her pursuit of happiness was a desperate attempt to get married and escape the life she lived. Although Eveline did not follow the path that most women would have, it becomes clear that women of the time were pressured to marry and sacrifice everything for the man they chose. Eveline’s lover would not have been the ideal choice for typical happiness for the Dublin woman, and this restriction set up by the church drives Eveline to stay where her beliefs and heritage are deeply rooted. Eveline will spend her life pursuing a happiness that cannot exist with the restrictions set in place upon the people within Dublin.
In the next story of young love, “The Boarding House”, we come across a woman raising her two young adult children in a boarding house. Ms. Mooney, the woman, went through a horrible separation after being trapped in an abusive marriage with a drunkard for several years, and this very relationship has left her on her own to fend for her family with the profits from the boarding house. Ms. Mooney is ostracized by many in the society, and many believe she was wrong to leave her marriage and they criticize her attempt to run her own business. Ms.
Mooney’s young daughter remains young and generally happy in life, but she seems to be very flirtatious with most the men who live in the boarding house. Her mother at first tries to eliminate this problem by sending Polly to work in the city, but as time passes she slowly lets her move back into the boarding house. Ms. Mooney sees a relationship beginning to develop between Polly and a man who would lose his reputation if people were to find out about the affair, but instead of trying to put an end to the relationship she monitors as if she is waiting for something to happen between them.
With the relationships before she had always drove Polly away from the men, but Ms. Mooney, “knew that the young men were only passing the time away: none of them meant business” (40). She knew that this man would feel responsible for his actions, and if he tried to run away from his problems, his employer would surely fire him because his boss of thirteen years was a great Catholic wine merchant. Due to the religion and social opinion of the time the man is forced into his decision of marrying Polly. Ms. Mooney believed that, “For her, only one reparation could make up for the loss of her daughter’s honour: marriage” (40).
Even after Ms. Mooney had to suffer through the worst possible marriage, she still wishes for the marriage of her daughter. This may seem surprising to modern views, but at the time it was better to be married and miserable than single. The religious dominance of the time forced many young couples like Polly and Mr. Dorian in to marriage that would most likely result in an unhappy life. When we come across the sad story of “A Painful Case” this is where the social pressures of the time really come in to play.
The main character of this short story, Mr. Duffy, is a man who, “wished to live as far as possible from the city of which he was a citizen and because he found all the other suburbs of Dublin mean, modern, and pretentious” (70). This man hates all that was Dublin of the time because he believes that the people maintained certain ideas and were fairly mean about the way in which they judged others opinions. This man believed that, “No social revolution would be likely to strike Dublin for some centuries” (72).
This statement of this one man’s opinions shows that many believed that Dublin would always have the same mindset about social issues even if modernism would come to the city life. Dubliners were people attempting to move forward, but who were held back by social and religious customs. This thinking becomes challenged when Mr. Duffy meets a woman who will soon become his intellectual companion, Mrs. Sinico, whom remains a married woman. When the relationship begins they talk about things such as philosophy or books, but as time goes on it becomes clear that some sort of intimacy will be involved. Mrs.
Sinico lives a very sad life with her husband who works as a merchant. This man does not devote any time to his family or wife and no longer feels any sort of love to this woman. Their relationship has lost its purpose, but due to the standards of society of the time they must stay together even if she and Mr. Duffy were better suited for each other. When Mr. Duffy and Mrs. Sinico’s relationship escalates to a touch of a hand to a cheek one night they realize that what they do will bring them social ostracism, so , “They agreed to break off their intercourse: every bond, he said, is a bond to sorrow” (73).
By breaking off the connection between the two, Mr. Duffy believes he will be doing the right thing because it will eliminate the futile longing they have for one another. The part that he neglects to see becomes the fact that sorrow will remain in Mrs. Sinico’s relationship with her husband. Mr. Duffy’s speak immense truth in the life of Mrs. Sinico because every bond she tries to form with men leads her to immense sorrow. This sorrow becomes her ultimate demise as the pain becomes too much for her and she makes the choice to commit suicide by jumping in front of a newly built tram.
Mr. Duffy reads about the suicide in the paper one night as he sits at the diner alone, and at this point he is stricken with immense distain for the woman who killed herself. Mr. Duffy, in an attempt to deal with the pain of loss begins to try to blame Mrs. Sinico and become angry at her for killing herself because she was no longer happy without him. Mr. Duffy becomes filled with immense guilt and must find a way to cope. The sorrow suddenly hits him though when he says, “One human being had seemed to love him and he had denied her life and happiness” (77).
He feels as though the death was his fault and that he should have saved her from suffering through her unhappy life, but due to the social attitude of the time he made the wrong decision. He left this woman to suffer in a life that was most likely chosen due to a younger woman’s desperation to get married and follow the practice of so many other women of the time. These social practices of marriage left her searching for a way to happiness that she could never have. Her marriage that she could not escape trapped her from the outside world which had the potential to make her happy.
The story of “The Dead” comes at the very end of Dubliners which represents a very sorrow filled ending for the book. This story begins with a very vibrant and exciting dinner party, but when the party ends and Gabriel, the main characters goes home with his wife, the sadness really settles in. At the party Gabriel had found his wife immensely attractive and wished greatly to rekindle the love he believed they once had for each other. At the party a guest sings a love song that leaves, Gretta, Gabriel’s wife frozen in thought which makes Gabriel believe that she too thinks of the two of them together once again.
The truth sets in though when the couple returns to a hotel where they will be staying for the night. Gabriel, in an attempt to spark some love in their relationship asks his wife what she thought of the song, but to his surprise she tells a very sad story. Gretta tells the story of her deceased lover whom her family would not let her be with. She tells him of the great passion they shared and how the young man had died a month after she had gone off to study at a convent. At a loss for words, Gabriel thinks about how, “It hardly pained him now to think how poor a part he, her husband had played in her life” (151).
Gabriel gives up on finding love for his wife once again, and he now realizes that she does not love him either. These two people remain trapped by the bond of marriage and the fear of being socially unaccepted through divorce. This story of a love where a man had died for his love of Gretta makes Gabriel realize that, “He had never felt like that himself towards any other woman, but he knew that such a feeling must be love” (152). When young Gretta tells the story of her lover’s death she says that her leaving had killed him, and that he had died for sake of loving her.
In response to her loss of her chance at happiness she had married Gabriel in an attempt to replace that love, but to also do the sensible thing of the time. Gabriel and Gretta were forced together, not by choice, but by the expectations people had placed on young people of the time. When they met they had felt a mutual longing for happiness in love, and this feeling had convinced them that they had love for one another. Deep inside, Gabriel realizes this fact and as he watches the snow fall outside he begins to feel a longing to escape Ireland and move westward.
In the west ideas were new and people were not looked down upon for their sacrilegious actions or disbelief. At the very end of the story Gabriel talks about the snow that falls outside, and references a newspaper article that says, “Snow was general all over Ireland” (152). He then says, “It was falling, too upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked on the crooked crosses” (152). One of the most cold and lifeless things found in the story, the snow, represents the lack of life within the religious communities of Ireland.
Too many people of the time had dedicated their lives to pleasing the church and the social standards it set for its followers. This dedication had made many of them unhappy or bereft of meaning in life. The people within this story look for a way to find love and happiness, but in the end they realize that they cannot obtain it where they remain. Throughout the many sad stories of Dubliners the reader can see that the institution of marriage plays a major role in the unhappiness of many of the characters within the short stories.
The institution of marriage when ruled by a church’s strict belief system can be very harmful to a healthy relationship. The characters who marry always seem to become trapped by their marriage because they know that they can never escape it in the future. This longing to escape the social standards set for these couples leaves them in a pursuit of something that will never be reached. Without a trapped feeling surrounding them, the pressure to have a perfect marriage would be diluted and prove much more effective than a marriage kept out of fear of religious persecution.