Graphological Features as Portrait of a Society in Crisis in James Joyce’s Dubliners

This article is published in the Tasambo Journal of Language, Literature, and Culture – Volume 1, Issue 1.


Gbenga J. Joseph,


Olatunde A. Odewumi

Thomas A. Abah

English Department, Federal College of Education, Pankshin, Plateau State



Graphological devices are a feature of linguistic resources which have implications for cohesion, coherence, and meaning explication in written texts. For literary writers, graphological language can be creatively utilized as a literary technique to enact the thematic signification of creative texts. To this end, this study examines the artistic deployment of graphological features in James Joyce’s Dubliners to construct the thematic preoccupations of the text. The study identifies the prominent graphological features in the novel. It categorises and analyses these salient devices and relates them to the socio-political context of the novel. This is with a view to construing the graphological style of the text as a tool to depict thematic concerns enunciated in the literary world of the novel. Six graphological devices were isolated for analysis as a result of the observation that their excessive use in the text is significant to the realization of its thematic essence. Analysis revealed that 7,136 punctuation marks were used in the text of just 170 pages, apart from other graphological devices that were not studied. Through this linguistic craftsmanship, the author ingeniously connected different stories with different plots into an interrelated unified thematic description of paralysis, confusion, retardation, and entrapment of the people of Irish society of his age. The study, therefore, concludes that besides its grammatical form and function, graphic language can equally serve a literary function to foreground the thematic message of a literary text.


Keywords: graphological features, graphic language, graphology, graphological devices, thematic preoccupation, literary text, Dubliners



                Graphic language otherwise called graphology is a field of study in linguistics. It is an aspect of language analysis that deals with the use of orthographic symbols and conventions. Linguistically, graphology is the study of symbol that has been devised to communicate language in written form (Faleke, Abaya & Ahamed, 2016). Thus, it is a feature of written language. In view of this, Berry (1975, p. 45) points out that graphology connects form and graphic substance by revealing the ties between “distinctions in form and differences in written symbols”. Corroborating this claim, Halliday and Matthiessen (2014, p.15) explain that graphology “illustrates a specific feature which becomes fundamental when we begin to investigate how the grammar operates in creating meaning”. As such, it is a crucial way of paying close attention to the autographic symbol in a text which helps to encode, extend or modify its signification (Alaje, 2018).

 In other words, the use of graphological devices is indispensable for any text, be it literary or non-literary, to be coherent and meaningful. Therefore, in literary expression, graphic language can serve as linguistic features through which a literary artist builds up meaning and constructs the thematic undertone of a text through contextual choices and the usage of graphological features (Kamalu, 2018). In this regard, this study, therefore, elucidates the linguistic concept of graphology and particularly explores how graphological devices serve as linguistic tools to encode the thematic concern of James Joyce Dubliners. Thus, the essence of graphic language to the thematic focus of the text Dubliners by James Joyce is the concern of this study.

Graphology and Graphological Devices

                Graphology is a component of one of the three primary levels of language analysis postulated by Halliday’s (1961) Systematic Functional Linguistics. These three primary layers of language description are substance, form, and situation (Morley 1985). The substance is the raw material of language which comprises sounds and symbols used in speech and writing respectively. Form arranges the substance into meaningful and recognizable patterns while the environment or context in which a stretch of language is used is the situation (Berry, 1975 p.37). Systemic Functional Linguistics further subdivides each of these primary levels of language study. The division most relevant to this study is however that of substance which is subdivided into spoken language substance and written language substance. The spoken language substance which is otherwise called phonic substance is available in all languages but the written language substance otherwise called graphic language is not. The latter is only found in any codified language, that is, any language that has been reduced to writing. It is in view of this that Berry (1977) contends that graphology is related to other levels of language like context, grammar, lexis, and phonology.

                Crystal & Davy (1980 p.18) claim that graphology is “the analogous study of a language writing system or orthography as seen in the various kinds of handling or topography”. However, Leech (1969 p.39) contends that graphology transcends orthography. According to him, graphology “refers to the whole writing system: punctuation, paragraphing as well as spacing”. Similarly, Alabi (2007) in Hussain, Ullah, and Ali (2020) adds that graphological features include capitalization, ellipses, periods, hyphens, contracted forms, special structures, the colon, the comma, the semi-colon, the question mark, the dash, gothic and bold print, small prints, spacing, italics, among others.

                For Adegoju (2008 p.160), graphology as a linguistic resource entails such matters as spelling, capitalization, hyphenation, a text’s layout, font choices, underlining, italicization, paragraphing, colour, which can all invent and affect different meanings and impact on the readers. Simpson (1993) broadens the scope of graphological devices when he points out that it extends to and incorporates any notable pictorial and iconic devices which enhance the writing system in a text. Salman (2013 p.115) succinctly describes it as “the visual features and orthographic design” of a text. Ogum (2017) also adds that graphology refers to a system of writing which includes versification and paragraphing and when graphology appears in printing, it becomes typography. In sum, graphology is a level of linguistic analysis that focuses on the layout of texts, the size or shape of words, and any other feature that is graphical or orthographical (Alaje, 2018).

                Addressing the functional value of graphological devices, Alabi (2007) in Hussain, Ullah, and Ali (2020) hint that paying close attention to the graphological patterns of a text will engender meaningful and verifiable analyses and interpretations of a text. In the same vein, Campsall in Adegoju (2008) stresses that, of the features that characterize a given text, it is the graphological qualities in the written or printed text that we first notice, and more importantly, they can be very useful and subtle in textual analysis, as they carry the certain pragmatic force that is central to the interpretation of a text. In this regard, therefore, Adegoju (2008) asserts that the usage of graphological features plays a significant role in textual interpretation. Ogum (2017) also hints that graphological patterns convey visual impressions which have implications for textual meaning. He adds that graphological devices can also help to convey some paralinguistic or extra-linguistic messages that relate to a text and thereby enhance textual literariness. Therefore, graphology entails the encoding of meaning in visual symbols as well as creating special effects in texts through uncommon letters and or word arrangement (Alaje, 2018, Maledo, 2019.).

Dubliners: A Synopsis

                The author, James Joyce was an Irish man and one of the prolific writers of his day. Like any other Irish person, he was naturally excessively nationalistic. As a result, other Britons often refer to him and others like him as ‘Wild Geese’. Again, the Irish people are equally excessively religious to the extent that nearly every family in Ireland has a Roman Catholic tendency; as each family has either a Reverend Father or Sister (Kavalir, 2016).

                The novel’s title Dubliners is derived from the combination of three morphemes: Dublin + er + s. The root word Dublin is the name of the capital city of the Irish people. Dubliners, therefore, refers to the Irish people of Dublin. The novel chronicles the attitude and mode of life of the Irish people in every stage of human life – childhood, school age, adulthood, and death. The text specifically displays the cultural, social, political, and religious lives of the Irish people (O’Halloran, 2007, Kavalir, 2016).

                As a matter of fact, James Joyce presents the text as a conglomeration of stories with a central theme. The major theme of this work is that of entrapment which can also be said to mean paralysis, deprivation, or even retardation. Entrapment has to do with withdrawal or denial of freedom: to put in chain or bondage. This cuts across all the spheres of Irish life to the extent that we have the themes of cultural entrapment, political entrapment, religious entrapment, etc. As a result, James Joyce in this text Dubliners has given us stories relating to issues of moral, social, political, cultural, and religion. He is, therefore, saying that the Irish nationals are always in various forms of bondage.



                The data for the study are drawn from the text Dubliners. This text is studied because of the pervasive use of graphological devices as discourse tools. In the text, fourteen different graphological devices are used for the purpose of literary communication. These are full stop, comma, colon, semi-colon, ellipsis, dash, hyphen, question mark, bracket, exclamation mark, inverted comma, apostrophe, italics, and capitalization.

                For this study, six of these graphological devices (capitalization, full stop, comma, colon, ellipsis, and dash) were selected for close study. This is informed by our observation that their pervasive use in the text is significant for the realization of the thematic vision of the text. The text is composed of fifteen stories, therefore, in a tabular form, instances of each of these graphological devices in each story are identified and accounted for.

                The six graphological devices adopted for analysis were grouped into three categories. The first category is capitalization. In the second category are full stops, commas, colons and while the third category contains ellipsis and dash. This is done because of the functional relatedness of their usage in the text.

Data Presentation and Analysis

Table I: Distribution of the seven graphological devices used in the analysis.



Full Stop





The sisters







The encounter





















After the Race







Two Gallants







The Boarding House







A Little Cloud





















A painful Case







Ivy Day in the Committee Room







A mother














The Dead
















                The first graphological technique observable in James Joyce’s The Dubliners is capitalization. In fact, it is instructive that each of the fifteen stories begins with the capitalization of a word or group of words. The recurrence of this device at the beginning of each story foregrounds the thematic preoccupation of the author in each story and in the text as a whole.

                In the story, The Sisters, Joyce capitalizes on the clause THERE WAS NO HOPE as a pointer to the content of the story. The capitalized clause captures Father Flynn’s state of hopelessness about survival after suffering three strokes. Joyce’s society believes that after an individual has suffered strokes on three occasions, the chance of survival is rare. This can be affirmed by Father Flynn’s comment to the boy before his demise. “I am not long for this world”. The emphasis at the beginning of the story enables the author to paint the picture of hopelessness in his society. The Reverend Father himself, the boy and other members of the community are all pessimistic about the survival of the priest.

                In another story, The Boarding House, MRS. MOONEY was capitalized to reveal the central role she plays in the story. Her name is made to embody her background, personality, character, and ability.    Having passed through a difficult marriage herself, she made a calculated attempt to make sure her daughter is well settled in her marriage to Mr. Doran – whom she thinks is better than his colleagues in terms of character and substance. On her purposeful refusal to stop the relationship at a very early stage, she works out a point of intervention in which Mr. Doran will not be excused for his deeds but to be consequently forced into marriage to her daughter – Molly. A plan that was perfectly realized at the end as she calls the daughter down to be proposed to.

The phrase SHE SAT AT which is capitalized in the story of Eveline is vague. The confused state of the major character Eveline is depicted and it emphasized the meaningless of the phrase. She is caught in the web of either eloping with her lover, Frank to Buenos Aires to start a new lease of life or to stay back in Dublin and continue a hard life with her father’s cruelty. The juxtaposition of her mother’s uneventful and sad life with her promise to the woman before her death that she (Eveline) will dedicate herself to maintaining the home becomes a big puzzle to her. She thus suspends herself between the call of home and the past and also the call of new experiences and the future. She becomes worried and unable to make a decision and this makes her pray to God for direction. She remains fixed in this state of indecision and when the boat whistle blows, she clutches the barrier and refuses to follow as Frank moves toward the ship.

                Eveline’s paralysis within an orbit of repetition leaves her a helpless being, stripped of human will and emotion. For Joyce, Eveline’s vague and confused state is a representation of the conflicting pull many women in the twentieth century Dublin felt ­­­­­­­­­- between a domestic life rooted in the past and the possibility of a new married life abroad.

                After the race is a story, which begins with THE CARS CAME and towards the end, we have a capitalized I.O.U. This story focuses on Jimmy who is completely given to wasteful spending with a father who fosters this lush lifestyle. The initially capitalized clause is a marker of wealth, success, and prestige because it means a feat for someone to be able to participate in a car race. However, the I.O.U. portrays carefree less impressive excesses of success. Jimmy is disposed mainly to social outings and spending and at the end of the race, he becomes a clueless fool with an empty pocket after a spate of card games. The implication of the empty pockets that Jimmy is left with after the card games is that seeking riches and notoriety leads only to poverty and embarrassment. Jimmy’s I.O.U’s status is Joyce’s way of reflecting on the economic bondage the Irish people of his age are entrapped in.


Pause Markers (full stop, comma, and colon)

                As indicated by the distribution in the table above, one realizes that the author uses punctuation excessively. The table shows that pause markers appear more than other punctuation marks: full stop 3636, comma 3015, and colon 238. Ellipsis is used 131 times; dash 97 times while hyphen appears 378 times. Depending on their use in a text, punctuation generally can be very simple as well as complicated. Punctuation as used in this text is intended to create a sense of complexity and abnormality. Normally, in English, a full stop is used at the grammatical end of a major sentence, but in the text, it is not so used. Let us consider the following.


Sample 1:

The tirade continued: it was so bitter and violent that the man could hardly restrain his first from descending upon the head of the manikin before him: ‘I know nothing about any other two letters’, he said stupidly.

(Counterparts p.64)

                In the above text, the colon is used to punctuate the conversation between Mr. Alleyne and Farrington who work in a busy law firm where Mr. Alleyne is a partner. This is to show how hot the boss’ temper is towards his worker. The whole problem is about the missing of two letters from the law firm’ file. Mr. Farrington who is in charge of copying the company’s document has refused to recopy the two letters and his boss becomes angry with him. He rains a tirade of abuse on his staff and after the copy clerk claims ignorance about the two missing letters, Mr. Alleyne becomes angrier. The use of a colon after the first clause the tirade continued instead of a full stop, is to show that the boss is not done yet. Also, after the second sentence, there is another colon and after Mr. Farrington’s response, the writer uses a comma before using a full stop for the last clause – he said stupidly.

                As said earlier, the use of the colon and comma, which are shorter forms of pauses in place of a full stop, illustrates the intensity of the exchange and the anger from both sides. Again, it is a marker of the fact that the state of anger is unabated. The continuity of this situation is revealed in Mr. Alleyne’s next utterance you-know-nothing, of course, you know nothing. What is supposed to be a clause is hyphenated to give a sense of just a word You-know-nothing. The unabated nature of Mr. Alleyne’s rage against Mr. Farrington, his staff is a reflection of what obtains in that society.

                The use of colon and comma, which are brief pauses instead of a full stop, James Joyce seems to be saying that the people of Dublin and by extension the Irish people are entrapped in a cycle of anger, confusion and disorderliness. This we can safely say because Mr. Farrington is said to be tired of his job as a “recopier” and he therefore deliberately refuses to recopy the two letters.

This can be buttressed by the deliberate complexity of the second sample:

Sample 2:

He said she used to squander the money, that she had no head, that he wasn’t going to give her his hard-earned money to throw about the streets, and much more, for he was usually fairly bad on Saturday night. (Eveline p.24)

                The use of about four commas before the final full stop in the above extract makes it a complex sentence. This is a deliberate attempt by the author to paint the complex situation the story’s protagonist, Eveline finds herself. The scenario above sums up Eveline’s predicament after giving her father her entire wages of seven shillings every month. After the poor girl must have given her monthly earnings to her father, it becomes extremely difficult to get a bit of it back. Again, the irony of the situation is that the money then becomes her father’s hard-earned money. The use of a hyphen to connect the words “hard” and “earned” foregrounds the false claim by Eveline’s father. Similarly, the complex nature of the above extract is a representation of Eveline’s entire complex situation in the story. The entire story is woven around the theme of confusion, indecision and helplessness. Eveline is caught in the web of either eloping with Frank, his lover, to Buenos Aires to escape from the problems at home or remain in Dublin and continue to cope with the brutality of Harry, her father, and with the routine of home maintenance.

                This complexity that leaves Eveline a ‘helpless animal’ and strips her off her ‘human will’ leaves her in a permanent state of confusion and the inability to decide is a kind of paralysis and entrapment. Her situation links the theme of this story with those of the other stories in the text. Eveline’s paralysis in this story is a reflection of the plight of an average Irish woman in early twentieth-century Dublin who is always confused about whether to continue with a domestic life back home or seek a new lease of life through a marriage abroad.

Ellipsis and the Dash

                The punctuation marks above have similar usage semantically The ellipsis is used to depict hesitation and omission while the dash is used for interruption. In a sense, the interruption may lead to hesitation, fear and this may make an individual to omit some parts of his/her speech. The use of ellipsis and dash are foregrounded in the text. An example is taken from Ivy Day in the Committee Room.

Sample 3:

They’re castle hacks… I don’t say Hynes… No, damn it, I think he’s a stroke above that… But there’s a certain little nobleman with a cock-eye you know the patriot I’m alluding to?

(Ivy Day in the Committee Room p.90).

On Ivy day, which is a commemoration of the late Irish Politician, Charles Stuart Parnell’s death, Mr. Henchy and Mr. O’Connor make a mockery of the Irish politicians of their age. The use of the ellipsis dots and the dash in the above extract represents a hesitation on the part of the character with a view to ridicule a certain politician. The use of these punctuation marks is mischievous and sarcastic. It is not as if Mr. Henchy does not know what to say but he deliberately omits some things apparently to laugh at the politician’s folly. It is noteworthy that after the dash, what follows is an irony – you know the patriot I’m alluding to. This statement is ironic because the other interlocutor Mr. O’Connor nodded his head in agreement before remarking that O’ the heart’s blood of a patriot! That’s a fellow that’d sell his country for four pence – ay – and go down on his knees and thank the Almighty Christ he had a country to sell.

                The conversation between these two people captures the whole essence of the story, which is a satire on politics and the political system. The fact that Mr. Henchy has to continually hesitate and omit some things about the politician depicts a kind of entrapment in the political system. The people are in political bondage whereby politicians steal public funds only to build mansions and castles. Hence, they are referred to as Castle hacks.

                Through the use of ellipsis dots and dash, James Joyce is able to vividly but comically capture the behaviour of the Irish politicians of his era. Their greed and penchant for material wealth leave the ordinary man on the road as a victim of hunger and poverty. Therefore, the Irish community is the one that is entrapped in a greedy political culture.

Sample 4:

O, pa! ‘Don’t beat me, pa! And I’ll… I’ll say a Hail Mary for you… I’ll say a Hail Mary for your, pa, if you don’t beat me… I’ll say a Hail Mary… (Counterparts p.69)

                The author employs ellipsis dots in the above extract to depict fright and fear. Mr. Farrington having had a rough and hot exchange with his boss in the office and after losing an arm wrestle to Weathers, got home still with anger and frustration discovered there is no dinner for him, he begins to beat his son Tom. Tom, therefore, begins to beg his father because he is afraid of the suffering and pain, that the beating will inflict on him. He begins to omit some words out of fear and also continues to promise his raging father that he would say a Hail Mary for his father, Mr. Farrington, if he stops beating him. Through this device, James Joyce points out that the brutality in his society as represented by Mr. Farrington has entrapped the people in a dreadful and fearful situation.

 The use of graphological style in this study is consistent with the submission of Tayeh (2021), who points out that graphological devices are part of linguistic features the creative writers often deploy to make their artistic narrative to be inventive and creative in order to foreground thematic standpoint. Similarly, the findings in this study align with the submission of Malebo (2019) who hints that artistic use of graphological devices can throw up an element of surprise and make a powerful impression on the readers.


                From the foregoing, James Joyce can be unequivocally described as a close punctuator for using over seven thousand punctuation marks (apart from other graphological devices) in a text of just one hundred and seventy pages. By engaging these graphological devices, James Joyce demonstrates that, beyond grammatical functions, graphological devices can be deployed as literary tools to connect different stories with different plots into an interrelated coherent thematic description of paralysis, confusion, retardation and entrapment of the people of Irish society of his era. He is, therefore, an artistic and a creative use of graphic language to portray the sociopolitical realities of his time.



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