Genius. I do not use that word lightly. Yet Dubliners certainly earns Joyce this title, even if he had never gone on to write Ulysses. Easily the most accessible of Joyce’s works, this short story cycle serves as a “how-to” manual for crafting amazing stories. All readers of English should be made to read this volume.
Every story in Dubliners has some sort of epiphany or moment of enlightenment. Joyce actually coined the word “epiphany” as it is used in literature. He also leaves very important gaps, or gnomon, within his stories that simultaneously pull the reader in and force him to make the bridge from his own intuition and logic. Also, one of the major impetuses for this collection is the concept of paralysis. Joyce himself wrote that not only Dublin but all of Ireland was mired in what he called paralysis. Each story shows how this paralysis manifests itself in multiple ways.
“Araby,” Joyce’s most anthologized story, appears in this collection. Strangely, it is not my favorite, only because I gravitated to other stories that I found to be superior. “The Sisters,” the story that initiates the cycle, is of extreme importance and serves to orient the reader as to Joyce’s plan for the rest of the work–paralysis, gnomon, and simony. “A Little Cloud” and “Counterparts” are unbelievably wonderful at hitting the reader when he least expects it with the epiphanic equivalent of a Louisville Slugger. “The Dead,” which concludes the cycle, is not only the best of the collection but is heralded by many as one of the best examples of a short story ever rendered. I can only add my own assent to that opinion.
It would help the reader to know a little bit about Ireland around the turn of the twentieth century, Dublin, the Catholic Church, and a man named Parnell. Also, though it seems a minor detail, Joyce does not use quotation marks. Instead, he uses an emdash to introduce dialogue. It seems disconcerting to start, but by the second story you may find, as I did, that you actually prefer the emdash. Even if you never read A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Ulysses, or the nearly unreadable Finnigans Wake, you will have a working understanding of James Joyce. Believe me, you will be glad you read this important work from one of the greatest writers who ever lived.