Document Type


Date of Award



James Joyce, Criticism and interpretation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


English, General Literature, and Rhetoric

First Advisor

Zack R. Bowen

Second Advisor

Robert Kroetsch

Third Advisor

John E. Vernon


To remark that images of Dublin are ubiquitous throughout the works of James Joyce is, of course, to state the obvious. In Dubliners, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, and Ulysses, the location of the action is carefully described, and the reader is presented with various views of Dublin that are remarkable in their detail and vividness. Each of Joyce’s characters is carefully situated in his ambience. We know where he is walking and what he is seeing and hearing. Rarely does the action ever move beyond the boundaries of the Irish capital. It is an ineluctable presence that impinges upon the internal, mental world of the protagonists. Even the isolated, rarified sphere of Stephen's mind reacts to the din of the Dublin streets. Clearly, these three works are about Dublin and city life as well as studies of individuals and they offer a complex analysis of man's experience in the modern city. Thus, the works provide an opportunity to study the nature of urban existence and to examine Joyce’s singular attitude about what is unique to life in the city.

Joyce’s study of urban life is distinguished by his awareness of the extreme complexity of the individual’s relationship with the city. Unlike many of the writers of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, Joyce was not an anti-urbanist convinced that the city was the primary symbol of the shallowness and ignobility of life in an industrialized world. He recognized that the individual’s response to the city is suffused with paradoxes and contradictions. Both repelled by and attracted to the urban environment, man regards this ambience with profound emotions that are often conflicting and ambivalent. He finds it to be a place of comfort and despair, freedom and entrapment, success and failure.

This sense of dualism encourages an understanding of the city which incorporates both the negative and positive aspects of city life. Such an attitude is expressed in the ancient vision of the two cities. In his Civitas Dei, Saint Augustine portrays life as a choice between the city of man and the city of God. Augustine’s terrene city lacks the unity of community that the spiritual city enjoys. The inhabitants of Babylon have turned their attention inwardly and are interested only in the extension of personal power or the ephemeral gains offered by material enhancement. The residents of Jerusalem, on the other hand, recognize their place in the community and thus discover a cohesion that is possible only by exercising generosity.

Joyce utilizes the metaphor of the two cities in his fiction. If one compares the three most famous works, the pattern of the spiritual journey is evident. In Dubliners, Joyce portrays a Babylon, a Dublin in which money is the prevailing force and isolation is the rule. In A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Stephen Dedalus experiences a “dark night of the soul” that culminates with his flight from the city. Finally, in Ulysses, Stephen returns to Dublin to find Bloom, and it is Bloom with his equanimity and tolerance, who points the way to a “new Bloomusalem.” Bloom, in the midst of the stagnation and frustration of modern life, rekindles the Utopian vision and argues for the possibility of a better future.