Death and Paralysis

As Katie said in her post, it was not surprising to find that the main theme that united these different works in this edition of The Little Review was death, given that it was published towards to end of WWI. There are many different ways death is presented to us, and different ways that people respond to the death. Something that seemed to be fairly unifying in all of these different representations of death is the paralysis and helplessness that accompanies it. This is something that is true in many of Joyce’s works, particularly Dubliners. We see it too in this episode of Ulysses, as Bloom is trapped and forced to deal with the deaths of people close to him. We learn that he lost a son. He thinks, “Penny a week for a sod of turf. Our. Little. Beggar. Baby. Meant nothing. Mistake of nature” (79). He is forced to think of the subject because of the tiny coffin he sees, and he is unable to escape it or do anything about it. Shortly after, he is listening to the conversation between Martin Cunningham and Mr Power, where they are discussing suicide, and tries to say something. Joyce writes, “Mr Bloom, about to speak, closed his lips again” (79). He is unable to voice his opinion on the matter of suicide, not only because the men he is with rarely let him get a word in, but also because of the pain of dealing with his father’s suicide.  The suffering for Bloom is very apparent, and he is trapped in it, despite it being a part of the past. We talked about how Joyce called this “incubism.”

Two other stories in this edition of The Little Review had a similar feeling to me of incubism, or entrapment. These were Sherwood Anderson’s “Senility” and Ben Hecht’s “Decay.” Anderson’s story presents an old man that has lost people, knows people that have killed people, but yet is still living. He says, “I hate old age. I am ashamed that I am old” (39). Although this is different that the paralysis in Ulysses, I felt as if the old man was paralyzed in life. He has suffered after the death of his first wife, he is horrified by his hateful, murderous brother, yet he is old and keeps getting older and there is nothing he can do about it. He is stuck in a loop of life, where he repeats the same things over and over again. In “Decay,” Hecht writes of a mother dealing with the problems of her eight children. They are sick, injured, “wild,” and in general causing problems. It is one thing after another, everything going wrong. Mrs. Muznik tries, but she is being overwhelmed by the suffering and hardships around her. In the end she is paralyzed by it all. “The doctor had said Munch might die. But Mrs. Muznik did not believe this. None of the others had died and they had all been sick” (44). She sits and rocks, unable to do anything else despite the crying of her children. Later, in her bedroom, “her body tumbled to one side and she lay across the bed as if she had been flung there” (47). Her reaction to the horrors and suffering around her is paralysis.

I think these are accurate pictures of responses to death and suffering, and they would all be realistic and familiar to both the writers and the readers of the time, due to the mass deaths that were happening as a result of the World War. It is extremely sad, and based on these stories it seems as if people were paralyzed by the horror of it. They did not know how to react or what to do in the face of such death.

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