Joyce and Loneliness

Shrek | fictional character | Britannica

This week we read Dubliners by James Joyce, and one short story in particular titled A Painful Case is about a man named Mr. Duffy who has condemned himself to loneliness after rejecting the one person who he considered a companion.

His character reminded me of my favorite childhood movies, Shrek, where the titular ogre Shrek lives alone in isolation in his swamp. Like Mr. Duffy, Shrek has a disdain for the general public and thinks of them as bothersome. Also similarly to Mr. Duffy, Shrek thinks that he enjoys his solidarity and spurns most attempts at connecting with any others, but deep inside he knows that he is lonely. At the start of the movie, Shrek is very isolated until his swamp is disturbed by an enormous amount of fairy tale creatures who have been dumped there by Lord Farquaad. This angers Shrek, and he goes out to find Lord Farquaad in the city of Duloc to reclaim his swamp. The short lord strikes a bargain with him that if he can retrieve the Princess Fiona from her dragon guarded tower, he will remove the fairy tale creatures from his swamp.

So Shrek sets out, with an equestrian companion named Donkey that he is unable to get rid of. Shrek rejects Donkey’s attempts at friendship and is quite acidic toward him, but Donkey is He and Donkey eventually reach the tower, where they rescue Fiona and Donkey meets his future wife Dragon. Shrek and Fiona bond during their journey back to Duloc, and eventually fall in love with each other. However, Fiona is hiding a very big secret- that she is cursed to turn into an ogress at night, and that only a kiss from her true love will break the curse. This secret leads to a misunderstanding between the couple when Fiona woefully reveals to Donkey that she thinks she is ugly and unlovable, which Shrek overhears, and assumes the comment is about him. This comment cuts him deeply, as he has always been judged and prejudiced by his outer appearance. As a reaction, he shuns his romance with Fiona and dutifully brings her back to Duloc. But just as Fiona is about to wed Lord Farquaad, Donkey yells at Shrek for letting go the love of his life, and Shrek barges in to object to the wedding. Shrek and Donkey, with the help of Dragon, then defeat Lord Farquaad. Shrek kisses Fiona, and she transforms into an ogress permanently, and they get married in the swamp!

While Shrek was able to achieve a happy ending, the grittier, harsher, and more realistic story of Mr. Duffy did not. At the end of A Painful Case, Mr. Duffy is left alone with nobody, and even when he comes to the realization that he is painfully lonely he simply accepts his current situation as his fate. The future that Mr. Duffy has laid out for himself would have been Shrek if Donkey was not so persistent about forcing Shrek to interact with people. Shrek originally isolated himself because deep down, he felt that nobody would accept him and that he was inherently unlovable. This makes me curious if Mr. Duffy’s self isolation stems from the same suppressed feelings as Shrek, where he shuts himself off from others first before others can do it to him. The ending of A Painful Case made me so sad because instead of doing something about his situation, Mr. Duffy just resigns himself to silence and loneliness. This could be because he prefers the familiarity of his loneliness over the unpredictable situation of putting himself out there to change his fate. He has the ability to improve his life but is preventing himself from doing so. While the end of Shrek is a victory, the end of A Painful Case is defeat, and it is a harsh outcome that is hard to swallow.

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