“Maria was a very, very small person indeed but she had a very long nose and a very long chin.” witch
Ballsbridge, Dublin, 1911“From Ballsbridge to the Pillar ,twenty minutes; from the Pillar toDrumcondra, twenty minutes; andtwenty minutes to buy the things.She would be there before eight.” The Pillar, Dublin
“The tram wasfull and she hadto sit on thelittle stool atthe end of thecar, facing allthe people, withher toes barelytouching thefloor.” Tram (Dublin, 1904)
“She felt a soft wet substance with her fingersand was surprised that nobody spoke or took offher bandage.” Why?
“his eyes filled up so muchwith tears that he couldnot find what he waslooking for and in the endhe had to ask his wife totell him where thecorkscrew was.”People tend to escape realityand avoid facing bleak facts byfocusing on trivial objects or Corkscrewinvolving themselves in pettyactivities.
PLOT Almost nothing happens in the story. The main emphasis of the story is on character, rather than plot (cf. The Cask of Amontillado). The early paragraphs that introduce the main characters and the setting constitute the exposition. The rising action follows, as we follow Maria in her trip in the streets of Dublin to Joe’s house. The climax occurs when Maria chooses the clay in the parlour game. The rest of the story is the falling action.
SETTING The place is the city of Dublin. The story beginsin the Dublin by Lamplight laundry where Maria livesand works. Then, we follow Maria in her trip throughthe streets of Dublin, boarding the tram, to Joe’shouse, where the last part of the story is set. The time is the beginning of the twentiethcentury.
CHARCTERSMARIA Maria is the central character in the story. She is amiddle-aged woman who lives and works in a charitableinstitution for women. Maria seems almost willfullyunaware of the more brutal aspects of day-to-day life. Shetries to forget her difficult life by focusing on the smalldetails of daily living. The story abounds in examples ofMaria’s preoccupation with these trivial details. Maria’s concentration on the positive aspects of life andthe cheerful sides of her existence are a means ofcompensation for the emotional vacuum and theemptiness of her real life. In other words, Maria createsher own world that allows her to make for the deprivationand losses of her life.
Maria’s reputation as a peacemaker attests to her abilityto evade the larger issues of life and to avoid conflicts inorder to make her life more acceptable and palatable. Shelikes to please all people around her. Consequently, she isequally loved by the women in the laundry and by peopleoutside. She is warmly welcomed by Joe and his family andthe children. For Maria, everything demands organization andprecision. She fastidiously supervises the distribution offood portions at the charity, she prides herself on her neatand tidy body, and she repeatedly divides up the minutesshe will schedule for traveling and shopping for the eveningat Joe’s. Maria intends for her attention to minute detailsto create order and clarity in her life, but such rigidityactually results in frustration and emotional reactions thatare out of proportion to the situation at hand. When sherealizes that she has misplaced the plum cake, she is sofurious with herself and her carelessness that she almostcries.
Mari’s choice of clay during the game signifies, nother impending death, but her emotional death. Onthe other hand, her choice of the prayer book, whichstands for her entering a nunnery, symbolizes herfurther retreat from real life.
POINT OF VIEW limited third-person point-of-view. The narratorlets us see the world through the eyes and thinking ofMaria. The reader is permitted to go inside the mindof Maria and no other character.
THEMESDeath-in-life: The story shows how people can live an incomplete life in which their concentration on the small trivial details prevents them from seeing the bleak reality of their existence and makes them seem dead. Consequently, they live in a state between life and death.Death: Death is a prominent theme in the story. The title word of the story is a symbol of death. Maria picks the saucer that contains clay, a portent of imminent death. Joe, aware of Maria’s old age, is moved to tears.
SYMBOLISM Clay: Clay in the traditional game of divination is a symbol of death. On the other hand, clay is also a symbol of Maria’s death-in-life state. Maria’s life that is focused on small details, avoiding facing the reality of life, is a kind of metaphorical death.Corkscrew: The corkscrew that Joe looks for when he is full of tears upon hearing Maria’s song is a symbol of the way people avoid facing painful reality by focusing on small trivial objects.