by James Joyce
Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory
When you start looking for your own apartment, house, or penthouse, watch out for bad windows. If they're all full of dripping air conditioning units, or so small that the sun has to knock to get in, or if they're just plain broken, the whole place can feel dismal and dark. A bad window on the world can make the world itself seem bad.
In Dubliners, we don't really know how many panes of glass or what kind of blinds these windows have. What we do know is that windows figure prominently in the stories as places to think and watch the world, and that the world doesn't seem so rosy for the many window-gazers in these stories. What a shame Windex wasn't around until 1933.
Windows in "Eveline"
She sat at the window watching the evening invade the avenue. (Eveline.1)
Oh, Eveline. You're so close to the world beyond that you can see it, and almost touch it, but you're not quite there. For most of the story, Eveline stays seated at this window, on the inside looking out. We usually use the word "invade" to talk about armies; using it here suggests that the world outside threatens Eveline, even scares her. That's why she stays inside and motionless so long, and why she becomes almost paralyzed when she finally ventures out of the house and into the great wide open… of a crowded city.
Windows in "The Dead"
Gabriel Conroy looks out of windows several times in "The Dead," including once near the beginning of the party, once just before his speech (The Dead.155), and then again as he has his final epiphany. And something strange happens each time that he does it.
The first time, "Gabriel's warm trembling fingers tapped the cold pane of the window." This is Gabriel wishing he could be outside and alone rather than inside and responsible for giving a speech to a bunch of partiers. He's tapping on the window as if he wanted to get out, like some sad reptile in a terrarium. Just as it does in "Eveline," the window once again symbolizes the small but untraveled distance between where someone is and where someone really wants to be.
The second time he thinks of the window, just before he begins his speech, things are a little bit different. Gabriel imagines "people gazing up at the lighted windows" and wishing they were inside (The Dead.240). It's like he's creating an imaginary audience for himself out of the passersby. For the first time, a window allows some kind of transmission from the outside world to the inside—even if it's only in his imagination.
But that last window, in a hotel room where Gretta lies sleeping, changes everything. Check this out: "A few light taps upon the pane made him turn to the window" (The Dead.459). Whoa. Gabriel and Gretta's room, if you remember, is upstairs at the hotel. If someone's tapping, it can't be a good thing, right?
But don't worry. It's just the weather, as "It had begun to snow again" (The Dead.459). So instead of worrying about cat burglars or wayward birds, we should turn our attention to what's really going on here. Instead of depicting a lonely person, looking through a window on a distant outside world, the world's actually reaching in this time.
It's tapping at us and telling us to listen. And what it's saying to Gabriel through the window, is, if you ask us, sort of amazing. It's saying that windows can't really keep the outside out and the inside in. "His own identity was fading out into a grey impalpable world" (The Dead.458). In fact, nothing can separate the two, except a character's own paralysis.
One way to look at how windows work in Dubliners is to watch out for how distant the person on the inside is from what he or she sees outside. From the narrator of "Araby," who uses a window to spy on the girl of his dreams, to the window from which Little Chandler feels "gently melancholy" for life, and finally to Gabriel's stunning revelation that windows can sometime provide no protection at all, windows are a keen insight into how characters relate (or don't relate) to the grand ol' world.