Literary Writing Style of James Joyce

The writing style of James Joyce is different from his contemporaries in that he experiments with language, diction as well as methods to delineate his characters and narrate events and situations. Some major features of his writing style in terms of word choice, sentence structure, figurative language, rhythm, rhetorical patterns, and themes are as follows.

James Joyce’s Word Choice

Regarding word choice, James Joyce is conscious and meticulous. He uses words carefully according to the context as well as characters, showing multidimensionality as well as multiplicity in terms of shades of meanings. For example, his short story, “Araby” shows complex and formal diction, while his novel, Finnegans Wake, shows the use of pure Irish slang. The same is the case of Dubliner in which he uses formal diction but in the case of Ulysses, he follows both informal and formal diction. The passage given below from Ulysses shows this fact.

On quietly creaky boots he went up the staircase to the hall, paused by the bedroom door. She might like something tasty. Thin bread and butter she likes in the morning. Still perhaps: once in a way.
He said softly in the bare hall:
— I’m going round the corner. Be back in a minute.
And when he had heard his voice say it he added:
— You don’t want anything for breakfast?
A sleepy soft grunt answered:
— Mn.

James Joyce’s Sentence Structure

In terms of syntax or sentence structure, it is stated that James Joyce ignores traditional rules of constructing sentences. However, at times, he follows the strict rules of subjects, verbs, and their agreements but sometimes he violates them as these are the requirements of the characters when they speak. The characters ramble and use run-on or broken or choppy sentences to show their true state of mind. This passage from Finnegans Wake shows this violation of rules in the first sentence and onward.

Of the first was he to bare arms and a name: Wassaily Boos-laeugh of Riesengeborg. His crest of huroldry, in vert with ancillars, troublant, argent, a hegoak, poursuivant, horrid, horned. His scutschum fessed, with archers strung, helio, of the second. Hootch is for husbandman handling his hoe. Hohohoho, Mister Finn, you’re going to be Mister Finnagain! Comeday morm and, O, you’re vine! Sendday’s eve and, ah, you’re vinegar! Hahahaha, Mister Funn, you’re going to be fined again!

James Joyce’s Figurative Language

The figures of speech used by James Joyce in his novel and short stories are not only dramatic but also vivid. He avoids using literal language as it seems that imagery is the requirement of his writings. Sometimes, he turns to use metaphors and similes along with personifications when the need arises. This passage from Ulysses shows the use of an image in the very first sentence and metaphors and personifications in the next sentences.

So warm. His right hand once more more slowly went over his brow and hair. Then he put on his hat again, relieved: and read again: choice blend, made of the finest Ceylon brands. The far east. Lovely spot it must be: the garden of the world, big lazy leaves to float about on, cactuses, flowery meads, snaky lianas they call them. Wonder is it like that. Those Cinghalese lobbing about in the sun in dolce far niente, not doing a hand’s turn all day. Sleep six months out of twelve. Too hot to quarrel. Influence of the climate. Lethargy. Flowers of
idleness. The air feeds most. Azotes.

James Joyce’s Rhythm and Component Sounds

It is stated that James Joyce is a master of rhythm. He uses rhythmical language at several places in his novels and short stories. For example, his short story “Araby” and novel Finnegans Wake show it amply. For example, at one place, he says that “The waves of the rise and fall of empires” and compares it with the waves of light and so on. This shows the physical compares the rhythm. Besides this, he uses sound devices very carefully in his prose. This passage from Dubliners also show how he uses the sounds of /n/, /a/, /t/ and /d/ at different intervals to create rhythmic effects.

There was no hope for him this time: it was the third stroke. Night after night I had passed the house (it was vacation time) and studied the lighted square of window: and night after night I had found it lighted in the same way, faintly and evenly. If he was dead, I thought, I would see the reflection of candles on the darkened blind for I knew that two candles must be set at the head of a corpse. He had often said to me: “I am not long for this world,” and I had thought his words idle.

James Joyce’s Rhetorical Patterns

Although James Joyce is a master of narration and description, he is also a master of comparison and contrast. He creates these patterns in short stories as well as novels. For example, his short story “Araby” shows this comparative pattern through the character of the anonymous boy. Dubliners also show it in the first story, “The Sisters”, while Finnegan Wake, too, shows it at various places. Besides these, he also uses the strategies of ethos and pathos along with anaphoras and repetitions to stress the main idea of the work. The first chapter of his novel, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, shows it amply where he uses different words repeatedly.

James Joyce’s Themes

Whereas James Joyce does not feel the dearth of words, he also has a vast number of themes that he often inserts in stories, poems and novels. For example, he demonstrates the theme of death, corruption and paralysis in Dubliners, a short story collection. It is very much clear in the first story, “The Sisters.” The story “Araby” shows the theme of romance, and disillusionment, while Eveline shows the theme of paralysis, escapism, women and social evils. His masterpiece, Ulysses, depicts the thematic strands of love, sex, alienation and remorse.