Dubliners by James Joyce: Clay

It is fitting that I happened to read this short story on Halloween. For Clay takes place on Hallow’s Eve itself (should I be bold enough to use the term providence?). It tells of Maria and a party she goes to at Joe Donnelly’s house. They play a game where you are blindfolded and you pick from a bunch of items. A ring symbolizes marriage, the prayer-book entering a monastery or convent, water continued life, clay death, etc… Maria picks up clay, indicating that her fortune includes an impending death.

They led her up to the table amid laughing and joking and she put her hand out in the air as she was told to do. She moved her hand about here and there in the air and descended on one of the saucers. She felt a soft wet substance with her fingers and was surprised that nobody spoke or took off her bandage. There was a pause for a few seconds; and then a great deal of scuffling and whispering. Somebody said something about the garden, and at last Mrs Donnelly said something very cross to one of the next-door girls and told her to throw it out at once: that was no play. Maria understood that it was wrong that time and so she had to do it over again: and this time she got the prayer-book. (p. 101)

What does this mean? Aren’t we all going to die? Well, I guess the clay would predict a sooner death. What this scene communicated to me was a lack of confrontation. These people seem unwilling to realize that each day is a gift, and that each moment there is a possibility that we could die. That simply is the case. It might seem pessimistic, but it isn’t. Knowing that the next moment could possess our demise actually ought to cause us to be humbled, to rejoice in the gift of each moment, and live in more joy that the Lord loves us. These people live in constant fear because they are unable to understand this truth.

Glory be to the Father for this day, this hour, this minute, this second, this moment!


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