2. He looked down the slope and, at the base, in the shadow of the wall of the Park, he saw some human figures lying. Those venal and furtive loves filled him with despair. He gnawed the rectitude of his life; he felt that he had been outcast from life’s feast.
—“A Painful Case”
This quote from “A Painful Case” shows Mr. Duffy walking past the park near his home after he has learned of Mrs. Sinico’s death. He sees two lovers in the park. They are not specific people, but rather human figures that render the scene universal, and the sight reminds Mr. Duffy of his self-imposed exclusion from companionship. In the story, Mr. Duffy rebukes the intimate gestures of Mrs. Sinico, only to realize here, after her death, how potentially life-changing they could have been. At the same time, the language of this quote articulates Mr. Duffy’s relentless spite for such physical expression—it is fleshly and secretive, something that happens in the shadows. This moment enacts a cycle of life and death that echoes throughout Dubliners: seeing the living, physical evidence of love in two people leads Mr. Duffy to think of the dead, of Mrs. Sinico, and then to reflect on his own existence. Mr. Duffy’s circular thoughts recall the obsessive routines and daily procedures that comprise his life and that make no space for the intimate sharing of love.
The imagery of eating in this quote suggests the importance of reciprocity and union that is so absent in this story. The physical act of eating is an activity that Mr. Duffy attempts to externalize and control. Yet Mr. Duffy must gnaw on his rectitude because he has nothing else and because his rectitude is the root of his exclusion. In living in such a restrained way, including his clockwork, solitary meals at the same establishments, he cannot tolerate the change that love harbors or the emotional output, often so uncontrollable, that it demands. As a result, Mr. Duffy must watch others feast and share in the consumption of the many things the world has to offer, while he remains alone.