Maturity ("A Painful Case")

A Painful Case explores the issues of Life vs. Paralysis raised in Eveline, but Joyce is looking further on, at the moment when his characters realise their own dissatisfaction in a particular routine, but are unable to do anything to change that. Mr Duffy, like Eveline, is an isolated figure, living "as far as possible from the city of which he was a citizen" with "neither companions nor friends, church nor creed". Joyce takes this further, to say that "he lived at a little distance from his body, regarding his own acts with doubtful sideglances". Duffy's objectivity is a symptom of his extreme self-consciousness which leads him to fear any kind of emotional engagement with life: "every bond, he said, is a bond to sorrow".

Yet his objectivity is not honest. "The strange impersonal voice" which insists "on the soul's incurable loneliness" is essentially a defence mechanism against his fear. He is therefore, a very vivid example of the Modernist concept of the anti-hero, unable to act out of his fear of action. As the story develops, the reader is made to sympathise with his tragedy, for his forced emotional sterility becomes a source of deep and penetrating suffering and subsequent knowledge.

Though not a Catholic, Duffy's crisis is also born of religion, in that it is born of the conflict between his desires and his sense of morality. His conclusion after telling Mrs Sinico that they must not see each other any longer is simple: "Love between man and man is impossible because there must not be sexual intercourse and friendship between man and woman is impossible because there must be sexual intercourse". He expresses his fear of base instincts because he knows they will lead him to go against his cultured sense of right and wrong. His initial reaction to the circumstances of Mrs Sinico's demise is also a condemnation of desire. She is "unfit to live, without any strength of purpose", "one of the wrecks on which civilisation has been reared".

But that is only the voice of his intellect. Duffy has already felt the exaltation of "this union"; experienced the way it "wore away the rough edges of his character, emotionalised his mental life". He has believed that through her eyes, he could "ascend to an angelic stature". In short, Duffy has felt the grace of love and is unable to dispel it as easily as he had convinced himself. Once she is cemented in his consciousness as a thing of the past, cast irrevocably by death, her memory becomes all the more intense. He realises that his insistence on doing "what seemed to him best", had ultimately "sentenced her to death", and the guilt which he feels shatters his "moral nature", gnaws "the rectitude of his life". He realises his culpability; that "one human being had seemed to love him and he had denied her life and happiness:... sentenced her to a death of shame". And his guilt in shattering the illusion of his morality, makes him, for the first time feel his own loss: "he was outcast from life's feast". In this story Joyce makes his most passionate defence of the importance of human relations. Feeling his abuse of love, Duffy becomes painfully aware of life's futility. He was condemned to "be lonely until he, too, died, ceased to exist, became a memory - if anyone remembered him".

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