Our group of Duke students swerved through stopped traffic near the Dublin GPO, protected by bright blue helmets and safety vests that immediately labeled us as tourists. It was June 16th, Bloomsday, a celebration of James Joyce’s Ulysses and a reason for many locals to leave work early and head to the pub. We however were on a bike tour of the city structured around James’ 1914 collection of short stories, Dubliners, accompanied by a guide named Alice who pedaled rather quickly considering that she was in an ankle-length skirt and cowboy boots. As we stopped in various neighborhoods where Joyce himself had lived, we listened to excerpts from “The Boarding House,” “An Encounter,” and “Eveline.”
In “Eveline,” a young woman is torn between following the man that wants to marry her and take her to Buenos Aires or staying to care for her abusive father and younger siblings in Dublin. In the final scene, she is physically and emotionally paralyzed, pinned in place on the dock as the ship leaves without her. Alice explained that paralysis was an important theme in Joyce’s stories about Dublin, as he believed the city itself to be trapped in time and held back by tradition, the Church, and its relationship with England. As a boy, he had wanted to escape Dublin, despite the special place it held in his heart. Joyce eventually left Dublin by the same port as his fictional character Eveline, traveling around Europe before seeking asylum in Switzerland.
While Dublin in the early twentieth century might have felt static to an artist as avant-garde as Joyce, it is harder to define now, propelled forward by new cultures and avenues of communication. If Joyce had written about Dubliners today, I wonder what the composition of his group of characters would be. Likely there would be people of different races, gender identities, sexual orientations, and religious backgrounds. But perhaps there would be that same feeling of hopelessness for many, particularly Dublin’s growing population of refugees and asylum seekers. Though they might not be trapped in their home countries, they probably feel stuck in the asylum process itself as they wait in direct provision centers, only recently gaining the right to work as they anticipate their case decisions. The slowness of the city and of bureaucracy can hinder efforts to reconnect with family, culture, and community.
This stasis is a part of the process of migration that is often overlooked, but some of the organizations we will be working with this summer seek to address it. The office I am placed at works with separated children, those under age eighteen who entered Ireland to seek asylum and now are in the care of the state until their claims are processed. Though I have only briefly met some of the social workers I will learn from this summer, I am already impressed by how well they know the children placed in their care, and the emphasis they place upon children being treated as children before they are treated as asylum seekers. I am hopeful that efforts like this can help make the waiting period for asylum seekers seem less restrictive so that the city I have had the privilege of experiencing is available to all Dubliners.