In "Dubliners," through a series of portraits, James Joyce describes the emotional, intellectual, and spiritual loss of the time. We envision ourselves based on how other think of us and in "Clay" and "A Painful Case," Joyce writes about people's awareness of themselves in the world. Joyce explains that life not only base on how we view ourselves, but also our own significance is in a large part based on how other people view us: how much or how little we choose to recognize ourselves through the eyes of others, determines the quality of our life.
Maria, from "Clay," chooses to recognize only the compliments she receives from other people, by doing so, she, like James from "A Painful Case," remains distant from real emotion and is unconscious of her failures. Maria disliked by everybody she encounters and she has learned to care only about the positive things people say about her: because such comments are scarce, anything that she feels compliments her nicely, give her life new meaning. For example, while responsible for serving a cake, Maria was called a "veritable peace-maker," yet she took the compliment out of context and accepts it as her niche in life (pg. 95). Though Maria is ignorant to her place in the world, she seems to live a happier life because of it. Rather than live a life where you know everyone despises you, Maria has chosen to be ignore it. In fact, she has done it so well, that her life seem rather pathetic to the outsider. She leads an egocentric life, and rather than amend her ways, she justifies herself as better. Just the opposite of Maria, when James begins to see himself through the eyes of others for the first time and realizes how truly lonely he is. .
Living a life of isolation prevents you from knowing where your place is in the world. With the "only dissipations of his life" being by himself reading books and listening to classical music, James was essentially making himself an "outcast from life's feast" (pg.