“Duffy is trapped. If he represses his desires, he becomes hopelessly isolated and neurotic, since he will not compromise his ideal of honesty and live with Mrs. Sinico openly, as if he were a heterosexual man... Duffy’s social isolation is not fundamentally due to his neuroticism (the standard critical reading), but rather his neuroticism arises from his necessary isolation and his need to distance himself from the homophobia of the patriarchy” (Jackson, 336).
Roberta Jackson’s “The Open Closet in Dubliners” focuses on this aspect of isolation present in James Joyce’s work “Painful Case.” I agree with John Dysktra’s claim that Mr. Duffy doesn’t “freely choose” to be isolated from society. It may not be plainly implied in the text that Mr. Duffy has desires of breaking from the secluded social mold that he currently adheres to, but his interactions with Mrs. Sinico indicate that he has an inability to break free from the “necessary isolation” to which he is bound. His homosexuality is what ultimately keeps him from continuing to maintain some form of interaction with Mrs. Sinico, as he feels compelled to repress any possibility of coming out of the closet to her. I first interpreted Mrs. Sinico’s gesture of pressing Mr. Duffy’s hand to her cheek as something out of compassion, but found it surprisingly to be more an act of sensuality. Mrs. Sinico becomes someone he can talk to, and this first puzzled me as to why he abruptly decides to break contact with her. There are many reasons as to why his regression back to social isolation is unnecessary, including his own sexuality and her marriage to Captain Sinico. However, her strengthening relationship with him leads to her intimate act, even if mistaken. He becomes trapped, as he must decide whether or not to stay true to his sexuality in the face of societal interpretation. Duffy gives in to social pressures in a different way, as he chooses to be “hopelessly isolated” from society.
A product of Duffy’s entrapment is Sinico’s death. He decides to uphold his beliefs through isolation, a likely factor in her suicide. This compels Jackson to define Duffy’s social seclusion as a “neurotic symptom” in which he remains in the closet despite behaviors indicating his desire for the contrary. She presents an interesting twist on Mr. Duffy’s alleged neuroticism, as she supports her claim by stating that he cannot give or receive love. Duffy’s “maladaptive response to normal situations” fuels his neurotic behavior.