Paralysis, and the Senses in Edibleness The word “epiphany’ derives from the Christian account of Chrism’s manifestation to the Gentiles as represented by the three Magi, so it is appropriate that James Joyce would use this term to describe the sudden awareness of the essence of an object, person, or situation. In Jockey’s novels, an epiphany is the moment in when all previous misconception or ignorance falls away to reveal the formerly unnoticed truth.
It is the task of Jockey’s characters to seek this clarity not from a divine source, UT rather in everyday situations that are at times uncomfortable or disappointing. Epiphanies are central to Edibleness, which is in essence a series of awakenings in fifteen different novellas. These various moments of insight and discernment can be read as a sequence of multiple objective epiphanies due to the fact that what materializes from the text is not only the revealing of the essence of the character, but also the revelation of the moral and intellectual paralysis of the city of Dublin itself.
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I posit that in Edibleness, all characters experience stimulation to one or more of he senses prior to the awareness of his or her predicament, which leads the character to recognize the emotional paralysis. In Edibleness, the characters’ vision is of such importance that the other senses such as taste, hearing, smell, and touch seem to carry little if no significance until the key moment Just before an epiphany.
Furthermore, the characters seem to be visually hypnotized by the city, which allows them to be controlled by a force that numbs their other senses. Jockey’s intent to present Dublin as a city whose inhabitants are trapped in a state of paralysis is confirmed in a letter he wrote to Constantine Curran, eying the goal of Edibleness is “to betray the soul of that hemophilia, or paralysis which many consider a city’ (Lehmann, 55). Edibleness exposes what goes on behind closed doors and pulls the reader down into a labyrinth of despair and confusion.
Even the opening sentence in the very first story, “There was no hope for him this time,” (1) gives the impression of loss and misery that maintains the characters in a state of immobility beginning with childhood and culminating with mature life. The inhabitants of Dublin city are unable to see themselves for who they really re, which is interesting considering vision plays such a crucial role in the development of many of the characters.
The first instance of this is notable in “The Sisters” when the boy looks up at the window of Father Flynn: “Every night as I gazed up at the window I said softly to myself the word paralysis,” (1). Initially, simply knowing that Father Flynn is dead is not enough to free him from his sense of obligation to the priest, and perhaps his muttering of the word “paralysis” is more telling of the situation in which the boy finds himself rather than the paralysis Father Flynn had been experiencing during his final days.
While at first the boy is mesmerism’s by the mystery of the priest’s religious rituals, it is not until after Father Flan’s death that he finally gains a sense of freedom when he owlishly other senses to be triggered. His dream of the “smiling” priest (2) disappeared after Annie allowed him to see the corpse and he was able to truly experience the man for the first time: “There he lay, solemn and copious, vested as for the altar… His face was very truculent, grey and massive, with black cavernous nostrils and circled by scanty white fur.
There was a heavy dour in the room – the flowers” (5). The combination of eyeing Father Flynn up close and the strong smell of the flowers precedes the boys impending epiphany and is furthered by him tasting the sherry and listening to the incomplete sentences and inaccurate speeches of the women around him. The result of the stimulation of the boys senses allows him to realize that he is experiencing a sort of paralysis by being trapped in the room with adults who are ignorant of the real circumstances surrounding Father Flan’s death.
In “Arab,” Joyce continues his Journey through the struggles of childhood, this time revealing a boys disappointment with self-delusion. In this tale, the darkness of the landscape and the stinging cold air are Juxtaposed with Mange’s sister, who is the only source of light and hope in the story. Joyce describes her figure as “defined by the light of the half-opened door,” (16) and it is because of her that the boy finds himself experiencing love for the first time. Here we can again see Jockey’s emphasis on vision when the boy says, “My eyes were often full of tears (l could not tell webby” (16).
While this could be attributed to a flurry of hormones, it is also telling of the boys view of the world in visual terms. Once the promise to buy something at the bazaar for Mange’s sister has been made, he wrestles with his doubt at his ability to fulfill his obligation. Upon arriving at Arab, he is disappointed when he discovers a deserted marketplace, saying “l recognized a silence like that which pervades a church after a service,” (19) and hears “the fall of the coins” (19).
Due to this sensory stimulus, the boy experiences an awakening moment, his epiphany, where his imagined world shatters, revealing a reality of broken dreams, heartache, and disillusionment that marks the end of his adolescent stage. Another unmistakable, albeit depressing, example of the relationship between epiphany, paralysis, and the senses can be found in “Beeline,” one more of Jockey’s tragic figures in Edibleness. Beeline, like the rest of the citizens of Dublin, is imprisoned by the city’s moral, spiritual, and intellectual paralysis, but unlike the other characters, she is offered a chance to flee her life of servitude.
What sets Beeline apart from the boy in “The Sisters” and “Arab’ is that she is quite aware of the world in which she lives and is able to see the differences between her dismal fife and the promise of a new beginning with her lover, Frank. At the beginning of the story, her senses are fully functioning: she is alert and has the opportunity to escape the stifling existence of life in Dublin, but she does not take it. The ubiquitous dust that seems to penetrate all areas of her life is suffocating, from its presence in her nostrils to the dust that covers the furniture (20).
The dust is as unavoidable as the paralysis of Dublin itself, and doubt begins to overtake her plans as the moment to leave approaches: “Her time was running out but she continued to sit by the window, meaning her head against the window curtain, inhaling the dour of dusty cretonne” (22). The combination of listening to the music of a street organ and smelling the cretonne results in Beeline’s epiphany that she must leave Ireland and seek out a life abroad with Frank. Unlike some of the earlier characters in Edibleness, Beeline experiences more than one epiphany.
The “long mournful whistle” (23) of the boat signaling its departure triggers her second realization that she is unable to leave her home, and her “distress awoke a nausea in her body and she kept moving her lips in silent rarer” (23). As she experiences sensory overload, she essentially shuts down, unable to cope with the impending voyage into the unknown. In the final sentences of the story, Joyce compares Beeline to a helpless animal and again returns to the eye and the significance of sight as the Edibleness’ primary method to experience the world: “Her eyes gave him no sign of love or farewell or recognition” (23).
After analyzing this last sentence, I was struck by the similarities to the ending of “Arab’ where the boy sees himself as “a creature driven and derided by vanity’ (19) and his eyes “burned tit anguish and anger” (19). These characters are incapable of rebelling against the paralyzing power of the city and are ultimately left to conceal their emotions, visible only through the passion, or the lack thereof, in their eyes. The theme of paralysis is once again repeated in “A Little Cloud,” and this time the epiphanies that occur have to do with Little Chandler’s realization that he cannot blame anyone but himself for his current situation.
In “Metaphors of the Narration/ Metaphors in the Narration: ‘Beeline,” John Paul Requiems points out Little Chandler’s inorganic to his environment: “While Little Chandler ignores his present physical surroundings and their past, the narrator turns them both into striking, rhythmical language” (80). Little Chandler’s habit of walking quickly through the streets of Dublin is forced so as not to indulge his senses in his surroundings. In this way, the title “A Little Cloud” can also apply to the cloudiness of Little Chandler’s mind and the paralysis of his character that does not allow him to form his own identity.
Little Chandler is prone to passively gazing out his office window and experiencing a gentle melancholy’ (44) that is reminiscent of the feeling of imprisonment in “Beeline. ” Upon entering a bar where he is to meet his friend, Gallagher, his vision is temporarily compromised due to the “shining of many red and green wine- glasses” (47). This serves as a signal to the reader that Little Chandler, like so many other citizens of Dublin, sees life through blurry eyes.
His meeting with Gallagher allows him to temporarily escape the paralysis of life in Dublin by admiring his friend’s accomplishments, but ends with Little Chandler’s understanding that Gallery’s lifestyle is tasteless and superficial. While at first this makes him feel superior to his friend, his initial happiness turns into frustration when he decides that he deserves more out of life. Little Chandler’s ultimate epiphany, however, begins when he fixates on his wife’s eyes in a photograph and feels a sense of remorse for the decisions he has made in his life.
He feels a need to escape, like Beeline, and leave his wife and child behind for something new and better. Once at home, the poetry he begins to read mixes with the anguished cries of his son and he explodes with pent-up anger and rustication, unleashing all of his fury onto his innocent infant. The shame Little Chandler feels about his unproductive life is revealed, in typical Ocean fashion, in the final sentence: “He listened while the paroxysm of the child’s sobbing grew less and less; and tears of remorse started to his eyes” (54).
Here again Joyce shifts his focus to the eyes, and this is where Little Chandler realizes that he is trapped between his incomplete identity and the social expectations of society. His tears of remorse are not due to the fact he screamed at his child, but rather at knowing that e is a “prisoner for life,” (54) paralyzed by his own personal and professional failures. The underlying message of the novel could apply to any metropolitan city; it is not limited to Dublin.
Although all of the main characters in Edibleness experience an epiphany, this moment of clarity does not guarantee a break from the cycle of paralysis, which leaves the reader with a sense of ambiguity. The epiphany that occurs from the senses being awakened is dependent upon the character taking action. Joyce chooses to stifle this action, allowing his characters to remain caught in web of frustration extending from the uneducated, working class all the way up through the wealthier upper class.