Home » Religion » Religion As A Captor

Religion As A Captor

A collection of short stories published in 1907, Dubliners, by James Joyce,
revolves around the everyday lives of ordinary citizens in Dublin, Ireland (Freidrich

166). According to Joyce himself, his intention was to “write a chapter of the
moral history of [his] country and [he] chose Dublin for the scene because the
city seemed to [b]e the centre of paralysis” (Friedrich 166). True to his
goal, each of the fifteen stories are tales of disappointment, darkness,
captivity, frustration, and flaw. The book is divided into four sections:
childhood, adolescence, maturity, and public life (Levin 159). The structure of
the book shows that gradually, citizens become trapped in Dublin society (Stone

140). The stories portray Joyces feeling that Dublin is the epitome of
paralysis and all of the citizens are victims (Levin 159). Although each story
from Dubliners is a unique and separate depiction, they all have similarities
with each other. In addition, because the first three stories  The Sisters,

An Encounter, and Araby parallel each other in many ways, they can be seen as a
set in and of themselves. The purpose of this essay is to explore one particular
similarity in order to prove that the childhood stories can be seen as specific
section of Dubliners. By examining the characters of Father Flynn in The

Sisters, Father Butler in An Encounter, and Mangans sister in Araby, I will
demonstrate that the idea of being held captive by religion is felt by the
protagonist of each story. In this paper, I argue that because religion played
such a significant role in the lives of the middle class, it was something that
many citizens felt was suffocating and from which it was impossible to get away.

Each of the three childhood stories uses religion to keep the protagonist
captive. In The Sisters, Father Flynn plays an important role in making the
narrator feel like a prisoner. Mr. Cotters comment that “… a young lad
[should] run about and play with young lads of his own age…” suggests that
the narrator has spent a great deal of time with the priest. Even in death, the
boy can not free himself from the presence of Father Flynn (Stone 169) as is
illustrated in the following passage: “But the grey face still followed me. It
murmured; and I understood that it desired to confess something. I felt my soul
receding into some pleasant and vicious region; and there again I found it
waiting for me”. The boy feels the need to get away from the priest, but this
proves to be impossible. When he ran away into his “pleasant and vicious
region”, the priest was still therehaunting him. In fact, even before the
narrator is thoroughly convinced that the priest is dead, he is worried that

Father Flynn will haunt him (Stone 169): “In the dark of my room I imagined
that I saw again the heavy grey face of the paralytic. I drew the blankets over
my head and tried to think of Christmas”. These passages convey the idea that
the boy was afraid of the priest and felt somewhat freed by his death. This is
further proven when the boy, after having seen the card announcing the death of
the priest, thinks it “strange that neither [he] nor the day seemed in a
mourning mood and [he] even felt annoyed at discovering in [him]self a sensation
of freedom as if [he] had been freed from something by [Father Flynns]
death”. This feeling of freedom suggests that the boy understood that he was a
captive of Father Flynn, and thereby, also a captive of the church. With the

Fathers death, perhaps the death of his captivity came as well. The idea of
religious bondage can be seen in An Encounter by examining the relationship
between the boys and Father Butler. When Leo Dillion is caught reading The

Apache Chief in class, “everyones heart palpitated” as Father Butler
frowns and looks over the pages. Shortly thereafter, the narrator claims that

“[t]his rebuke…paled much of the glory of the Wild West…But when the
restraining influence of school was at a distance [he] began to hunger again for
wild sensations…”. This passage demonstrates the control the church has over
the opinions and thoughts of the narrator. In addition, if Father Butler is
considered a symbol of the church, the fear felt by the students at the prospect
of his disapproval and the freedom they feel when the “restraining
influence” of the church was at a distance prove the suffocating nature of
religion. It is from this stifling existence that the narrator yearns to escape.

This is further illustrated when Leo Dillion doesnt appear for the ditch day
because he worries that they “might meet Father Butler or someone out of the
college”. Even though Father Butlers influence on the boys thoughts
dwindles when school lets out, he is always in their minds. His presence in
their thoughts, especially at time when they are planning an activity for which
they could be punished, is a parallel to the feeling of a sinner who worries
what Gods punishment will be. These passages prove captivity because the
purpose of ditching class was to escape the rigid and stifling world and to find
excitement in the unknown. However, even in the midst of the possibility of
freedom, the boys cant help but think of what would happen if Father Butler
found them. In Araby, although there is no clergyman, the theme of religious
captivity is still present in Mangans sister, who is a symbol of the Virgin

Mary. Just as a statue of the Madonna is lit from behind, on a pedestal, and
defined in shadow, Mangans sister is lit from a lamp behind a half-opened
door, while she waits on the steps for her brother to come inside, in the
shadows of dusk. Just like the Virgin Mary, Mangans sister is worshiped by
the narrator and therein lies the prison. “Her image accompanied me even in
places the most hostile to romance”. The protagonist in Araby is obsessed with

Mangans sister and can not escape seeing her image everywhere he goes. This
is further illustrated in the following passage: “I chafed against the work of
school. At night in my bedroom and by day in the classroom her image came
between me and the page I strove to read”. In addition the religious imagery
conjured by Mangans sister, the bazaar itself is also a religious symbol.

This is shown in the following excerpt from Harry Stones explanation of
symbolism in Araby: The interior of the building is like a church. The great
central hall, circled at half its height by a gallery, contains dark stalls, dim
lights, and curtained, jar-flanked sanctuaries. Joyce wants us to regard this
temple as a place of worship (Stone 175). In fact, even the narrator proves to
understand the religious symbolism when he says “I recognized a silence like
that which pervades a church after a service”. The narrators trip to the
bazaar is journey, but even here he can not escape the images of religion. Even
here he can not escape the image of the Virgin Mary. He sees a young saleslady
standing at a door of one of the stalls, flirting with two men. This is
paralleled by the image of Mangans sister standing in her doorway flirting
with the narrator. When he realizes the parallelism, he experiences an epiphany.

His worshiped angel is only a girl, just like the ordinary girl who stands
before him now (Stone 175). When he realizes how he has been deceiving himself,
his “eyes burned with anguish and anger”. When the boy realizes the hold the
church has had on him, he feels enraged and disgusted. Religious imagery and the
use of religion as a captor from which the protagonists yearn to escape can be
seen in each of the first three stories of Dubliners. Just as Father Flynn
haunts the boy in The Sisters, and the boys in An Encounter can not escape the
presence of Father Butler, the protagonist of Araby is obsessed with Mangans
sister and can not escape seeing her image everywhere he goes. All three
characters are haunted and all three desire freedom. In The Sisters, this
feeling is articulated in the protagonists feeling of freedom that came with
the death of Father Flynn. In An Encounter, it is expressed with his desire to”break out of the weariness of                                                 school-life for one day at least”. In Araby,
this craving for freedom is not realized until the narrators epiphany when he
finally understands the hold the church has had on him. Because the three
stories use religion as a prison, they can be seen as a set.


Friedrich, Gerhard. “The Perspective of Joyces Dubliners.”

Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism: Volume 35. Ed. Paula Kepos. Detroit: Gale

Research Inc., 1990. 166-169. Levin, Harry. “James Joyce: A Critical

Introduction.” Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism: Volume 35. Ed. Paula

Kepos. Detroit: Gale Research Inc., 1990. 159-164. Stone, Harry. ” Araby
and the Writings of James Joyce.” Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism: Volume

35. Ed. Paula Kepos. Detroit: Gale Research Inc., 1990. 171-177.

Cite This Work

To export a reference to this essay please select a referencing style below:

Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.

Leave a Comment