Butler Journal of Undergraduate Research

Faculty Sponsor

Dr. Jeffery Longacre


Death, as a thematic and narrative motif, is of particular import to the Naturalistic literary approach. This is extremely evident in the work of James Joyce, on whom the Naturalist movement had a notable influence. Throughout his career Joyce utilized the subtext surrounding death in the father-son relationship to criticize Irish culture as it appears in his works. However, Joyce was not content to simply recreate a textbook interpretation of Naturalism. Joyce developed the core principles of the Naturalistic approach, starting with a basic and purely Naturalistic approach in his early writing; Joyce eventually managed to subvert and reinterpret the literary style that inspired his career.

In Joyce's earliest short story “The Sisters” (1914) he recounts the death of the defrocked priest Father Flynn from the perspective of a young boy to question the effects of the judgmental and unyielding nature of religion as Flynn is allowed to slip further into ill-health due to being excommunicated from the church. Joyce's work becomes all the more complex in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916) as he presents the subtleties of Simon and Stephen Dedalus's relationship, and in the process criticizes paternalism as it leads to Simon's failures and spiritual demise. Finally, in Ulysses (1922) he makes light of death itself as he presents the humorous and irreverent insight of Stephen's alternative father figure Leopold Bloom as he attends the funeral of Paddy Dignam.

In my paper I will examine death as it appears in these works spanning Joyce's career. In the process, I observe the effect of Joyce's treatment of death and paternalism, and how they, like his writing and interpretation of Naturalism, evolve throughout his career.