Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Stepping Over Joyce's Paralysis: Evolution of Secondary Sources

My Final Paper

“The Sisters”

“There was no hope for me this time: it was my third stroke. Night after night I knew I was not long for this world. I kept waiting for the boy to come but he never did. I couldn’t blame him. I wouldn’t; I couldn’t.
My mind was clear; almost as it had been before the incident. I believed it was God’s way of saying he forgave me; I wanted it to be. What I had done warranted no forgiveness.
When Father O’Rourke left is when I felt the peace, the clarity. It was when I knew I was not long for this world. I hoped heaven would receive me.”

Wait . . . stop . . . this is not James Joyce’s story! The short story “The Sisters” from the collection Dubliners is actually told from the point of view of an unnamed boy. This boy had become friends with a priest, Father Flynn who had just passed away.
The boy had been waiting for his death but after the death the boy was didn’t know how to deal with the passing. This boy “wished to go in and look at him but [he] had not the courage to knock.”

The story is unique because Joyce does not give us all the information and leaves it to the audience to make conclusions. Parts of conversations are left unfinished and we are left guessing what was meant. An example is in the last line when Eliza, one of Father Flynn’s sisters, says “Wide-awake and laughing-like to himself. . . . So then, of course, when they say that, that made them think that there was something gone wrong with him. . . .”

So if this is the real story where does this other story come from? It is not written by James Joyce but by me. It is what we call fan fiction. There is a website dedicated to stories such as these, It is a site that people can recreate their own story based on another tale.

Researching in the digital age has changed rapidly over the last few years. The reason? It is because there are so many resources and information that we can look at by just using the Internet. Because of mediums like blogs, forums, and fan fiction literary criticism is moving towards more informal sources. Secondary sources are changing from the formal to informal, from inactive to interactive, and from unsocial to social and are just as legitimate as scholarly sources.

At the Start

During my research of James Joyce and his book Dubliners I did not restrict myself to just the library. I had many forms to gather my information. I would read blogs, go on forums, join discussions, and read fan fiction.

These may not seem like official scholarly sources and these sources teachers usually don’t accept when writing a formal research paper. Yet, these sources I was able to find out the same information, if not more, about James Joyce and Dubliners as if I had used official scholarly sources.

Maybe in formal writing secondary sources have remained relatively the same but informal secondary sources have sprung up everywhere today changing the ways that we do research and interpret works. People are writing blogs or joining forums to discuss the books that they have been reading. They are not scholars but some of them make the same points that scholarly papers do.

We research and write to understand. When we read we try to interpret and understand the words on the page (or that we have listened to). In order to understand we research, whether it is informal or formal. After we have done research we then try to create or write. By following this process our thoughts are able to mature and grow.

Informal Research

In my research I was able to contact several people about their readings of James Joyce. I felt like this was very useful in my research. One blog I came across was from a woman who actually lives in Ireland. It was interesting to see that her perspective on Dubliners changed as she spent more time in Ireland. She noted, just as James Joyce did, that people in Ireland do experience a sort of paralysis or at least a loyalty to their country and a reluctance to leave it.

Another blog Die Zeitschrift focus on the character of Father Flynn and notices that he has a “[desire] to confess something.” As I was reading this blog my eyes opened a little to Father Flynn’s little secret. I had been, at first, confused about the story of “The Sisters”. I couldn’t make heads or tails of it. Conversations were confusing and facts were missing.

Once I read the blog I went on a search to find more about Father Flynn and this sin that he believed he committed that caused him to be “sitting up by himself in the dark in his confession-box, wide-awake and laughing-like softly to himself.”

One website, The Modern World, wrote an article about Father Flynn and his ‘condition’. His symptoms suggested his crime was sexual perversion. He was driven mad by his own guilt and by the disease he contracted.

These sources are legitimate even if they don't have the stamp of scholarly attributes because they contribute. They contribute in an analytical and social ways. We are part of a big collaborative world and most information is within easy reach.

Formal Research

Just as I did informal research I was able to find information I needed from the approved scholarly sources. In an article by James Sullivan, he writes about a friend of James Joyce, Padraic Colum, who assisted the author in publishing Dubliners.

James Joyce wrote about things he knew. His characters were often based on people he knew and he didn't hide that fact. That was one of the reasons why it was so hard to publish Dubliners and some of his other works. For myself, I have a suspicion that the unnamed boy might be based a little on Joyce himself.

My reasoning is, after reading The Atlas of Literature, James Joyce went to Catholic school and learned lots. This priest, Father Flynn, is a representation of the Catholic Church. This little boy has learned so much from Father Flynn which is why he feels guilty of being free of him. I am not sure that James Joyce ever felt guilty about leaving the Catholic Church but he did acknowledge their help in his education. Just as the little boy becomes distant from his emotions, James Joyce has distanced himself from the church.

Another reason that he had a hard time getting his work published was because of the content. His stories were often a little inappropriate and made some people feel uncomfortable. James Joyce was creating something that had influenced his life, his time in Dublin. He was reproducing what he saw which is something we all do in an attempt at understanding.

Rob Tocalino remarks about James Joyce and his writing habits. James Joyce did not look kindly on the Dublin people. He wrote about situations and Dublin in a more negative light. Joyce believed that the people in Dublin were in a sort of paralysis, unable to really progress until they moved away from Dublin. The characters in his stories often wish to escape but few can really escape.

Fan Fiction

Just as I created the fan fiction about “The Sisters” to understand the story, we all participate in creation. I tried to put myself in the priest’s shoes. Tried to imagine what it would feel like to be dying. After reading some blogs and forums I was able to understand the character of Father Flynn.

I tried to imagine how he would be feeling right before his death. He would want redemption but after feeling guilty for so long he might think that forgiveness is beyond his reach. My version of the story may not be what James Joyce had intended but it allowed me to connect to the characters in a way that I had not before. It allowed for more interpretation.

As I was trying to find more fan fiction stories I came across Jude Mai’s story “James Joyce’s Araby Pastiche” which she wrote and posted to

“Araby” is about a boy who is infatuated with his friend’s sister. He has elevated her in his head and thinks being in love is this great thing. He is so head-over-hills that he offers to go to the bazaar, Araby, for her to get a gift. To him this market possess a “magical name” as if he is on a quest to some magical place for the one he loves. His illusion his shattered when he arrives and he realizes as the story closes that he is “a creature driven and derided by vanity.” The story drops off there and we are left to wonder about the boy and what happened to him afterwards. Did he go back to his crush? Did he grow out of his boyhood fantasies?

The story that I came across answers some of those questions that I had. In Jude Mai's story our young hero was just returning from Araby. As he was leaving the train station he spots the girl that he was infatuated with in the arms of another man.

She writes of the boy’s heart being crushed. But then at the end of her story the boy declares that it no longer matters because he is in love with someone else. I think it is an interesting take on the story of "Araby." The boy continues to go through these fleeting feelings for girls as if going to the bazaar had elicited no change in him.

These sites have enabled my reading of certain stories to alter and change. It gives the audience a fresh perspective on characters that they are familiar with and a chance to see how other people view and interpret the characters.

Nearing the End

Secondary sources whether they are informal or formal help us in our reading process. The secondary sources are evolving and moving away from the scholarly. The information that is shared on these sites are not taking away from knowledge but helping it to grow because of the many minds that are now able to share and exchange information.

When writing a research paper about James Joyce blogs may be helpful to refer to just as a fan fiction story. These informal sources are interpretations of the text just as an article and can be just as legitimate. Of course, informal sources cannot be the only source we use but a healthy mix of both will help with creating well-rounded paper.

Scholarly Works Cited

Sullivan, James P. "Padraic Colum's "James Joyce as a Young Man."" James Joyce Quarterly. Volume 45.3 (2008): 339-347. May 2008.

The Atlas of Literature. Ed. Malcolm Bradbury. London : New York : Don Mills, Ont.: London : De Agostini ; New York : Distributed in the U.S. by Stewart,, Tabori & Chang ; Don Mills, Ont. : Distributed in Canada by General Publishing Co, 1996. Print.

Tocalino, Rob. "James Joyce." Bookmarks 2011/05 2007: 14. Print.

Other Works Cited

Em, “Dubliners, by James Joyce.” C’est la Vie. January 9, 2011. Web. Retrieved May 23, 2011.

Phillips, E. K. “’Dubliners’ by James Joyce.” Die Zeitschrift. June 1, 2011. Web. Retrieved June 6, 2011.

Steinberg, Faith. “’The Sisters’ and the Case of the Broken Chalice.” The Modern Word. 2002. Web. Retrieved May 23, 2011. Web. 2002 Web. 2008

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