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"The Sisters" James Joyce
Transcript of "The Sisters" James Joyce
Summary “The Sisters” is the first of Joyce’s short stories in the perspective of childhood.
The narrator of this story, a young and nameless boy, passes by the house of his friend, Father Flynn, whom he knows has his days numbered due to the third stroke he has recently had. This stroke contributed to the priests paralysis, a word which the boy repeats again and again explaining how it sounds peculiar to him. The boy looks for the reflection of two candles in the window of the priests house which would signify the death of his friend. Later, Old Cotter, a family friend, tells the boy of the priests death and everyone waits for his reaction which he is reluctant to show. The adults talk about the lessons the priest had taught the boy and the “high hopes” he had for him. The conversation the adults have back and forth about their opinions they have of the priest confuse the boy as well as make him angry. Later that night, the boy has a foreboding dream of the priest trying to confess something to him. The next day he sees a notice of the mans death and reminisces on the times he spent with him. He is later brought to the priests funeral and after is with his nanny and the priests sisters as the discuss the late priests life. They recall the last days of his life when he seemed to have gotten mentally sick as he dropped a chalice during mass and then was found laughing in a confessional. Throughout this short story, as well as the rest of the stories in Dubliners, many of the characters go through strange and unexplained events.
In “The Sisters”, Joyce never actually says what is wrong with the priest but the reader is left to figure it out with little hints that the boy leaves throughout the story.
The reader can see that the priest might have been mentally unstable as described when the adults found him laughing in a confessional box.
The narrator repeats the word “paralysis” again and again and says that it has a peculiar sound to him.
In the beginning of the story, the boy says he is looking for the two candles that would be placed near the corpse of Father Flynn. Candles have three symbolic parts which are significant in the Catholic religion: the wax or body is used to symbolize the Body of Christ, the wick is His soul, and the flame is His divinity. These three things may also symbolize the Holy Trinity, which is also another important aspect of the Catholic Church. Death is an obvious theme of this short story and also ties into the others in Dubliners as well.
The reader can see the interest Joyce has with connecting death to the mundane and repetitive lives of the people in these short stories who often live in suspended states between life and death.
“The Sisters” portrays the aftershock death can bring to those close to the deceased. The young boy in this story seems to not know how to react to the death of his friend, father Flynn.
Paralysis is a motif which is tied into all of the stories in the Dubliners. Joyce shows peoples inability to take definitive action. In reference to “The Sisters”, the word “paralysis” was often used to describe syphilis of the nervous system. Here, Joyce shows the words ambiguity. This discovery then leads the reader to understand the significance of the “maleficent and sinful being” and the sin of the priest. Symptoms of this STD include mental illness, neurological problems, and death.
Religion is another motif which is shown through the candles in the house of Father Flynn. Also, the fact that the priest could not keep a firm grip on the chalice and dropped it can point towards his impurity or disillusionment with religion. The consequences of the priests sin may have been the stroke, broken chalice, and death. The breaking of the chalice can signify breaking of something sacred. Windows in this short story seem to symbolize expectation as we see the boy walks past the priests house every night looking through the window for the candles to find out if he has passed.
Darkness based on Joyce’s interpretation, Dublin is never a happy or sunny place. Many of the events in these stories portray a gloomy and quite somber scene. This darkness can be tied to the death that occurs in this story as well.
Childhood is a prominent part of the way this story is understood by the narrator. The way he sees the priest and his actions were not the same as the way the adults saw him. Also, this may tie into the story of Stephen Dedalus in the beginning of Portrait. Both Stephen and this young boy experience events which they might see in their own ways that are different than that of the adults around them. Also, we can see the connection between Stephen and this boy with the way they both look into things that maybe a normal child would not (the peculiarity of the word “paralysis” to the young boy and the word “suck” with Stephen. Why was this story given the name "The Sisters"?