Last week, I led a discussion on the influence that James Joyce had on Ernest J. Gaines. I have written about this before, briefly, on the Ernest J. Gaines Center’s blog. There, I wrote about the reference to Joyce in Gaines’s A Lesson before Dying. Throughout his career, Gaines has espoused the ways that authors like Joyce provided models for his own writing. He says that for him to write “A Long Day in November,” he had to get techniques from William Faulkner and James Joyce. While preparing for the session, I came across some more similarities between the two authors.
For the class, they had to read “Araby” and “Ivy Day in the Committee Room.” As I read “Araby,” I came across a couple of passages that reminded me of Gaines’s “A Long Day in November.” Specifically, I thought about Gaines’s story when the narrator begins to slip in and out of dreams. During his Saturday night trip to the market with his aunt, he starts to daydream. The sights and sounds cause him to imagine himself baring a chalice through the throng of people gathered at the market. The girl he infatuates over appears before him, and the narrator says, “Her name sprang to my lips at strange moments in strange prayers and praises which I myself did not understand” (24-25). The rest of the world slips away and he perceives her in front of him; however, he questions whether or not he will ever speak to her.
The narrator’s daydream in “Araby” is magical and childlike. In “A Long Day in November,” Sonny narrates a couple of instances where he slips into dreams while relating the story of his parents. In one dream, the rain and mud prevent Sonny from playing with his friends, shifts to Billy Joe Martin showing Sonny his new dime, and finally to Sonny and Lucy riding on a horse while the family watches from a fire. Unlike the narrator in “Araby,” Sonny is sound asleep, not daydreaming. His thoughts move from one scenario to another, becoming linked through Lucy, the girl he infatuates over. Waking up, Sonny gets jolted into reality, a reality that sees his parents fighting.
Another similarity I notices centers on the focus of Gaines’s and Joyce’s characters. As he worked on Dubliners, Joyce wrote to his brother Stanislaus about the characters and settings he was in the process of creating:
Do you see that man who has just skipped out of the way of the tram? Consider, if he had been run over, how significant every act of his would at once become. I don’t mean for the police inspector. I mean for anybody who knew him. And his thoughts, for anybody that could know them. It is my idea of the significance of trivial things that I want to give the two or three unfortunate wretches who may eventually read me. (qtd in Gifford viii)
The stories in Dubliners highlight ordinary people and events. One needs to only think of “Ivy Day in the Committee Room” to see this. Little happens in this story, just as little happens in “Araby.” The actions does not serve the purpose; instead, the conversation and the setting serve to give the story its brilliance. These things highlight “the significance of trivial things” that occupy the lives and thoughts of the characters presented.
I bring this up because it reminds me of something Gaines wrote in regards to why anyone should ever care about reading a novel about a 110 year old, illiterate ex-slave. In a speech housed in the Ernest J. Gaines Center, Gaines talks about this very fact. He argues that we should care because Miss Jane exists. She lived, and she survived. He concludes the speech in this way:
To anyone who might ask why should I read about someone who did not fight war, make laws, marry a great politicia[n] or Statesman or writer, or doctor, I would say read about Miss Jane because she survived with strenvth [sic], dignity, love and respect fro man, God, Nature, vaseball [sic], and vanilla ice cream, during the most demanding hundred years of American history.
Just as Joyce shows the importance of the ordinary man who almost gets hit by the tram, Gaines speaks about the importance of the ordinary woman who lived over one hundred years and survived one of the most trying centuries in American history for African Americans. Both Joyce and Gaines see the importance telling stories about ordinary people who may not have gotten recognition from the world.
There are more similarities that I am starting to see between Joyce and Gaines, but for now this is all I would like to talk about here. What are some similarities you perceive? Do you agree with these perceptions? Let me know in the comments below.
Gifford, Don. “Introduction.” Dubliners. James Joyce. New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1992. vii-xxxv. Print.
Joyce, James. “Araby.” Dubliners. New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1992. 23-28. Print.