James Joyce

James Joyce

Who was Joyce? What did he write?


James Joyce was an Irish author, born in Dublin in 1882. His father changed and lost a series of jobs, so the family lived in worse and worse conditions over the years. In 1888 he was sent to a Jesuit college. In this time of his life, we have three main influences:

  • Jesuits
  • Irish political life
  • His father, who was more and more disillusioned with his life. Joyce will absorb this attitude.

Joyce graduated in Modern Literature in 1902, and, after his mother’s death, he lived with his father for a couple of years. Both of them lived in a precarious way, drinking too much.
This could have been Joyce’s whole life, but 1904 was a turning point: during this year, Joyce met Nora Barnacle. The woman will be his wife and companion for the rest of his life. The two left Ireland and moved to Pola, now in Croatia, then to Trieste, where they lived for some years.
In Trieste, Joyce wrote his first books, Dubliners and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, and he taught English. Among his students there was Ettore Schmitz, better known as Italo Svevo.

In 1914 Dubliners began to be published in instalments. The book didn’t obtain much success, but it got the attention of Ezra Pound, a very influent figure in the lives of different authors of the time, including Eliot. Thanks to Ezra Pound, Joyce will manage to publish A Portrait, also in instalments.

With the outbreak of the war, Joyce moved to Zurich, where he began to write Ulysses, his most important work, which will take 7 years to be completed. After the war, in 1920, he moved to Paris, where he completed Ulysses and started writing Finnegan’s Wake, his last work. Before the Second World War, he moved back to Zurich with his family. In Zurich Joyce died in 1941.

It is useful to know Joyce’s biography to analyze his works, as they reflect his personal development during his life.

  • Dubliners, the first of Joyce’s works, is about the decay and stagnant life in Dublin
  • A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is about an Irish young man, his growth to reach maturity, and his dedication to art. The main character here is Stephen Dedalus, the author’s alter ego, which is also present in Dubliners.
  • Ulysses, Joyce’s masterpiece, completed during seven years and published for the first time in Paris
  • Finnegans Wake, the last of Joyce’s works, even more complex than Ulysses.

Here we list the main topics in Joyce’s works:

  • The rejection of the Irish life. It is interesting to know that although Dublin is taken as the example of the paralysis, it is the set of all of the author’s works
  • The influence of other countries and traditions, as the author spent most of his life abroad, fist in Pola, then in Trieste, then in Paris.
  • The division between realism and symbolism. Joyce cannot be categorized in either movement, as in his works we find elements from both.
  • The experimentation, mainly the linguistic one. Joyce creates a new language, combining existing words, creating new ones, using unconventional syntax with no punctuation.
Main works

We use Ulysses as a turning point. In the previous works, the tecnique is that of realism, the plot is linear and detailed, the syntax is logic and it uses a spoken language.


The most important work of this time is Dubliners. It is made of fifteen stories, all written in 1905 but The Dead, which was written in 1907. the work is about the life in Dublin.
The stories represents different phases of life: we have infancy, adolescence, mature life, public life, and then The Dead, which is an epilogue.

An important feature of this book is the epiphany. This is a sudden revelation, the mooment in which a character’s experiences and thoughts bring him to suddenly understand something.

One of the best examples of the epiphany tecnique is found in The Dead. The story is made of two parts. in the first there is a party just before Christmas. Here we see the Irish society of the time: different religions, political ideas and generations. In the second part the protagonist, Gabriel, thinks about his life and the futility of human existence. The turning point between the two parts is an epiphany.

The main character gave a speech at the dinner, and he’s very proud about it, but once he gets back home with his wife, he notices that she is not happy, she’s crying. A song at the party made her think of a boy she knew and loved, and who died for her when he was 17.
This is the moment that changes Gabriel’s thoughts. From this momen on, we see his thought process, while he thinks about what happened, life, and its futility.


The second part of Joyce’s production begins with Ulysses. In this part there is much more experimenting in language and tecnique, while topics and sets remain the same.

Ulysses is a very complex work, it is about the life of Dublin on a single day: 16 June 1904. In this novel we have three main character, each of whom occupies a section of the book.

The first is Stephen Dedalus, the author’s alter ego, a character we also find in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.

Then, the second section is about Leopold Bloom, who wanders around Dublin, as Ulysses wandered around the Mediterranean, to get back home.

The third section is about Bloom’s wife, Molly Bloom. Her character makes a parallel with Penelope, Ulysses’ wife in the Odyssey.

The novel is made of 18 episodes, each referring to the Odyssey, to create a parallelism between the original Ulysses and Joyce’s. Joyces wants to tell us that, although the world has changed, his own Ulysses, Bloom, still has the ability to represent men, Mankind.

The main innovation of this novel is the tecnique of the stream of consciousness, which is used to represent the characters’ thoughts, which are not expressed out loud, so they don’t need to have a logical form.

A great example of this tecnique can be found in the last chapter of Ulysses, in Molly’s section.

Here we see Molly’s interior monologue, as she’s trying to fall asleep. In order to sleep, she counts the sheeps, then she thinks about the wallpaper in her previous house. This thoughts leads her to think of flowers, of how she wants to buy a cake, and then back to flowers. After that she thinks of nature, and of the moment when her husband asked her to marry him. This thought ends with the world “Yes”, which is the same that started the monlogue, creating a circular structure.

What seems the product of casual thinking is of course made up by the author, to get to the end of his novel, which is a catalogue of human experiences, and that ends as a circle, which has always been the symbol of perfection.

This was James Joyce! 🙂
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