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32 pages 1 hour read

James Joyce

The Sisters

Fiction | Short Story | Adult | Published in 1904

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Themes

Uncanny Representation of Knowledge

One of the themes James Joyce advances in “The Sisters” is an association between knowledge and the uncanny, which takes several different forms in order to create suspense and dread. Theses dark and sinister elements form part of Joyce’s critical portrayal of Dublin society, especially Catholicism, and the story’s hints of transgressive (possibly abusive) behavior.

First, potential knowledge about the future—Flynn’s and others’ premonitions about his death—is often represented in an ominous tone. In the story’s opening paragraph, the narrator remembers that Flynn had “often said to [the narrator]: I am not long for this world, and [the narrator] had thought his words idle. Now [he] knew they were true” (7-9). Joyce quickly transitions from the idea of future knowledge or premonition to actual knowledge, as the narrator describes the meaning of words—gnomon and simony—that he associates with paralysis. The narrator notes that the word paralysis has since taken on a more menacing meaning, as a “maleficent and sinful being” (13). The narrator concludes the thought with the idea of simultaneous repulsion and fascination with learning more about this “being”: “It filled me with fear and yet I longed to be nearer to it and to look upon its deadly work” (13-15).

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