Death as an Unspoken Thing becomes the Main Issue in The Sisters by James Joyce


The Sisters

The Sisters first published in 1904 within Dubliners, and then James Joyce revised it ten years later. The book, Dubliners asserts the nationality of the author; and the story itself has a strong influence by the Irish. The Irish people in The Sister are depicted as religious citizens and really attached to the Catholic rules at that time. Since one of the main characters is a reverend, the setting, background, and the plot of the story follow the Catholicism. These things built the story and turned up some conflicts yet issues within.

This story uses first nameless person point of view in telling the plots. He has no direct relation with The Sisters which is the title. They both refer to Nannie and Eliza, the sisters of Father Flynn. The relation between ‘I’ and the sisters is bridged by the Father. He is perhaps one of Father Flynn’s student or maybe someone who studies to be a reverend.

As student and teacher, they properly have intimate relation but it was opposed by the narrator’s statement that “I found it strange that neither I nor the day seemed in a mourning mood and I felt even annoyed at discovering in myself a sensation of freedom as if I had been freed from something by his death.”(Joyce, 1914:3). He doesn’t feel the sadness of Father’s death, whereas Father Flynn had already taught him everything about being a Reverend so he knew much special diction in Catholic which is unfamiliar for him as he said, “It had always sounded strangely in my ears, like the word gomon in the Euclid and the word simony in the Cathechism.” (1914:1) In addition, ‘I’ see that everything relates to Catholic and works in church are difficult to do and understand, “His questions showed me how complex and mysterious were certain institutions of the Church which I had always regarded as the simplest acts.”.  In addition, The Catholicism “filled me with fear, and yet I longed to be nearer to it and to look upon its deadly work.”(1914:1). this is why he feels good to be no longer attached with the Father.

From the beginning, the death of Father Flynn is already haunted the narrator and it becomes a problem because many times the ellipsis appears and leaves the sentence unfinished. The unfinished lines here indicate a thing which is covered by the ellipsis. Every time the characters discuss about death, they left it unfinished as it is a taboo thing to say.

When Mr. Cotter and narrator’s aunt talked about the cause of Father’s death, several times they did not finish the line to hide it from ‘I’. They assumed that ‘I’ was too young to know the truth because “their minds [I as children] are so impressionable. When children see things like that [death], you know, it has an effect…”. As the consequence, “I crammed my mouth with stir about for fear I might give utterance to my anger. Tiresome old red-nosed imbecile!” (1914:2). He was angry with Mr. Cotter for alluding him as a child. This death should has big effect for ‘I’ because Father Flynn is a close person to him and this is the first time he experienced the death, therefore he could “see the reflection of candles on the darkened blind for I knew that two candles must be set at the head of a corpse.”(1914:1)

The ellipsis is also used to explain the cause of Father Flynn’s death. That is predicted as his guilty of something publicly unknown. In this story, the plots go on and the cause of death is revealed because of the perception of some characters. At the beginning, Old Cotter said to ‘I’ that there was something queer and uncanny about the Father. He wanted to tell his own opinion and theory about the death but he didn’t finish his lines and perhaps it is because he wasn’t sure about the cause. As the consequences, the narrator always got incompletion of Father Flynn’s information. ‘I’ also haunted by Father Flynn’s image when he murmured. ‘I’ understand it as a sign that there is something which Father hid and he wanted to confess it. In the end, the narrator took it as paralysis.

‘I’ is not only being the object of the unspoken thing, but also the subject who uses the ellipsis. When he remembered about Cotter’s words and about Persia, he tried to explain his thought but it was not finished yet (1914:4)

In the end, when I and his aunt came to Father’s house and were answered by the sisters, Eliza tried to explain the reason why he is dead to the aunt. The thing started after Father Flynn broke a chalice and was found by Eliza. “It was that chalice he broke… that was the beginning of it. Of course, they say it was all right, that it contained nothing, I mean. But still… they say it was the boy’s fault. But poor James was so nervous” (1941:7). He was ladened with sin because for him the chalice is more important than the God itself. There is simony here, where Father Flynn exchanged the religious offices with worldly thing. He put the chalice’s meaning above God and he considered ‘I’ as his spiritual son. It shows some disability or unsuccessful effort of Father Flynn to separate the two things which already have their own meaning and function.

It is bewildered when Death as the main issue in this story should be told along the plots but it could not. Death is considered as taboo thing to talk to children within the adult world as represented by the sisters, aunt, uncle, and Old Cotter blocked the narrator’s way to get complete information about Father Flynn. The boy also has to confront the death itself because the Father is someone who closes to him but he knew there are some parts that Father hid from him. The information and the perception of death causes are gathered by the conversation between the adults that narrator could hear, and from the point of view he could see. Although the ellipsis cover the missing word and because the information incomplete, on the other hand, those become the signs to determine in which part or in what situation the things are unspoken. From that pattern, the narrator and the reader can have their own interpretations about the unspoken things in The Sisters.


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