The Labyrinth of the soul

labyrinthThere are moments in life when you can see no way out. Responsibilities, troubles, duties seem to absorb the very essence of your being leaving no room for comfort, hopes, joy. The world that surrounds you, thus takes the form of a labyrinth that seems to engulf any desperate effort to escape. The fear of the “Minotaur” weakens any sparkle of determination to find a way to break that crystallized state of the soul and you believe yourself hopelessly doomed to misery. And yet, any labyrinth has a way out; you’ve got see it, otherwise the “Minotaur” will be there, waiting for you.

daedalus_smallJoyce‘s labyrinth was Dublin restricted society, which didn’t allow him to be what he really wanted to be: an artist. He thought that his only chance was, what he called, self-exile, that is, going  away, no matter how hard it was to leave the people who knew you, crush your family’s expectations, thus turning your back to the past in order “to live, to err, to fall, to triumph, to recreate life out of life “(A Portrait of the Artist as a Young man). That’s why he chose as his alter ego in  A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and Ulysses the character of Stephen Daedalus. In that name there is his fate of freedom (not necessarily happiness). Stephen’s first name recalls the first martyr of Christianity – he was stoned to death for blasphemy – just to remark that he felt himself the martyr of the Irish society, in juxtaposition, his surname recalls to the mythological figure of Daedalus, who was both the inventor of the Labyrinth and the wax wings that allowed his son Icarus and himself to escape the island of Crete (his maze) and the dangerous Minotaur. Just like Daedalus, he would be brave enough to flee from the labyrinth/Dublin to find a better fortune. For one who did it, there is another one who just couldn’t escape the monster who was devouring her will: Eveline.

minotaurEveline, was only nineteen and her life had always been marked only by responsibilities, frustration, hard work and grief. Her mother had left her alone too soon and now she had to work, look after her younger brothers and protect them and herself from their violent father. She had made her mother a promise right before dying: to keep their family united as along as she could. She felt that she could, or better, should have done something to escape her maze, maybe accepting to leave with her lover for Buenos Aires to be married and have her chance to happiness; but for her and the other protagonists of the Dubliners that solution seems to be impossible. Joyce called his protagonist Eveline, to stress her fate of failure. Her name is, in fact, the combination of two words: eve and line. An ” Eve” is the day before an important day or a celebration, while “line” symbolizes life. Therefore Eveline’s destiny will be that of living in constant eve: she will never be able to act, to enjoy the feast of life.

MirandaFrom the very beginning of the short story Eveline seems to be unable to act. It is the night she has planned to leave, but there is neither emotion nor joy in her words, but rather that night that represents very likely, her only chance to leave her maze, is felt like an “invasion” of her inner self. She has been sitting at the window for hours and only when she recalls the image of her mother the night she had died, she realizes  that “that life of commonplace sacrifices closing in final craziness” would have been also her destiny, not only her mother’s. For an instant she finds the strength to disentangle from the tentacles of her monstrous fear and quickly leaves her house to meet Frank, her lover, at the station. But when they reach the quay and she sees the ship that will take her to her new home, her hidden Minotaur surfaces and gradually devour her weak firmness. For her the boat becomes a “black mass”  even if its portholes are illuminated, and its whistle seems like the whistle of death : “mournful“. A sort of mist start to confound her mind and she feels like drawing. Her Minotaur has won. She will remain in the labyrinth forever “like a helpless animal“.


34 thoughts on “The Labyrinth of the soul

  1. Stefy your post leaves me hopeful that this is a reflective piece on literature and that such a labyrinth has not ever been a personal experience. Your writing talents continue to amaze me. So well done.

  2. ” any labyrinth has a way out; you’ve got see it, otherwise the “Minotaur” will be there, waiting for you.” Dear Stefania, will you be so kind to post this thought and the link to this post on my post JF’s Challenge? I enjoyed your post. 😉

  3. The maze and its classical counterpart the labyrinth are such potent symbols in themselves I often forget the characters who have to negotiate them. Thanks for the reminder!

    For me the unicursal maze appeals: with just one path the twists and turns, while disorientating, lead inexhorably to journey’s end. For others the archetypal maze is multicursal: with its confusion of choices and the nightmare possibility of being permanently lost it terrifies; and the horror of anticipating something unknown along the way or even at the dark heart (if there is in fact a heart) chills the soul!

    So I ask, Stefy, is your labyrinth uni- or multicursal?

  4. You know it took me 6 tries to get through Ulysses but when I did boy did I feel good. And while there were some sections that had me trudging, others had me dancing and leaping. Although I remember thinking how unlikely Stephen’s name was…

  5. Hello Stefy,

    What a great and enlightening and scholarly post…
    I really enjoyed your posts as linked Joyce´s well known character, Stephen Daedalus.
    with the myth of Icarus´ fall, and particularly with his father Dedalus…
    Eveline is clearly an associated symbol for the minotaur.
    Truly interesting. Thanks for sharing,

    Aquileana 😛

    • Hi, I was pretty sure you would have enjoyed my mentioning some Greek myths, this is your field. 🙂 Thank you so much for your words of appreciation.
      Stefy 🙂

  6. “To live, to err, to fall, to triumph, to recreate life out of life”.. That’s what I’m trying to do.. Wonderful, though not so easy, but still doable. This concept of self-exile reminds me to “Il fu Mattia Pascal” by Pirandello. I’ve been thinking about his concept of “mask” for a while, coming to the conclusion that I’m totally down with it. Creating new masks, so recreating life out of life, in my opinion, is the only way to avoid getting bored of the mask you got on, although you know that you are going to wear another mask, inevitably. Getting bored of your mask is like getting lost in the Labyrinth, but in both cases, you have a way out: fleeing. I know that my Minotaur is waiting for me, I’m quite sure he’s pretty hungry too, but I have a sparkle that gets bigger and bigger, the more I get close to my wax wings.

    • Oh, Baldinho do Brasil ? It’s an honor 🙂 I am really glad to read these words, you’ve become a man and you are eager to fly away to walk “the paths of glory” and on, and on, and on. Best of luck:)

  7. There is so much to discuss and feel when it comes to Joyce’s work. You’ve done an excellent job of focusing on the aspect of the labyrinth. Joyce did not write about winners and lossers he wrote about living and dying – inspiring at times (the notion of the epiphany), depressing at times (religion and sex in 19th century Ireland). .

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