Published online by Cambridge University Press: 03 June 2021
Many readers share the recognition that the highly specified world of Dubliners threatens, in subtle and disturbing ways, to fade into ghostliness. The twilit, half-lit, street-lit, candle-lit, gas-lit, firelit settings are inhabited by shadows and silhouettes that remind us both of the insubstantial nature of these lives and also of their latent and repressed possibilities. These people are shades who have never lived, vicarious inhabitants of a universe ruled by others. Highly individuated, they are nevertheless exemplary types of a general condition in which individuality is dissolved. The city of Dublin – not just the place but also the cultural system that constitutes it – exercises an almost dogmatic authority over the people who inhabit it, yet what individuality they have best expresses itself in collusion with that authority. Determined by or derived from sources and resources they do not control, Dubliners have acclimatized themselves to a servitude they affect to resist. Their ‘identity’ may be second-hand, but they are sufficiently meek to be glad of it.
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