James Joyce Best Quotes 💬

Irish author James Joyce was renowned for his distinctive, intricate, and explicit writing style. Explore this through his best quotes.

James Joyce

Irish Novelist

By utilizing symbolic allusions from mythology, history, and of course, literature, Joyce innovated the literary world. His writings have a profound inner monologue, allusions, sophisticated analyses of life events, and a distinctive style of wordplay. To develop his own unique language, he even coined a few terms.

On Thoughts and Actions

The actions of men are the best interpreters of their thoughts

“Action speaks louder than words” is a famous phrase, likely a paraphrase of Joyce’s quote. Joyce put a lot of emphasis on action rather than spoken words in the narrative of his characters in his books. The reader knows Bloom (from ‘Ulysses’) was a sensualist because of his predilection for eating animal parts and masturbating in public. Joyce routinely painted character arcs with their actions rather than using an explicitly descriptive language where necessary.

Your mind will give back to you exactly what you put into it.

If you think good thoughts, good thoughts are what you get. Despite the lingering cynicism in some of Joyce’s works, Joyce was an optimist. He wrote passionately about Ireland and his hope for its emancipation from England. Joyce believed in the power of positive thinking and its ability to affect the material world.

On Courage and the Power of Now

Better pass boldly into that other world, in the full glory of some passion, than fade and wither dismally with age.

Tales of heroism and bravado were a staple of Joyce’s writing. His love for the hero of Homer’s ‘Odyssey,’ Odysseus, inspired his Irish tale. Joyce’s hero in ‘Ulysses’ happened to be Bloom, who was an ordinary man with flaws and shortcomings. However, Joyce dramatized the tale of June 16, 1904, to elevate the ordinariness of Bloom, Molly, and Dedalus, and show we are all heroes in our ordinary lives, one way or another.

There is not past, no future; everything flows in an eternal present

Joyce’s use of stream-of-consciousness was disorienting to readers unfamiliar with this style of writing. It was sometimes difficult to delineate the past from the future or the present when reading ‘Ulysses.’ This technique was employed by Joyce to emphasize the importance of now; this moment is all there is and all we are going to get. It is confusing, but it is all that is real and exists.

On Empathy and Gratefulness

Every life is in many days, day after day. We walk through ourselves, meeting robbers, ghosts, giants, old men, young men, wives, widows, brothers-in-love, but always meeting ourselves.

Joyce’s message was empathy towards the people whom we would regard with disdain. He reasoned that, in such seemingly malevolent characters, if we peer deeper, we would see a bit of ourselves in there. There isn’t a single person that is purely good or purely evil, and thus, this understanding should make us more compassionate and less judgmental towards others.

People trample over flowers, yet only to embrace a cactus

The tendency for people to underestimate how good they have it until they taste the grass on the other side. Molly’s dalliance with Boyle fritters away after Bloom returns home, and she makes him dinner. Molly realizes how good she has it with Bloom and decides to commit to him.

On the Writing of James Joyce

I’ve put in so many enigmas and puzzles that it will keep the professors busy for centuries arguing over what I meant, and that’s the only way of insuring one’s immortality.

‘Ulysses’ is infamous for being difficult to read and make sense of. This was deliberately done by James Joyce. He intended for it to be so convoluted and complicated that it would keep his name relevant for decades. But beyond that, ‘Ulysses’ was made complicated by Joyce to show how much more depth and sophistication exist in our ordinary lives. Bloom was an ordinary man, yet so much complexity is associated with his character.

 The demand that I make of my reader is that he should devote his whole life to reading my works

This quote was a bit tongue-in-cheek. James Joyce was a vast reader, so he packed his works with numerous references to other works. Some of these references were so subtle that only a trained eye would spot them. In succeeding years after the publishing of ‘Ulysses’, annotated versions of ‘Ulysses’ were published, explaining a lot of the subtleties Joyce packed into his book.

On Learning, Teaching and the Zeitgeist

To learn, one must be humble. But life is the great teacher

Life’s numerous challenges teach us a lesson if only we are humble enough to accept the instruction. Joyce was riddled with illness and poverty for the majority of his life. This constant battle with health made him an astute observer of nature and humbled him regarding his outlook on life. Joyce said it made him a better writer to remove pride and ego and let life teach him how to observe and pen down his observations.

Men are governed by lines of intellect – women by curves of emotion

This was a recurring theme throughout ‘Ulysses’. Molly was enamored by flattery, emotions, and feelings, while Dedalus was ruled by logic and reasoning. These sharp distinctions of thinking were a popular notion of the 20th century that women were irrational and emotional while men were rational and logical. Joyce always incorporated the prevailing narrative of the time into his works.


How many languages does James Joyce speak?

James Joyce, who could speak several languages, was a bit of a polyglot. He graduated with a modern languages degree from University College Dublin in 1902 (proficiency in Latin, Italian, French, German, and literary Norwegian). He continuously contributed to his knowledge by learning Hebrew, Russian, Japanese, Chinese, Finnish, and other languages.

What were the themes behind James Joyce’s works?

‘Dubliners’ painted a picture of the world in which he was raised, including all of its dangers, concerns, and heinous betrayals as well as its instances of generosity and bravery.
As the name implies, ‘A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man’ depicts a young man growing up in the such a world while attempting to escape its “nets.” He appears to be successful in the end.
The theme of ‘Ulysses’ is growing older and questioning whether you could be going astray. Stephen is roving around and attempting to pick up a thread that he feels has been lost, while Bloom is doing the same thing in a different way. They eventually discover it in a random act of generosity on a dark street, and it brings them closer together.
In ‘Finnegans Wake’, a person nears death and reflects on their life, wondering if it was worth it.

What is James Joyce’s most popular quote?

“Shut your eyes and see.”

Charles Asoluka
About Charles Asoluka
Charles is an experienced content creator, writer, and literary critic. He has written professionally for multiple reputable media organizations. He loves reading Western classics and reviewing them.
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