Mount Alvernia High School, Newton, Massachusetts

James  Joyce

Brianna  Chaves 

Our Greatest Enemy: A History of Cancer Discovery

James Joyce’s Dubliners Fall Victim to Immorality in Society

James Joyce’s portrayal of Dublin at the turn of the twentieth century reveals the hypocrisy of modern Irish society. His characters espouse Christian values such as equality, chastity, and compassion, but they are unable to uphold these values when confronted by temptation. The strict behavioral restrictions that the Catholic Church imposes in an effort to thwart this immorality only exacerbate the situation; by instilling fear and frustration in the people, they, in turn, manifest these feelings in even more destructive behavior such as sexual deviance, unjust treatment of women, xenophobia, and detachment from society. The efforts of the Catholic clergy to maintain power and control over the Church’s followers reveal the corruption of the Church leaders. The actions of the representatives of the Church do not reflect the Christian values that they enforce upon the Dubliners. Ultimately, the lack of guidance from the Church results in the alienation of Joyce’s protagonists from society as they dream about the possibility of a more fulfilling life anywhere but in Dublin.

Just as the Dubliners’ immoral behaviors reflect the social disease of society, a growing anxiety about cancer and rapid scientific advancements intensified the battle with physical disease at the turn of the twentieth century. Researchers brought a new focus and new weapons to the fight against cancer. Although cancer was not a new disease, the community effort of scientists, doctors and the American public led to increased success in diagnosis and treatments. The combination of research, experimentation and advances in technology and drugs, along with the engaged interest of the public transformed the perception of cancer from that of a mysterious, ruthless killer to a challenging life obstacle. The disease itself did not change over time, rather new research and scientific discovery allowed for growth in a general understanding and familiarity with the disease for both doctors and patients. As scientists and doctors shared their knowledge about treatments, carcinogens and preventative efforts with the public in the second half of the century, the public grew more comfortable talking about the disease and were more supportive of what became the national fight against cancer.

Major Works Consulted:

Joyce, James. Dubliners. New York: Bantam Dell, 2005.
--. Ulysses. New York: Simon & Brown, 2011.
Mukherjee, Siddhartha. The Emperor of All Maladies. New York: Scribner, 2011.
Nathan, David G. The Cancer Treatment Revolution. Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley, 2007.
Photo Credit: Deluzain, H. Edward, and Beverly Grossman, et al, eds. Adventures in American Literature. Orlando: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1996.