Symbols are objects, characters, figures, or colors used to represent abstract ideas or concepts.
Windows in Dubliners consistently evoke the anticipation of events or encounters that are about to happen. For example, the narrator in “The Sisters” looks into a window each night, waiting for signs of Father Flynn’s death, and the narrator in “Araby” watches from his parlor window for the appearance of Mangan’s sister. The suspense for these young boys centers in that space separating the interior life from the exterior life. Windows also mark the threshold between domestic space and the outside world, and through them the characters in Dubliners observe their own lives as well as the lives of others. Both Eveline and Gabriel turn to windows when they reflect on their own situations, both of which center on the relationship between the individual and the individual’s place in a larger context.
Dusk and Nighttime
Joyce’s Dublin is perpetually dark. No streams of sunlight or cheery landscapes illuminate these stories. Instead, a spectrum of grey and black underscores their somber tone. Characters walk through Dublin at dusk, an in-between time that hovers between the activity of day and the stillness of night, and live their most profound moments in the darkness of late hours. These dark backdrops evoke the half-life or in-between state the characters in Dubliners occupy, both physically and emotionally, suggesting the intermingling of life and d eath that marks every story. In this state, life can exist and proceed, but the darkness renders Dubliners’ experiences dire and doomed.
Nearly all of the characters in Dubliners eat or drink, and in most cases food serves as a reminder of both the threatening dullness of routine and the joys and difficulties of togetherness. In “A Painful Case,” Mr. Duffy’s solitary, duplicated meals are finally interrupted by the shocking newspaper article that reports Mrs. Sinico’s death. This interruption makes him realize that his habits isolate him from the love and happiness of “life’s feast.” The party meal in “The Dead” might evoke conviviality, but the rigid order of the rich table instead suggests military battle. In “Two Gallants,” Lenehan’s quiet meal of peas and ginger beer allows him to dwell on his self-absorbed life, so lacking in meaningful relationships and security, while the constant imbibing in “After the Race” fuels Jimmy’s attempts to convince himself he belongs with his upper-class companions. Food in Dubliners allows Joyce to portray his characters and their experiences through a substance that both sustains life yet also symbolizes its restraints.