Tuesday, October 16, 2012
Some Thoughts on "A Painful Case" by Students Landry L., Connie T., and William B.
Willing isolation and Dublin in A Painful Case by Landry L., Connie T., and William B.
Often during the other stories we have read in Dubliners, we see characters face a paralysis in power of action, which often results in isolation. In Araby, the young protagonist feels disillusioned, or perhaps simply confounded, by an internal will to fail, of sorts, born of the national feeling of Ireland, and in particular, Dublin. Dublin seems to be a place where people feel that their dreams are unattainable, so these people sit by and remain passive forces in their lives. In Eveline, Dublin keeps the title character from identifying a path in which she could truly be happy, leaving her seeing options that will only leave her unfulfilled, causing her eventual paralysis and failure to choose one or the other. The same themes are seen in Boarding House, A Little Cloud, Counterparts, and others, and its important to note that for these later, older in age characters, the possibility of making an active choice to be happy becomes more and more remote, as though the weight of passive non-choices had piled on top of them throughout their extended years. For the young boy to fulfill his wishes in Araby, all he needs to do is buy a trinket; for Little Chandler in A Little Cloud, he must leave behind his family and start his life anew, perhaps facing social ostracism.
A Painful Case, however, is a turning point in the stories. Duffy, the protagonist, seems a bit more advanced in years than earlier characters, as seems to be implied by “his face, which carried the entire tale of his years” (this at least indicates that he is old in spirit), and is without family. This is because he is the first character in the stories we have read who actively works against his own happiness. Earlier characters had families because they just happened to end up with them; they’re not happy with them, but they’re stuck with the wife and kids nonetheless. Duffy, however, is a cold, closed man, who “never gave alms to beggars”, and lived almost like a studios monk. He begins to have an affair of ambiguous nature with Mrs. Sinico, but he cuts her out of his life once she seems too attached or affectionate towards him. This causes her to fall into depression and eventually she dies in a railway accident, which could potentially be read as suicide. She’s almost an older Eveline, seeking happiness which she hasn’t had but ultimately denied by the likes of Duffy, who “withheld life from her” and in a way, “sentenced her to death”.
Dublin also plays an interesting role. First, while on the subject of Mrs. Sinico’s death, it’s interesting to note that she, who dared to pursue happiness unlike the majority of characters in the collection, is killed by a train, a symbol of industrialization and perhaps, by extension, city life. More importantly, however, Dublin seems to change roles in this story. Instead of living in Dublin, Duffy lives “as far as possible from the city”; to be in such solitude as Duffy, with no friends or family, it seems necessary to escape Dublin, which constantly surrounds people with life and death and chaos. These traits of Dublin are portrayed more negatively in previous stories, but here they are admired. When Duffy feels totally isolated after hearing of Mrs. Sinico’s death, he “look(s) along the river towards Dublin, the lights of which (burn) redly and hospitably in the cold night”. Here, Dublin is presented in a positive light, a place teeming with life and where it is impossible to be alone. Of course, at the end of the story Duffy wishes to be numb and alone, and so he must “(turn) back the way he had come”, away from Dublin.
To respond to what Mr. Garza said about the ending of A Painful Case, with Duffy looking down upon the lovers: there’s something raw about Duffy seeing two lovers in the shadows, rather than a more exaggerated viewing of, for example, a family. The two lovers can be associated with the way Duffy views the city of Dublin at the end of this story, in that both are representations of life and vitality. As the lovers are “furtive”, they are almost certainly young, and this perhaps also reinforces the theme that the young are powerful, able to live actively and freely should they just pursue these ideals, while the middle aged characters we’ve seen so far have no such power of action, burdened as they are by careers and families, neither of which seem to be exactly what they wanted.