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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Social Repression of Sexual Identity in "A Painful Case": A Response to Roberta Jackson

An interesting aspect of Jackson's reading of "A Painful Case" is her observance of the extent to which social norms affect the manifestation of Mr. Duffy's identity. Throughout the story itself, I was struck with the vivid descriptions of Duffy's lifestyle that Joyce offered, all of which hinted at a man who faced isolation from the greater society. This feeling of alienation is accentuated by his self-obsessed anxiety which Joyce describes: "He lived at a little distance from his body, regarding his own acts with doubtful sideglances" (Joyce, 90). This characterization, set early in the story, makes the reader wonder as to the nature of this mysterious figure. He is obviously concerned with some aspect of his self and remains cloistered and apart from society because of this. Jackson highlights a similar observation by saying "[Duffy's] neuroticism arises from his necessary isolation and his need to distance himself from the homophobia of the patriarchy" (Jackson, 336). It is indeed society which seems to keep Duffy emotionally caged throughout the short story. His fear of being socially ostracized keeps him in a perpetual state of insecurity and self-reflection. It is this worry that destroys his relationship with Mrs. Sinico. He cannot justify a relationship with a woman that is strictly platonic because of what society considers the purpose of male/female interaction. Sinico, in her seemingly innocent moment of intimacy, triggers a defensive response in Duffy. He cannot see a woman in that light and has therefore failed society. His connection to her has failed and all his is left with is a faint memory. He remains a lonely man in a world that will not permit the manifestation of his true desire.

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