27 pages 54 minutes read

James Joyce

An Encounter

Fiction | Short Story | Adult | Published in 1913

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It is no surprise, perhaps, that the narrator’s prime motivation in “An Encounter” is wanderlust. James Joyce himself had only recently left Ireland for good when the story was written. One can easily imagine a young Joyce longing “to run away to sea on one of those big ships” as the stability of his childhood slowly eroded (13).

Wanderlust is a truly universal theme, unbeholden to time, place, or situation. However, leaving one’s home in the late 19th and early 20th century presented a significantly different prospect than it does today. Ireland has seen massive waves of emigration over the centuries, the largest beginning in the 1840s during the Great Famine. The island’s population has only recently returned to pre-famine levels and for over a century was one of the few places on Earth whose modern-day population was lower than its population in the first half of the 19th century. This shared reality, the mass movement of a people to far-flung corners of the globe, colors much of Irish literature, culture, and social identity even today.

Ireland is an island, so the only way to get anywhere else is by ship. The narrator’s wanderlust would hardly be stoked by a train ride to the rural interior of the country.