The Illusionist

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"Gabriel felt humiliated by the failure of his irony and by the evocation of this figure from the dead, a boy in the gasworks. While he had been full of memories of their secret life together, full of tenderness and joy and desire, she had been comparing him in her mind with another. A shameful consciousness of his own person assailed him. He saw himself as a ludicrous figure, acting as a pennyboy for his aunts, a nervous, well-meaning sentimentalist, orating to vulgarians and idealising his own clownish lusts, the pitiable fatuous fellow he had caught a glimpse of in the mirror. Instinctively he turned his back more to the light lest she might see the shame that burned upon his forehead" (Joyce 165-166).

Well, it can be clearly seen that the life Gabriel had thought he had before learning about Micheal Furey was only an illusion that was created by his wife. Before Gretta had revealed her story of Micheal Furey. Gabriel had recognized that their marriage may have been going through harder times, yet he still wanted to be with her and was content with his life in general.

Once Gretta reveals to him the life she once had, not only does Gabriel's perspective of their marraige change, but his perspective of his life in general is changed. He now sees his life as one that is just going through the motions, that he was never of any real importance to any one, including his wife who was still in love with a dead boy. He also realizes that this will probably never change: he will continue to stay with Gretta, always knowing he is being compared to and considered less than Micheal Furey, he is becoming older and has missed out on opportunities for earlier life experiences, and his world which he is familiar with can only change for the worse such as the inevitable death of his aging aunts. The life experiences he realizes he is "paralyzed" to experience include true love, which his wife experienced with Micheal Furey yet never felt towards Gabriel.

As a reader, I felt slightly surprised at this section of the story. I realized that some form of paralysis would be presented in Joyce's work, but I didn't expect it to be presented like this. This paralysis seemed more severe than the paralysis that was presented in some of Joyce's other works in that Gabriel has been living an unrecognized paralyzed life all along and it has suddenly and bluntly been revealed to him. I think this type of paralysis was more powerful because of its ability to go unreconized by the victim for so long and then to have such a powerful affect on them after its discovery.

I saw this section as a turning point in Joyce's story. It went from an image of people being content with their lives to a person realizing their life wasn't as accomplished or as satisfactory as what they believed it to be. From my reaction, I viewed the role of paralysis in this story as being more intense in that it was undiscovered and with its discovery, it was found to be incurable and irreversible.

I tried to include a little of reader response in my blog, but looking back over it I don't think it worked. Can anyone give me some suggestions or an example of how you would apply reader response to this story?

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6 Comments

Derek Tickle said:

What an amazing discussion, Katie! I had never thought of Gabriel's life as an illusion, but it is true.

Let me try to explain. As I was reading the text, I had never thought that Gabriel's wife was going to end the story with sadness and previous love. I related this to Melville's "Beneto Cereno" because both authors seem to try and lure us away from that meaning until we have finished the text.

On a side note, I think you are doing a great job at literary criticism. Remember practice, practice, practice. You will get it because we are all in the same boat.

I think that you may have completed reader-response because I never thought of it as an illusion. This is your response to the text, so I think you did it.

Do any other carnival bloggers think so?

Gabriel's life has been formed around events that he assumed were important and beneficial to his marriage, but, as you stated, where any of these events helpful to him and his wife? Is seems as though Gabriel discovered his irreversible fait of his marriage and whether it is going to last or change now? We won't know that answer because the story ended on that sad note, but maybe Joyce is trying to say that Gabriel is a replication of his life. Maybe Joyce encountered a great fall in his marriage or maybe he is trying to describe how Ireland’s society was during this time.

Keep up the good work!

I never thought of his life as an illusion either! I think you did a good job looking within the text, especially because you weren't required to. I find it easier to look at a text as I'm reading so the fact that you went back and read that into it was amazing.

I noticed the self-reflection in this scene too. Any time I see a mirror, water (as a depiction of reflection) I think HOW TO READ LITERATURE LIKE A PROFESSOR! It haunts me. I watched The Lion King and Sweeney Todd and happened to find self-reflection.

How terrible would it be to wake up one day, proud of your accomplishments and go to bed at night thinking how little you've actually accomplished? I guess this could be a message to live your life and enjoy it while you can because mortality is creeping up on you. Depressing. I'm going to go cry now.

Greta Carroll said:

Katie, I never really thought of it an illusion just like Derek and Angela. I think you were doing a form of reader-response criticism as well. You didn’t do it in as formal a way as the essays we read did, but I still think you did it. You commented on how this sudden revelation of Gabriel’s paralysis really surprised you. And I think that is part of reader-response criticism. You realized that the story was set up, so that the reader will feel this shock, just as Gabriel did when he has his epiphany.

However, while Derek and Angela both comment on the sad nature of the ending, I think I’m going to have to diverge here and disagree. While the ending did culminate in Gabriel’s realization that he has been blind of so long and that he is in the end mortal, I think a positive spin could be put on this too. I mean Gabriel has developed as a character, he’s learned something new, and he can progress forward now. Instead of being stuck at the same place in the dark, Gabriel can now live his life to the fullest and have a real relationship with his wife, realizing that what he had with her before was merely transitory. In a way it is sad that he has gotten so far in life being blind, but at least now he can live the rest of his life seeing, instead of continuing until he dies wasting his life away in his imaginary dream world.

What do you guys think? Can you see the positive part of the ending as well?

Derek Tickle said:

Greta, I like your take on the ending.

I can see the positive end, but did Gabriel waste the years prior to now with his wife since he did not know of this prior love of his wifes?

If Gabriel has realized that life has many doors and each one we open leads us to another decision, then how will Gabriel confort his eternity?

Will his eternity be an illusion? Or will it be a smooth transition, if you want to call it that, since he has experienced this already in his life.

Katie Vann said:

Greta, as Derek said, I like your different take on the ending as well, however I think I slightly disagree with you. I don't know that Gabriel's discovery of his paralysis was necessarily a positive one. Yes, there is that chance for change. However, I think the paralysis that he finds himself in is too strong for change. I think Joyce used this setup to show how sometimes the discovery of paralysis in one's life is too late. Yes, he could develop a better relationship with his wife recognizing the earlier years were not what they seemed. And yet, the knowledge of her still unending love for Micheal Furey awakens him to the fact that he will probably always be compared to that boy, and that all the happy moments in his marriage that he thought he had had were probably not what they seemed because Gretta was obviously not fully in love with him. Also, Gabriel now has to live with the fact that he has married someone who doesn't completely love him and has had the chance to experience true love with someone else. This makes Gabriel realize that not only is Gretta still in love with someone else, but that he himself will never experience true love because of the hinderance of Micheal Furey and his marriage to Gretta. I don't really see this realizations as positive, because I don't think there is really a way for Gabriel to get out of them. Also, the fact that he is becoming older and that there is only a certain amount of time for him left to make his life more meaningful than what the greater part of it has already been.

Wow! Good conversation going on here. I tend to agree with Katie on this one. Gretta is stuck on Michael Furey. Gabriel can never be truly happy because his wife cannot let go of her fling with this boy and fully love Gabriel. It is as if Gretta died long ago and is just a shell of a person walking around. Gabriel discovered this too late, though, and must now just learn to accept it. It's really sad. He now has to just make due with what his life has given him and probably "never really know what could have been, what should have been". Wow...I'm listening to Keith Urban's "You'll think of me" and it totally worked its way into my response. Creepy cool.

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Recent Comments

Angela Palumbo on The Illusionist: Wow! Good conversation going
Katie Vann on The Illusionist: Greta, as Derek said, I like y
Derek Tickle on The Illusionist: Greta, I like your take on the
Greta Carroll on The Illusionist: Katie, I never really thought
Angela Palumbo on The Illusionist: I never thought of his life as
Derek Tickle on The Illusionist: What an amazing discussion, Ka