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The title of this volume refers to its critical strategy: one essay is devoted to each of the fifteen stories of James Joyce's Dubliners, with two readers responding to each story. Vicki Mahaffey, the volume's editor, co-authored the introduction and the chapters on "The Sisters" and "A Little Cloud." Twenty-eight other critics contribute. In the opening of each chapter, each pair of critics explains how they conducted their dialogue. Some wrote separately, shared their drafts, and then constructed an essay that in some cases sounds like it emerges from one unified source; other essays allow readers to feel like they are overhearing a dialogue. All fifteen essays offer valuable insights into these deceptively complex Dublin characters.
The volume's title also presents a pun on the pejorative meaning of "collaborator," one that arose in 1940s France when the Vichy government was accused of selling out to the Nazis for their own gain. Joyce's characters unconsciously collaborate "with the enemy in so far as they have internalized the values of the imperial power, including the denigration of the indigenous Irish as helpless, lazy, and incapable of governing themselves" (1). Many (if not all) of these essays respond to this crucial thematic concern. As Mahaffey and Jill Shashaty assert in their introduction to the volume, "Instead of seeing their circumstances as constructed [by their own, personal choices], Joyce's characters, one after another, bow to forces they believe to be too strong for them" (3). Mahaffey and Shashaty continue: "The refrain of 'it was useless' that runs throughout Dubliners accents the hopelessness that characterizes psychic oppression—and psychic oppression is what allows political or military oppression to continue when physical violence is not actively in use" [End Page 415] (10). Yet Joyce does not depict his characters with disdain. He "treats limiting circumstances not as a punishment that the inhabitants deserve because of their inadequacies, but as a problem that can be addressed only through a demystification of the individual's unconscious complicity with the forces that limit him" (12). The reader is challenged to imagine the alternative choices that the oppressed characters could make.
Many of these essays directly confront Joyce's narrative techniques, which in places conceal and reveal meaning simultaneously. Mark Osteen's take on "Araby," for example, points out that Mangan's sister speaks to the protagonist while she plays with a bracelet on her wrist. If we presume that details are not trivial, we may question whether this represents her flirtatious interest in him, or perhaps boredom with him, or that she quietly ponders the kind of decorative item that their talk of the bazaar calls to her mind. "We cannot know what Mangan's sister intends," Kathryn Conrad (Osteen's collaborator) concludes (74); her silent gesture provokes a wide range of legitimate interpretations. In a similar vein, Marilyn Reizbaum and Maud Ellmann point out that the gold coin that Corley shows to Lenehan at the end of "Two Gallants" only superficially serves as the solution to a riddle. Its sudden appearance in the story's final sentence raises many questions: "Why is Lenehan so obsessed with Corley's transaction with the slavey? Does Corley owe him money . . . ? How does the slavey acquire the gold coin? . . . Does Corley con the girl into paying him for sex, or is she 'on the turf,' with Corley running her?" Reizbaum and Ellmann ask (131-32). Indeed, is Corley blackmailing her? In the dialogue between these two geriatric adolescents, double entendre creates confusion as to whether sex or finances are under consideration; the two seem conflated.
Consider the consequences of narrative technique in "Counterparts." James Hansen asks, "What precisely does Farrington, the hypermasculine, intensely aggressive, overly embodied, hard-drinking copy clerk from the ninth story of Dubliners, really want?" (200). After demonstrating his unsteady hand at work, he meets up with his mates in the pub where they encounter the Englishman Weathers, who defeats Farrington in two arm-wrestling matches. Due to Joyce's reliance on free indirect discourse, the...