Analysis of James Joyce’s Dubliners

This is the title that Joyce gave to his collection of 15 short stories written over a three-year period (1904–07). Though he finished the final story, “The Dead,” in spring of 1907, difficulties in finding a publisher and Joyce’s initial refusal to alter any passage thought to be objectionable kept it from being published by Grant Richards until 1914.

From their inception, Joyce intended the stories to be part of a thematically unified and chronologically ordered series. It was a searing analysis of Irish middle- and lower-middle-class life, with Dublin not simply as its geographical setting but as the emotional and psychological locus as well. Originally he had 10 stories in mind: “The Sisters,” “An Encounter,” “The Boarding House,” “After the Race,” “Eveline,” “Clay,” “Counterparts,” “A Painful Case,” “Ivy Day in the Committee Room,” and “A Mother.” Toward the end of 1905, before he sent the collection to the London publisher Grant Richards, Joyce added two more stories—“Araby” and, what was then the final story, “Grace.” During 1906, he wrote “Two Gallants” and “A Little Cloud,” which he submitted to Richards along with a revision of “The Sisters,” thus expanding the number of stories to 14.

Almost immediately after agreeing to bring out the stories, however, Richards began to voice objections to portions of Joyce’s writing. In a letter to Joyce dated April 23, 1906, Richards singled out for criticism certain passages in “Two Gallants,” “Counterparts” and “Grace” that he thought offensive to public taste. This began a series of challenges to the integrity of the collection which Joyce strove to address without compromising his work. These impediments to the publication of Dubliners, repeatedly invoked by several different potential publishers, would delay the appearance of the volume for another eight years. Joyce offers an account of his publishing problems in an essay entitled “A Curious History”. He also wrote a satiric broadside entitled “Gas from a Burner” that presents a more sardonic account of his difficulties.

While in Rome, where he and his family lived between July 1906 and March 1907, Joyce conceived yet another story, “The Dead,” which he wrote after returning to Trieste in early 1907. This raised the number of stories in Dubliners to 15, and served as a conclusion to the collection. Joyce had continued negotiations with Richards over proposed changes, but by the fall of 1907 they had come to an impasse and Richards canceled his contract. Joyce found himself without a publisher, and it would be the spring of 1914, after many unsuccessful attempts to have the work published, before Joyce was again offered a contract by Richards, who finally brought out Dubliners in June of that year.

James Joyce/Pinterest


The delays that Joyce encountered were not simply the result of an author’s inflexibility in the face of criticism. Joyce had a clear idea what he hoped to accomplish with the collection, and feared extensive changes would damage those aims. In a letter to Grant Richards written in May 1906, Joyce, attempting to justify his work, clearly stated his overall purpose and design in writing the stories:

My intention was to write a chapter of the moral history of my country and I chose Dublin for the scene because that city seemed to me the centre of paralysis. I have tried to present it to the indifferent public under four of its aspects: childhood, adolescence, maturity and public life. The stories are arranged in this order. I have written it for the most part in a style of scrupulous meanness and with the conviction that he is a very bold man who dares to alter in the presentment, still more to deform, whatever he has seen and heard. (Letters, I.134)

A number of times Joyce made clear his intention of presenting “Dublin to the world” (see Letters, II.122) at least as he conceived the city and its inhabitants. He did so in a direct, unadorned, realistic style that included unvarnished descriptive elements and commonplace diction. However, these elements that he saw as essential to conveying the gritty essence of his narrative vision proved to be obstacles to publication, as publishers feared that the realistic evocation of the city would give offense to the merchants whose businesses were named and the readers whose coarse everyday language was captured on the page. At the same time, as Joyce well knew, it is this attention to detail, the ordering of the stories according to the stages of human maturation, the pervasive theme of paralysis, manifest in multiple variations like entrapment, disillusionment, and death, and the stories’ common setting that give the collection coherence and provide a comprehensive and lifelike portrait of Dublin and its citizens. It would be a mistake, however, to read the collection as a vindictive assault upon the city in which Joyce grew to manhood. His significant use of the word moral also throws light on what he meant by “a style of scrupulous meanness.” It does not primarily signify ethical judgment or valuation; rather, derived from the Latin moralis, the word means the custom or behavior of a people, and Joyce is portraying the customs, behavior, and thoughts of the citizens of Dublin. In effect, he feels that by conveying a realistic impression of his city, readers of Dubliners will come to their own conclusions regarding its citizens.

That is not to say that the narratives shy away from harsh representations. Rather, Joyce endeavors to capture as accurately as possible the atmosphere that he felt made life in the city so difficult for its inhabitants. The oppressive effects of religious, political, cultural, and economic forces on the lives of lower-middle-class Dubliners provided Joyce the raw material for a piercingly objective, psychologically realistic picture of Dubliners as an afflicted people. The arrangement of the stories and the use of imagery and symbolism peculiar to each and to its place within the whole sharpen the variations on Joyce’s central theme of a stultified city. “I call the series Dubliners,” Joyce wrote in August 1904 to his former classmate Constantine Curran, “to betray the soul of that hemiplegia or paralysis which many consider a city” (Letters, I.55). In the opening lines of “The Sisters,” paralysis confronts the reader as the collection’s initial and dominant theme. It emerges as more complex than simple inertia, evoking both stasis and an underlying sense of despair, a combination of resignation and loss that emerges throughout the collection.

The psychological, spiritual, and emotional ambiances of the collection evolve slowly, along carefully delineated lines paralleling human growth and development. As early as 1905, Joyce had established a fourfold division of three stories each for Dubliners. Although this structure changed somewhat as the number of stories grew, its basic design remained intact. In the first maturational division of Dubliners, childhood, there are three stories: “The Sisters” (written in 1904 and first published that same year in the Iish Homestead under Joyce’s pseudonym, Stephen Daedalus), “An Encounter,” and “Araby” (both written in 1905). The second division, adolescence, includes four stories: “Eveline” and “After the Race” (both composed in 1904 and first published in that year in the Irish Homestead under the name of Stephen Daedelus), “Two Gallants” (written in 1905–06), and “The Boarding House” (written in 1905). The third group, adulthood, consists of four stories: “A Little Cloud” (composed in 1906), “Counterparts” (written at the same time as “The Boarding House” in 1905), “Clay” (composed in 1905–06), and “A Painful Case” (written in 1905). The fourth and last division, public life, consists of “Ivy Day in the Committee Room,” “A Mother,” “Grace” (all written in 1905), and “The Dead” (written in 1906–07).

In her essay “The Life Chronology of Dubliners,” Florence L. Walzl has examined the reasoning that motivated Joyce to order the stories in progressive stages corresponding to the stages of human life. According to Walzl, Joyce employed the terms childhood, adolescence, and maturity in ways that parallel the Roman division of life rather than the division commonly identified with these concepts. “Joyce had a strong awareness,” Walzl argues, “of the Roman divisions of the life span. His statements and practices indicate that he adopted the view that childhood (pueritia) extended to age seventeen; adolescence (adulescentia) from seventeen through the thirtieth year; young manhood (juventus) from thirty-one to forty-five, and old age (senectus) from forty-five on.” Joyce’s concern for chronology and age distinction reveals the general importance for him of order in his art, and it also touches on his sense of the fluctuating forms of identity through which we pass as we slowly mature.

Despite the significance of context for the cohesion of the collection, stylistic expression is as important to Joyce as thematic development. His concern with and careful attention to word order and overall structure began with Chamber Music, a work completed prior to Dubliners, and it remains a central element in his compositional strategy throughout his oeuvre. Indeed, as his thematic endeavors became more complex and diffuse, stylistics functions as the primary means by which Joyce achieves coherence in and among all of his writings. Although some of Joyce’s methods in the short stories may seem understated when compared with the formal experimentation that he undertook in subsequent prose fiction—A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Ulysses, and Finnegans Wake—time and again passages in Dubliners wonderfully adumbrate fully developed techniques that characterize the later work. Indeed, realizing the stylistic and thematic virtuosity of the short stories stands as the first step to full comprehension of their significance.

In “Araby,” for example, religious iconography counterpoints the basic narrative thread, making both ironic and straightforward commentary on the quest of the young narrator. In “An Encounter,” “Two Gallants,” and “Counterparts,” detailed representations of Dublin geography enforce the claustrophobic atmosphere of each story. In “A Mother,” “Ivy Day in the Committee Room,” and “The Dead,” Dublin’s social mores reflect not only universal human concerns but the very precise ways in which they are played out in Joyce’s city. Perhaps most significantly, throughout the collection a series of rich literary, theological, philosophical, and cultural allusions bring a variety of perspectives and possible meanings to the text, and they test a reader’s ability to comprehend and unify the diverse associations.

While readers rightly see Dubliners as marking an early stage in Joyce’s creative development, one needs to avoid a simplistic sense of what that means. One can certainly trace a growing artistic sophistication over the course of Joyce’s fiction writing. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Ulysses, and Finnegans Wake each manifests abilities not evident in the works that preceded it. Nonetheless, as early as Dubliners one can find the fundamental artistic elements that will characterize Joyce’s writing over the course of his career as an author. Furthermore, it is important to remember that these stories were created during a time of economic trial, emotional upheaval, and cultural disorientation. Joyce, Nora, and his growing family were struggling to adjust to a radically different environment from life in Dublin, and evidence of those trials, while not explicit, is certainly embedded in his short stories.

James Joyce in Dublin, 1904. C. P. Curran/Hulton Archive/Getty Images


The Sisters

“The Sisters,” which opens the Dubliners collection, introduces the book’s “childhood” division, and was the first story in the collection to be written. The original version of this story appeared in the August 13, 1904, issue of the Irish Homestead under the pseudonym Stephen Daedalus, which Joyce briefly used. (He later claimed to regret the decision not to publish from the start under his own name.) Joyce greatly revised “The Sisters” before it appeared in the 1914 publication of the book.

“The Sisters” introduces many of the themes that define the descriptive trajectory of the collection: narrow, though often unstated, cultural norms; ambiguity regarding the consequences of events; and an inability to take definitive action. It focuses the reader’s attention on the psyche of the narrator, a young boy, as he struggles to come to grips with the world that he inhabits. One sees his frustrations as he strives to engage change in a narrow and restrictive society. In the process, the discourse underscores the early and presumably lifelong influence of the claustrophobic environment described throughout the collection. As “The Sisters” traces the reactions of the unnamed young narrator as he endeavors to cope with his feelings about the death of an old priest, Father James Flynn, who had befriended him, it also outlines a pattern of conflict and frustration common to most of the major characters in Dubliners.

The story opens somewhat deceptively, with a seemingly straightforward phrase that captures the complexity of the story without prescribing a way to resolve the issues that will arise from it: “There was no hope for him this time.” With graceful but arresting brevity the narrative sums up the physical troubles of Father Flynn as he struggles to overcome the debilitating effects of his third stroke. More significantly, however, Joyce also obliquely introduces the notion of the utter hopelessness that seems to surround Father Flynn’s life. Finally, through the momentary ambiguity over to whom the word “him” refers and what has precipitated this lack of hope, the phrase also suggests the danger of spiritual desolation with which the boy must contend over the course of the story. The words paralysis, gnomon, and simony, all occurring in the opening paragraph, underscore the physical, spiritual, and religious decay found in the story.

In the opening lines, the young narrator quickly reveals that he is attempting to keep watch over Father Flynn’s house in anticipation of the priest’s death, setting for himself the goal of being the first outside the immediate family to know of the old man’s passing. However, the boy is frustrated in this desire, for when he comes down to supper one evening in the home of his aunt and uncle, with whom he lives, a neighbor, Mr. Cotter, has already brought the news. In this scene, the boy must deal not only with his own immediate disappointment and grief but also with his uncle’s and Mr. Cotter’s ambivalence toward Father Flynn.

As the reality of Father Flynn’s death begins to sink in, the boy undertakes a closer scrutiny of the priest’s life than what he had previously allowed himself. Although Father Flynn was diligent in his religious instruction of the boy, the child’s recollections suggest that his teacher’s own response to Catholic dogma had become highly idiosyncratic, to say the least. Indeed, the most striking elements of the priest’s behavior recollected by the boy go well beyond what one might explain as the eccentricities of a man of advancing age and in fact seem to reflect a corrosive bitterness and a profound disillusionment linked to a fundamental loss of belief.

The next evening, the boy and his aunt go to pay their respects at the house in Great BritainStreet in which, during the final days of his life, Father Flynn had lived with his sisters. The tawdriness of the home adds to the aura of shameful gloom that has permeated the narrative. In the story’s closing pages, as Father Flynn’s sister Eliza describes what she chooses to see as her brother’s eccentric behavior, the priest’s profound alienation from society becomes all too evident to readers. Eliza tries to overcome her own chagrin over her brother’s actions with a simple bromide meant to explain it all away, “[H]e was too scrupulous always” (D 17). Nonetheless, when she recounts how two other priests had discovered her brother one night sitting “in his confession-box, wideawake and laughing-like softly to himself” (D 18), the tremendous strain that his erratic conduct has produced in his sisters becomes all too apparent to readers.

In Father Flynn’s seeming inability to counteract the despair and lethargy that blighted his last years, in his probable loss of faith, and in his certain mental breakdown, Joyce introduces multiple manifestations of the spiritual paralysis that underlies all of Dubliners. At the same time, he deftly avoids allowing despair to impose a single unambiguous approach to the story or to the rest of the work. Too much uncertainty surrounds Father Flynn’s behavior and its impact on the boy to allow a simple interpretation. Further, although the poignancy not only of Father Flynn’s life but of the lives of all the characters invites the reader’s empathy, even this feeling is not unmixed. A willful smallness circumscribes all their lives, making unalloyed sympathy impossible.

Even the story’s title resists easy explanation. Foregrounding the women who will not appear until late in the narrative and who will function only at the margins of the narrative leaves us unsure of the degree of irony Joyce means to convey. In the end, “The Sisters” offers a keen sense of what Joyce himself described as “the odour of ashpits and old weeds and offal [that] hangs round my stories” (Letters, I.64) without forcing upon the reader a particular meaning for that impression.

Despite its chronicle of frustration and despair, “The Sisters” stops short of leaving the reader with the feeling of desolation. The tragedy inherent in the daily lives of Joyce’s characters need not, and indeed should not, be seen as justifying nihilism. Indeed, in the very action of recounting the story, the unnamed narrator attests to its complexity and to his own determination to resist, even if only instinctively, the deadening effect of the world that overwhelmed Father Flynn.


Flynn, Eliza

She is one of the two sisters who provide the title of the story and who cared for their retired brother, the Rev. James Flynn. Together with Nannie Flynn, Eliza runs a shop “under the vague name of Drapery” that sells umbrellas and children’s booties (D 11). At the end of the story, when the unnamed narrator and his aunt attend Father Flynn’s wake at Eliza and Nannie’s home above their shop, Eliza attempts to rationalize a reason for her brother’s nervous breakdown. Her conversation shows a propensity for denial even as her tendency toward employing malapropism lends an unintended humor to what she says.

Flynn, Rev. James

He is the dead priest whose inability in this story to cope with the world sets a tone for the entire collection. Although he never actually appears as a character, his erratic behavior, spiritual paralysis, and eventual death dominate the narrative and are the central focus of the story. Father Flynn, in his relationship with the unnamed boy who narrates the story, serves to illuminate the young man’s own nature and to clarify the forces of the claustrophobic Dublin world against which the boy will have to contend, in much the same fashion as Father Flynn did. Over the course of the story, one hears of various incidents from Father Flynn’s life from characters as diverse as old Cotter (a neighbor), the unnamed boy, and the dead priest’s two sisters. No single perspective gives a full view of the man, and no two accounts offer the same picture. It remains for the reader to reconcile the diverse accounts to form an idea of Father Flynn’s life.

Flynn, Nannie

She is one of the two sisters who give the story its title and who cared for their retired brother, the Rev. James Flynn, during his paralytic illness. Nannie and Eliza Flynn hold Father Flynn’s wake in their home, above their dry goods shop where they sell umbrellas and children’s booties. When the unnamed narrator of the story and his aunt attend the wake, Nannie, at her sister’s bidding, offers them a glass of sherry. Although Nannie’s actions are narrated, she has no dialogue, and is thus an example of the voiceless characters found throughout Joyce’s writings.

An Encounter

This is the second story in Dubliners placed in the first division of the collection, childhood. It was written in September 1905, and was the ninth in order of composition.

Although its sexual overtones and oblique references to pederasty may seem innocuous in comparison to descriptions appearing in contemporary fiction, “An Encounter” caused Joyce considerable problems with his publishers. Grant Richards, who in 1906 had agreed to publish Dubliners, was uneasy over the depiction of the old man at the center of the story and wanted to omit it from the collection. Joyce’s refusal to make this and other changes caused Richards to withdraw his offer to publish the collection. In August 1912, Joyce reluctantly agreed to delete the story if certain conditions were met by another potential publisher, George Roberts (see letter dated August 21, 1912, in Letters, II.309–310). Nonetheless, this concession proved insufficient to persuade Roberts to continue with the project. When Grant Richards finally published the collection in 1914, however, he dropped all objections and the story appeared as Joyce had originally written it.

The plot of “An Encounter” revolves around the escapades of two young boys who spend a day “mitching,” skipping school classes to wander about the city. The opening paragraphs set the emotional tone of the story with themes of freedom, adventure, and conflict introduced through allusions to America’s Wild West and the mock Indian battles the boys would arrange after school. There is also a sense of restlessness and boredom. “The summer holidays were near at hand,” says the unnamed narrator, “when I made up my mind to break out of the weariness of school-life for one day at least” (Dubliners 21).

The scheme is soon put into action when the unnamed narrator and his friend Mahony, on “a mild sunny morning in the first week of June,” meet near the Royal Canal, and wander along the North Circular Road toward the dock area of Dublin. They marvel at the sights along the quays, and then take a ferry across the River Liffey to Ringsend, an area on the south side of the city. After a lunch of biscuits and chocolate washed down by raspberry lemonade, they abandon their planned trip to the Pigeon House and laze about on a field near the Dodder River.

As they sit in the field unsure of what to do next, they are approached by a “queer old josser” who shows an obvious, if unspecified, interest in them. While the reader will quickly pick up on the man’s pederastic inclinations, Mahony and the narrator do not have such a clear sense of him. Nonetheless, they remain uneasy in his presence. When Mahony runs off to chase a cat, the man is left alone with the narrator and begins to talk of whippings and of young girls. This proves too much for the boy to take, and he abruptly leaves and calls to Mahony to join him.

The story ends with no apparent harm having been done, but with a great deal left unsaid. Although clearly upset by the old man, the narrator does not seem either able or willing to articulate the specific source of his discomfort. When the boy rejoins Mahony, he feels both relieved to be in the relative safety of his friend’s company and “penitent; for in my heart I had always despised [Mahony] a little” (Dubliners 28). The story ends there, leaving the reader with a vague sense of dissatisfaction, if not a sense of the spiritual paralysis the boys unwittingly encounter in the old man. We read as much into the scene as we wish, giving the situation whatever degree of gravity seems appropriate to our interpretation.


The young schoolboy who skips classes with the unnamed narrator of the story. He pretends to be named Murphy to hide his identity from the Queer Old Josser.

Queer Old Josser
The man who accosts the young boys as they lie in a field near the River Dodder. Smith The name that the unnamed narrator of the story assumes to hide his identity from the Queer Old Josser.


This is the third story in the Dubliners collection, and the final one in the initial group of stories dedicated to childhood. Written in October 1905, “Araby” is the 11th story that Joyce composed for the collection.

Like the first two stories, “Araby” relies upon an introspective, unnamed narrator who is recollecting his adolescent infatuation with the sister of a neighborhood friend, Mangan. More than a simple account of childhood love, however, the story lays out the larger question of the proper use of the imagination. In asking what differences, if any, exist between the images that an active mind produces as a source of aesthetic pleasure and those created as a form of escapism, the story challenges readers to articulate the interpretive values that allow one to distinguish a powerful narrative from idle speculation.

In the opening paragraphs the narrator vividly depicts the confining environment of North Richmond Street where he lived as a boy. (Although the time of the narrative remains indeterminate for most of the story, as will be noted later, the final lines give a strong indication of a retrospective analysis of events.) The narrator immediately highlights a central concern of the story by contrasting the physically circumscribed limits of this dead-end street with the imaginative potential offered by the books found in “the waste room behind the kitchen” (Dubliners 29). At the same time, the narrator does not restrict his search for imaginative stimulus to books. With no apparent concern for the implications of voyeurism, he recounts how on school mornings he would peer through a lowered blind in a front parlor window to watch Mangan’s sister— herself unnamed—leave her house. He describes how he would then shyly follow her and pass her with a few perfunctory words when she reached the point where their paths separated. He was never able to engage her in an extended conversation, and so he was nonplussed when one evening she addressed him and asked whether he was going to the Araby bazaar (Dubliners 31). When he learns that Mangan’s sister is much taken by the bazaar but cannot go to it, the narrator volunteers to attend and to bring her a present.

Although they remained events that attracted a good deal of attention, in Joyce’s time such bazaars were fairly common in Dublin. In fact, a “Grand Oriental Fête” was actually held in May 1894, which corresponds with the approximate time of the story. Postcolonial interpretive theory has given readers a sophisticated sense of Orientalism, but nonetheless one needs to avoid making an overdetermined response to the setting. When Joyce wrote the story, the word Araby would be read as a variation of the term Arabia; applied to the bazaar, it would immediately evoke the exotic overtones of a distant and mysterious land. At the same time, the commercial banality of the fair would be apparent to all but the most determinedly idealistic Dubliner.

The narrator, however, has no interest in exposing the tawdry shabbiness of Araby. Rather, the bazaar becomes for him a symbol of the evocative power of his own awakening imagination. During the days preceding the fair, images of its splendor dominate his thoughts. Conflating Araby and Mangan’s sister into an idealized alternative to the mundane existence around him, the boy fixes all his attention on the time that must pass until he is able to go to the bazaar.

Tension mounts on the Saturday of the bazaar, as the boy waits expectantly for his uncle to return home to give him the money needed to travel to the fair. In predictable dramatic fashion, as the hour grows later, his uncle’s delayed return compounds the boy’s anxiety. His uncle finally appears at a time that seems too late for a trip to Araby. Heis slightly drunk and has forgotten the boy’s plans. The consequent juxtaposition of the boy’s frustration and his uncle’s lack of concern neatly highlight the relative importance and unimportance of Araby.

The narrator then tells how he set out on what he sees at the moment as a romantic quest to purchase the gift for Mangan’s sister. On the rail journey across town narrative details underscore the urban squalor through which the boy must pass, and it prepares the reader for the disappointment he will feel when he finally arrives at the bazaar just as it is closing. The boy finds the exhibition area nearly empty, the bazaar’s attendants uninterested in his desire to make a purchase, and Araby’s tawdry wares unacceptable for the portentous mission that he has undertaken.

The story ends on a note of frustration and bitterness. As he describes himself leaving the fairground, the now seemingly more mature narrator offers a brief but bitter insight into his youthful consciousness: “Gazing up into the darkness I saw myself as a creature driven and derided by vanity; and my eyes burned with anguish and anger” (D 35). While the shift in perspective may seem a jolt at first reading, the sardonic tone that has recurred throughout the story both substantiates the more mature view and leaves to readers the task of interpreting the significance of the boy’s disappointment. Is he crestfallen because he realizes how foolish he had been to inflate the significance of his trip to Araby, or does he feel a deeper, more lasting disappointment over the deceptive power of an incautious imagination? The story avoids prescriptive interpretation by ending too abruptly to resolve the question, but it has deftly advanced the issue of the role of the imagination for the reader to consider.

The thematic organization neatly sustains this aura of ambiguity. Like many of the stories in Dubliners, “Araby” contains an abundance of religious and folk imagery. It makes allusions to Catholic litanies and to mythological symbols evoking the Grail quest, blending the two to give a sense of the boy’s efforts to impose meaning on the world as dominated by a mixture of faith and fantasy. More specifically, his conflation of dogma and romanticism foregrounds the impulse for escape that anyone with imaginative powers living on North Richmond Street would feel. The imagery associated with these attitudes heightens the reader’s sense of the struggle and painful awareness of the narrator’s spiritual journey through the pleasures of the flesh without pointing to a clear interpretive response that one should make. Whether the “confused adoration” (Dubliners 31) of the young boy’s childhood has in fact been resolved by insights gained at a more mature age remains an open question, but the complexity and intensity of the forces precipitating that struggle stand out clearly.


He is a friend of the unnamed narrator in the story and the only major figure identified by name. It is Mangan’s sister, identified only by her relationship to her brother, who inspires the narrator with the desire to visit the bazaar that gives the story its title.


This is the fourth story in Dubliners. “Eveline” introduces the beginning of the volume’s second division, accounts of adolescence. It also marks the shift in narrative point of view from the first person, which characterized the first three stories, to the third person, which will inform the discourse for the remainder of the collection. It was the second story of the collection that Joyce wrote, and it was first published under Joyce’s nom de plume, Stephen Daedalus, in the September 10, 1904, issue of the Irish Homestead.

With ample use of the free indirect discourse narrative technique, the story unfolds both within and at a distance from the consciousness of its protagonist, Eveline Hill, a young woman whose life has become circumscribed by her job as a store clerk and by her responsibilities as a housekeeper for her father and a surrogate mother for her siblings. Straining against these stifling conditions, she has planned to elope with Frank, a sailor who is her presumptive “fiancé,” to “Buenos Ayres” [sic]. Eve-line imagines that away from the petty and demanding world of Victorian Dublin she will find the stable home life and experience the tender love currently absent from her life, and, perhaps most important, where, as a married woman, she will be treated with a respect that she does not now enjoy.

The story opens with Eveline sitting by a window in her home. She watches the evening descend upon the lonely neighborhood, mulling over events from her childhood, considering life with her family, and decrying the tedium of her own drab existence. Eveline feels trapped and conflicted. She had promised her dying mother to do what was necessary to keep the family together, but she now feels a restiveness that comes from realizing the limited options open to her in Dublin. She has met a young sailor, Frank, who has enthralled her. Her father, whether from selfishness or shrewd sense of human nature, disapproves of the young man, but that has only made their courtship more furtive than it would otherwise have been. Frank wishes her to elope with him, and promises her a life completely unlike anything she has ever known. However, Eveline’s timidity causes her to agonize over her decision to renounce the promise she made to her mother and leave the family forever. Paradoxically, only after she recollects the scene of her mother’s death do her feelings crystallize. Eveline is seized by “a sudden impulse of terror” (Dubliners 40) and she feels an urgent need to escape with Frank, who alone, she believes, “would save her” and “give her life” (Dubliners 40). Nonetheless, the inertial force of Dublin life proves extremely powerful. When Eveline arrives at the North Wall to board the boat with Frank, she is suddenly immobilized—paralyzed— by fear of the unknown, and she remains transfixed, unable to move. As Frank frantically pleads with her to join him on board the ship, “[h]er eyes gave him no sign of love or farewell or recognition” (Dubliners 41). The paralysis of death reaches beyond her mother’s grave.

Although the meaning of the story may seem obvious at first, as with all of Joyce’s works an inherent ambiguity, heightened by the oscillating views of free indirect discourse, disrupts easy interpretations. Because a good portion of the reader’s information comes from Eveline’s point of view, nothing from her sense of the world has the assurance of an objective account. At the same time that she tells us about the trials of her life, the narrative pulls back to show the flaws that inhibit her observations. Critics have played upon this duality to offer a wide range of interpretations of the story, particularly relating to Eveline’s refusal to leave Dublin and to the options opened or foreclosed by her decision. No single interpretation is completely convincing. (Perhaps the most striking is Hugh Kenner’s speculation that Frank had never intended to take Eveline to Buenos Aires but rather meant to turn her into a prostitute in Great Britain.) Cumulatively, however, these various readings underscore the ambivalence that runs through Eveline’s narrative. Despite its implicit criticism of the limited provincial perspective of the story’s title character, the narrative’s willingness to evoke her feelings leaves one wondering what realistic options Eveline has. The reader must decide whether to center the pessimism of the story in its ending, or whether to take the broader and darker view that her patriarchal upbringing has so traumatized her as to negate the possibility of any alternative.


In the Dubliners story “Eveline,” he is the young man with whom Eveline Hill plans to elope to Buenos Aires. In fact, the narrative does relatively little to flesh out his nature. Consequently, at the end of the story, even though their passage has been booked, when Frank is forced to leave without Eveline because of her incapacitating fear of change, it remains difficult to tell what effect this has upon him.

Hill, Eveline
She appears as the listless title character in the Dubliners story “Eveline.” To escape from a life of domestic oppression, she plans to elope with her fiancé, a sailor named Frank, to Buenos Aires. She plans to start a new life there as a married woman, and hopes to achieve the respect she believes she deserves. Before leaving her home, Eveline reminisces about her family, dwelling upon the abusiveness of her father and the entrapmentshe feels because of the death of her mother. However, when she arrives at the North Wall to meet Frank and board the ship, she is seized with an overwhelming terror that paralyzes her and saps her will to leave.

James Joyce/Pinterest

After the Race

This is the fifth story in the Dubliners collection, and it is the second of the four stories in the second division of the collection, adolescence. In order of composition, it was third. An earlier version appeared in the December 17, 1904, issue of the Iish Homestead.

The background for the story comes from an April 1903 interview with the French racing-car driver Henri Fournier, entitled “The Motor Derby”, which Joyce published in the Irish Times. The information that came from Fournier would allow Joyce to contrast the international perspectives of the men who participated in this emerging sport with the insistent provincialism of the citizens of Dublin, an idea that implicitly informs the thematic organization of all of Dubliners. Joyce gained additional material for developing this concept when, on July 2, 1903, Ireland held the fourth annual Gordon Bennett Cup Race, won by a Belgian driver in a Mercedes.

Despite these obvious thematic and stylistic signatures that distinguish all of Joyce’s work, the narrative shifts its emphasis from the central issues that characterize the other pieces in the collection— alienation and frustration within the middle and lower-middle classes—to focus attention on the nouveaux riches. Joyce himself was keenly aware of this dichotomy, for, almost two years after its composition, in an August 19, 1906, letter to his brother Stanislaus, he commented that he would have liked to rewrite the story (see Letters, II.151), although he was more concerned with getting the volume into print than with polishing this piece. His unease over the story remained, however, and on November 13 of the same year, Joyce wrote to Stanislaus that in his opinion “After the Race” was one of “the two worst stories” in the collection, the other being “A Painful Case” (Letters, II.189).

Whatever its quality, as one begins to read “After the Race” striking differences between it and the other stories in Dubliners emerge almost immediately. While most of the pieces in the volume offer detailed views of the lives of Dubliners desperately struggling to survive in a hostile economic and social environment, “After the Race” highlights the mindless prodigality of Jimmy Doyle, a popular young man from a well-to-do Dublin family. The story also introduces, as an intrinsic feature of the plot, other characters whose wealth and foreign citizenship distance them from the few poor Irish figures who appear in “After the Race” and throughout the collection. In this fashion, Joyce makes telling points about the environment from which Jimmy and the rest of the Doyle family seek to escape, but, unlike the other accounts in the collection, the differences highlighted here are drawn sharply, almost didactically, without the subtlety that characterizes the other stories.

In the opening paragraph of “After the Race,” the narrative offers ironic commentary on the tempo of life in Ireland and on the Continent and adds to that a heavy-handed comment that contrasts the prosperousness of the racers with the penury of their audience: “At the crest of the hill at Inchicore sightseers had gathered in clumps to watch the cars careering homeward and through this channel of poverty and inaction the Continent sped its wealth and industry” (Dubliners 42). Though none of the characters has been introduced, readers can see retrospectively that the tone of this opening, employing free indirect discourse, mimics the nonchalance of Jimmy and his friends and their patronizing disdain for the provincial curiosity of the Irish spectators. Although the narrative moves quickly beyond the scene to develop the action of the story, these opening images form an emblematic impression of the unarticulated struggle for identity that takes place within Jimmy’s consciousness.

Despite the relentless emphasis on materiality in the opening pages, in short order the narrative of “After the Race” foregrounds personal spiritual alienation and communal privation as insistently as any of the other stories. Presaging the dilemma that James Duffy will face in “A Painful Case,” “After the Race” portrays Jimmy’s emotional entrapment, or paralysis, in a tone of chilling finality that belies his material security. Although these themes areembodied by most of the major characters throughout the collection, “After the Race” represents its central figures in a fashion closer to that of the Russian writers Dostoyevsky or Lermontov than to anything else in Dubliners.

Throughout the hectic day Jimmy moves from one location and situation to another as a passive observer rather than an active participant. In many ways this is the most suitable role for him to adopt, for despite his 26 years and lifelong familiarity with Dublin, the places and incidents featured or alluded to in the story—life at Cambridge University, a drunken, private dinner in a Dublin restaurant, a late-night card party on a yacht—even when he appears as a participant are all outside his field of comprehension. When he does endeavor to inject himself into the midst of the action, it is always with an unvoiced sense of being on the brink of a social misstep.

Thus, if the wealthy Jimmy Doyle embodies the hopes for social acceptance of an affluent Irish Catholic upper-middle class, the success of that prospect remains uncertain. With the encouragement of his father, Jimmy plans to invest a substantial amount of his inheritance “in the motor business” (Dubliners 45), a plan he takes seriously, but which—given his behavior throughout the story—the reader may view with skepticism. By the end of “After the Race,” Jimmy is exhausted and in debt after heavy losses in an all-night card game, an apt symbol for his future. The new day breaks “in a shaft of grey light” (Dubliners 48) that brings Jimmy personal remorse and prefigures what is to come: “He knew that he would regret in the morning but at present he was glad of the rest, glad of the dark stupor that would cover up his folly” (Dubliners 48).

Despite the significant difference between Jimmy’s social position and that of other characters in Dubliners, these final lines situate him in the same moral landscape they all inhabit. In his ambivalence between guilt and denial, Jimmy reflects the same lack of assurance that countless other characters express in Joyce’s stories. It is not simply that he is unable or unwilling to judge his behavior dispassionately. Rather, he reflects a stark lack of faith in the ability of any standard of values to provide an accurate assessment of his life. Further, the ambiguity of the situation makes it difficult to discern the real consequences of Jimmy’s folly. Has he lost so much that his future is genuinely in jeopardy, or has he simply incurred more debt than his father will be willing to pass off with a tolerant laugh?


Doyle, Jimmy
He is the protagonist of the story. Though relatively nondescript, it is noteworthy that he and Gabriel Conroy in “The Dead” are the only principal characters in the collection who are not clearly members of Dublin’s middle or lowermiddle class. The son of an aspiring Dublin family, Jimmy Doyle first appears as one of the passengers in the racing car of Charles Ségouin. He afterward entertains and socializes with the young men— French, Hungarian, Canadian, American, and English— who have participated in the race. In his efforts to emulate the wild life he imagines these fellows must lead, Jimmy in fact embodies the insecurities and the gaucheries of the nouveaux riches.

He is the American on whose yacht Jimmy and the others play cards.

Ségouin, Charles
He is the owner of the French automobile in the race that opens the story, and one of the winners in the card game that ends it. Ségouin’s character is most likely based upon the French racing car driver Henri Fournier, whom Joyce interviewed before the 1903 running of the James Gordon Bennett Cup Race. The interview appeared in the April 7, 1903, issue of the Irish Times under the title “The Motor Derby” and is reprinted in The Critical Writings of James Joyce.

Two Gallants

This is the sixth story in Dubliners, and, according to Joyce’s own division of the book, it is the third tale of adolescence. Overall, “Two Gallants” is the 13th Dubliners story in order of composition. Joyce wrote it over the course of the winter of 1905–06.

“Two Gallants” details the dubious activities of two venal, self-absorbed, and worthless young men, John Corley and T. Lenehan, over the course of onehollow evening in Dublin. The story ironically parallels the exploitive amorous adventures of Corley, represented indirectly through speculation and insinuation, with the forlorn and sullen peregrinations around the city center of his friend Lenehan, depicted graphically in the text. (Both characters reappear in Ulysses, each in significantly reduced circumstances that provide a material commentary on their spiritually degraded natures.) Although the narrative focuses upon Lenehan and his misfortune, his self-pity and pettiness deprive him of any claim to our sympathies. Further, his venal complicity with Corley’s exploitation of the servant girl (“a slavey” in Dublin slang) at the close of the story forcefully brings home to the reader the degraded nature of his behavior.

In its opening lines, “Two Gallants” first foregrounds images of smug materiality, and then quickly undercuts them with descriptions introducing the themes of futility, insensitivity, hypocrisy, and bitterness that emerge over the course of the narrative. As Lenehan and Corley near the end of a desultory walk around the city, Corley, with an aura of vapid self-satisfaction, is discussing his crass affairs with various young women, and Lenehan is encouraging him with fawning responses to make further disclosures.

Abruptly, but with the promise of meeting later, Corley leaves Lenehan near St Stephen’s Green and goes off for his assignation with a young slavey who works and lives nearby in a well-to-do household. In a scene that combines frank vulgarity with an even coarser strain of voyeurism, Corley by prearrangement allows Lenehan to walk past the couple to get a clearer look at the young woman. After Corley and the girl have gone off to catch the Donnybrook tram that will take them out to the suburbs, Lenehan moves listlessly through the streets, seeking diversions that will help him pass the time until 10:30, when the two men have arranged to get together again.

Lenehan’s solitary walk covers roughly the same area that he and Corley had traversed a bit earlier in the evening, and the retracing of their route and the desultory thoughts that occupy Lenehan’s mind as he walks underscore for readers not simply the aimlessness of his wandering but the greater pointlessness of his life. Despite his bravado, Lenehan seems quite aware that he is in a degraded state, both morally and materially. While impatiently awaiting the return of Corley and the young woman, Lenehan spends his time resenting his marginalized social status and dreaming of living a comfortable middle-class life. As he moves through the fashionable crowd walking along Grafton Street, he feels acutely his alienation from the men and women who pass him by. Indeed, Lenehan is estranged not merely from his fellow Dubliners but also from his own nature. Although he appears to be a man who can make himself pleasant in certain company, displaying a chameleon-like ability to adapt his demeanor to any circumstance and a seemingly limitless capacity for toadying, a clear sense of self-loathing lurks beneath the surface of his consciousness. Indeed, when alone Lenehan is so completely alienated and without even minimal resources for amusement that the mere task of occupying himself for the few hours until his companion returns baffles him: “The problem of howhe could pass the hours till he met Corley again troubled him a little. He could think of no way of passing them but to keep on walking” (Dubliners 56).

When Lenehan breaks off his restless wanderings around the city to eat in a cheap restaurant situated off Rutland Square, his real circumstances become clear. He grumbles because he has not eaten since breakfast, and now he can afford nothing more than a two-pence-halfpenny meal consisting of a plate of peas and a bottle of ginger beer. The narration vividly delineates Lenehan’s condition in terms of class awareness. Prohibited by his finances from patronizing a more expensive restaurant in a more respectable part of town, he feels embarrassed to be seen entering a rundown eating house that caters to a working-class trade. Lenehan attempts to compensate for the apparent inappropriateness of his choice and his own sense of social awkwardness by speaking to the waitress “roughly in order to belie his air of gentility for his entry had been followed by a pause of talk” (Dubliners 57). Clearly uncomfortable in this proletarian café, Lenehan, at age 31, is caught between his middle-class expectations and the reality of his diminished prospects, which he is reluctant to acknowledge. Although his future looks bleak, he deludes himself with dreams of finding a good job and a pleasant home.

After his awkward meal north of the river, Lenehan turns south, crosses the Liffey, and heads toward the area near the city hall. There he meets several acquaintances, and the lethargic conversation of these men, summarized in a terse paragraph of indirect discourse, underscores the superficial, perfunctory nature of most of Lenehan’s social relationships. Neither he nor his peers have any interest in conversation beyond an exchange of brief pleasantries and banal observations.

The tempo of the narrative and coincidentally of Lenehan’s movements picks up as the time approaches for Corley to return to town with the young servant girl. While Corley walks the woman home, Lenehan follows the pair at a distance to the door of her employer’s home. In keeping with the theme of voyeurism introduced earlier in the story, he watches as the woman enters the house, quickly returns to give something to Corley, and then goes back inside. Lenehan eagerly joins Corley, and after a dramatic pause Corley opens his hand to reveal the small gold coin that the woman had given to him.

A general feeling of exploitation and manipulation dominates the narrative of “Two Gallants.” It deftly suggests that Lenehan, Corley, and even the young woman who seems to be their victim approach each other with self-serving ends in mind. No character shares anything with another without an instrumental motive. Further, the voyeuristic emphasis in the narrative on gazing, looking, and observing does not suggest that these Dubliners feel empathy for one another. Rather, an ongoing, lowgrade envy impels each to keep a close account of the material gains of everyone else.

Characterization reinforces these ideas. In his paralyzing listlessness, Lenehan is the type of an embittered, self-pitying Dubliner, and his venality overrides any pity the reader might initially feel for him, or for any of the other characters similarly affected. As will be graphically illustrated in Ulysses, Corley exudes a smug, self-congratulatory air, based on nothing more than momentary good fortune insufficient to sustain him when real trouble arrives. The nature of the unnamed slavey proves less easily analyzed, but the smirk she displays when she first meets Corley suggests a vapid self-satisfaction similar to his. Certainly, in its relentless examination of the brutal, ugly conditions of the lives of lower-middle-class Dubliners, and those falling out of the middle class, and in its compelling representation of the rhythms of Dublin street life, “Two Gallants” assumes a paradigmatic status among the Dubliners stories.


Corley, John
He is one of the two principal characters in the story. As the son of a police inspector, Corley comes from a solid middle-class background, though his coarse sensuality belies it. He casually seduces a servant girl as a means of getting money from her.

Lenehan, T.
He is the hanger-on who is Corley’s companion in the story, and he reappears in a similar role throughout Ulysses. Despite his affected nonchalance when he is with others, Lenehan spends most of his time desperately trying to ingratiate himself with various people. He draws upon a store of coarse humor, ribald gossip, and horse racing tips to gain the approbation of others. Joyce consistently portrays him as a shameless sponger. Lenehan relentlessly plays the buffoon in anticipation of drinks and with the hope of gaining small favors from anyone willing to oblige him.

The pathetic quality of his life emerges in graphic, concentrated form in “Two Gallants.” In the middle portion of the narrative, as Lenehan walks aimlessly around the center of town waiting for the return of John Corley and the young servant girl Corley had taken out, the reader gets a palpable sense of the profound alienation he feels. Alternating between Lenehan’s thoughts and a description of the tawdry world through which he moves, the narrative underscores the emotional and spiritual toll exacted from Lenehan by the necessity of toadying to men like Corley.

Joyce modeled Lenehan on Michael Hart, a Dublin friend of his father. See also characters in Ulysses.

The Boarding House

This is the seventh story of Dubliners, and it is the last of the four stories that make up the second division of the work devoted to adolescence. “The Boarding House” was the fifth story in Joyce’s order of composition. He finished on July 1, 1905, and it was first published in 1914 when the complete Dubliners appeared. It subsequently appeared, along with “A Little Cloud,” in the May 1915 issue of the American magazine Smart Set, edited by H. L. Mencken.

The story focuses on the efforts of Mrs. Mooney, the landlady of a north-side Dublin boardinghouse, to compel one of her roomers, Bob Doran, to marry her daughter Polly. The story’s events reflect in miniature a critique of the broader sexual and marital tensions of Irish life. The recurring conflict of the story stands out not regarding the proper moral choice for a character to make but rather as an inquiry into whether the option of choice in fact exists. As the reader glimpses details of the lives of Mrs. Mooney, Polly, and Bob Doran, it becomes evident that none of the characters has any real options to exercise. Rather, the weight of social convention immediately overwhelms the opportunity for choice, ensuring that every decision made by every character is a foregone conclusion from the opening lines to the end.

Chronologically, the narrative unfolds during the brief period between Sunday breakfast and the noon mass at the Pro-Cathedral (the seat of the Catholic Church in Dublin, used as a substitute for a cathedral because the English had appropriated that term for two Church of Ireland places of worship, St. Patrick’s and Christ Church Cathedral) on Marlborough Street in the city center. However, through a series of flashbacks, the story traces the increasingly intimate relationship between Polly and Bob Doran. Despite initial appearances, the narrative is not a straightforward account of seduction and its consequences. Instead, the events that ultimately cause the confrontation between Mrs. Mooney and Doran are shown to the readers alternately from the points of view of a determined Mrs. Mooney, a frightened and angry Bob Doran, and a self-confident, though in this instance an uncharacteristically subdued, Polly.

While their interpretation of events varies, the facts as seen by all three characters are consistent: Doran has had sexual intercourse with Polly on at least one occasion. Polly does not appear to have become pregnant as a consequence, but her status has nonetheless changed radically in the eyes of the Dublin moral world in which all of the characters live. The reader, from a position of detachment, might speculate on questions of responsibility, and indeed the narrator has provided ample grounds for seeing Bob Doran as a man as much the seduced as the seducer. Indeed, the calculated response of Polly and her family can be read in the ironic overtones used by the narrator who states that the pragmatic Mrs. Mooney “knew he had a good screw [wages] . . . and . . . suspected he had a bit of stuff put by” (Dubliners 65). In the rapidly unfolding confrontation between Doran and Mrs. Mooney, the choice, if one could call it that, is made clear. Doran and Polly must marry or both will be disgraced. (The threat of physical violence from Polly’s brother Jack if Doran did not agree to this also hovers in the air. Additionally, Doran has already been told in confession that his actions were sinful and that he must make reparation.) In the end Doran’s assent appears more a recognition of the fait accompli than an actual choice.

As one takes a closer look at the story, however, any consideration of guilt and responsibility quickly recedes into the background, for the narrative raises more fundamental questions regarding the nature of free will and human behavior. It shows the actions of all of the characters who play a prominent role in the story—mother, daughter, and lodger—circumscribed by the conventions of society, which impose complex and rigidly prescriptive roles on each. They are all equally victims and predators.

While the narrative makes the decisions of these characters based on their actions foregone conclusions, a complex social interdependence informs what transpires. Mrs. Mooney, Polly, and Doran have all based their behavior upon fundamental needs—material, cultural, or sexual. At the same time, each has come to realize that only accepted societal conventions can legitimize the gratification of those needs. Each has acted without first securing the approval of others, and now, whatever the long-term cost, each wrongdoer must make reparation to bring his or her behavior into conformity with social norms.

In the end, one cannot understand “The Boarding House” without remaining clearly attentive to the influence of social strictures and the consequent expectations placed upon the characters. Joyce’s story carefully avoids the clichéd, melodramatic view of lower-middle-class seduction. Instead, it highlights not the behavior of individuals but the moral context of that behavior—the most active and powerful “character” in the story.


Doran, Bob
He is the figure around whom the action of the story turns. Doran, one of the roomers at Mrs. Mooney’s boardinghouse in Hardwicke Street, is identified throughout the narrative with ironic formality as Mr. Doran. The narrative gradually makes it clear that Doran has become sexually involved with Mrs. Mooney’s daughter, Polly Mooney, and that his landlady is determined to force him to marry her daughter as reparation for the supposed loss of the girl’s honor (Dubliners 65). Although Doran is not guiltless, the narrative makes him out to be as much the victim as the offender in this situation.

Mooney, Jack
Jack is the brother of Polly Mooney and the son of the landlady. He works as a “clerk to a commission agent in Fleet Street [and] had the reputation of being a hard case” (Dubliners 62). Although he is a relatively minor character in the story, his propensity for violent behavior puts added pressure on Bob Doran, who thinks of Jack when struggling to decide how to respond to the demands of Mrs. Mooney regarding Polly.

Mooney, Mrs.
She is one of the characters who control much of the action in the story. She is the mother of Polly Mooney and Jack Mooney, and is also the formidable proprietress of the boardinghouse where Bob Doran lives. As the narrative quickly makes clear, Mrs. Mooney, who “dealt with moral problems as a cleaver deals with meat” (Dubliners 63), is a calculating woman with a harsh, pragmatic view of the world that blends cynicism and animal cunning in roughly equal measures. She has a clear sense of what she wants and feels absolutely no qualms about manipulating others to achieve her ends. At the same time, the narrative clearly represents her as rather shortsighted, with no real grasp of, or concern for, the long-term consequences of her actions. Thus after learning of sexual relations between her daughter and Doran, she follows the most expeditious course of action and bullies Doran into marriage by threatening to provoke a scandal. The unhappy consequences of this precipitous act become obvious in Ulysses, in the course of which various characters, mixing pity and contempt, comment upon the Dorans’ disorderly married life.

Mooney, Polly
She is one of the more ambiguous characters in the story. Polly is the spoiled and self-absorbed daughter of Mrs. Mooney, the proprietress of the boardinghouse. Polly’s sexual intimacy with one of her mother’s roomers, Bob Doran, leads to the crisis at the center of the story and to Mrs. Mooney’s forcing Doran to marry Polly. Although at first she seems to be little more than a stock seduction figure, the narrative draws her character in such a way as to suggest that her engagement in the events of the story is more ambiguous than the basic plot would indicate. Polly clearly initiates intimacy with Bob Doran, and she certainly wishes to be married. However, by the end of the story it is quite apparent that at this stage in her life at least, Polly’s inclinations are more sentimental and less calculating than those of her overbearing mother, who forces her into the marriage as well.

A Little Cloud

This is the eighth story in the Dubliners collection. It marks the beginning of the third section of stories, those concerned with maturity. Written in early 1906, “A Little Cloud” was the 14th story in Joyce’s order of composition. Along with “The Boarding House,” it was published in the May 1915 issue of the American magazine Smart Set, edited by H. L. Mencken.

Joyce took the story’s title from a biblical verse, 1 Kings 18.44: “And it came to pass at the seventh time, that he said, Behold, there ariseth a little cloud out of the sea, like a man’s hand.” The passage punctuates an account of the defeat of the prophets of Baal by God’s prophet Elijah. By ending a long drought that had plagued the people of Israel, Elijah manifested to them the power of God, and brought the people of Ahab back to the worship of the Lord. The line from which Joyce draws his title marks the turning point in Elijah’s struggle to overcome the prophets of Baal. Joyce depicts a similar contest, arguably based on this struggle, in his account of the confrontation of St. Patrick and the Druid in Finnegans Wake.

“A Little Cloud” centers on a series of frustrations, disappointments, and insecurities that mar the seemingly contented bourgeois existence of a law clerk, Thomas Malone Chandler. He is known to his friends and to the story’s narrator by the diminutive, “Little Chandler,” and that provides an eponymous identification of the source of his trouble: a progressively shrinking sense of possibilities. The narrative describes in detail Chandler’s meeting with Ignatius Gallaher, a man whose life stands as the antithesis of Chandler’s. Gallaher is an old acquaintance, though calling him a friend would exaggerate their relationship, who now, after a number of years’ absence, is revisiting Dublin as a successful London journalist. After being patronized by Gallaher when they meet for a drink, Little Chandler goes home to a domestic scene that makes clear that the dissatisfaction with his life that he has felt throughout the day will more than likely continue and even grow for the remainder of his life.

Stylistically, the story unfolds using the free indirect discourse technique that is by now becoming familiar to readers of the collection. As the narrator describes events in the third person, while punctuating the discourse with poignant observations drawn from Chandler’s point of view, the reader has exposure to both a detached and a highly subjective sense of events. The effect of this bifurcated technique is to play off any sympathy one might feel for the main character’s growing dissatisfaction against an awareness of the banal, conventional nature of his life. These divergent points of view combine to emphasize Little Chandler’s frustration with his own inability as a man to develop the artistic aspirations that he felt as a youth.

Predictably, the return of Ignatius Gallaher to Dublin for a brief visit brings Little Chandler’s feelings of dissatisfaction to a head. Gallaher’s achievements as a journalist remind Chandler of his own frustrated efforts to gain recognition as a poet. Further, Gallaher’s material success and open way of living underscore for Chandler the circumscribed physical, emotional, and psychological conditions of his own household.

From the perspective of the reader, the character of Ignatius Gallaher may seem less than meets the eye. One can hardly fail to notice the bluff and bluster that overlay the accounts of his otherwise pedestrian professional and personal successes. At their meeting in the bar of the Burlington Hotel (known to locals in Joyce’s day as Corless’s, the surname of its manager, Thomas Corless), Gallaher’s conversation takes on the nature of a performance, undertaken perhaps as much for his own benefit as for Chandler’s.

While the reader may find Gallaher’s achievements suspect, the opportunities that he has had, and taken, nonetheless sharply underscore for Chandler the timidity of his own life. When Gallaher speaks of living in London and Paris, the mere mention of the cities confers for Chandler an aura of glamour upon the stories. This is not to say that Chandler naively accepts everything that Gallaher says at face value, but he does stand in awe of Gallaher’s willingness to seize the opportunities that were presented to him.

In the final scene, which plays off the story’s hopeful title with painful irony, the domestic tranquility that readers might have assumed stood in contrast to Gallaher’s hectic bachelor life is now represented as smothering. Whatever euphoria Chandler may have taken away from his meeting with Gallaher quickly dissipates as his wife, Annie, criticizes him for coming home late and for neglecting to buy coffee at Bewley’s. When she rushes out to purchase tea, Chandler is left to watch their infant son and to brood.

While waiting for his wife to return, he expresses his feelings in a series of desperate rhetorical questions: “Could he not escape from his little house? Was it too late for him to try to live bravely like Gallaher? Could he go to London?” (In the Ithaca episode, chapter 17, of Ulysses, Leopold Bloom—contemplating his options after the adultery of his wife—will ask himself these same basic questions, and come no closer to answering them than does Chandler.) During this reverie, the baby awakens and begins to cry. Chandler’s attempts to soothe him only increase the child’s unhappiness. When Annie returns, she berates him for his ineffectual efforts, shunts him aside, and, while he watches in shame and chagrin, proceeds to comfort the baby and seemingly call into question Chandler’s role in the family by cooing to the infant: “My little man! My little mannie!” (Dubliners 85). Joyce has prepared this final scene that underscores both for Chandler and for the reader his sense of entrapment and emasculation in the materially comfortable middle-class life that he has created for himself. At the same time, Joyce refuses to allow a single point of view to dictate the full meaning of the story.

Chandler’s feelings show that he lacks the courage to turn his back on the material and psychological ties that sustain his domestic life. When the baby begins to cry uncontrollably, Chandler is angered by its outburst, but he also feels measurable concern: “He counted seven sobs without a break between them and caught the child to his breast in fright. If it died!” (Dubliners 84). As Annie comforts the baby while he stands by helplessly, genuine contrition replaces his resentment and anger. “He listened while the paroxysm of the child’s sobbing grew less and less; and tears of remorse started to his eyes” (Dubliners 85). This last line of the story cannot redeem the harsh critique of bourgeois Irish domestic attitudes so carefully built up over the course of the narrative, nor is it meant to. Nonetheless, it underscores for readers the complexity and even the contradictory nature of Chandler’s attitudes. If he inhabits a sort of domestic hell antithetical to a supposedly carefree life like the one that Gallaher lives, it is one that Chandler has carefully constructed and conscientiously maintains for himself. Joyce was fully aware of the aesthetic complexity inherent in the structure of the story. In a letter of October 18, 1906, to his brother Stanislaus, he underscores his sense of satisfaction at the story’s achievements when he asserts that “a page of A Little Cloud gives me more pleasure than all my verses” (Letters, II.182).


Chandler, Little (Thomas Malone)
He is a law clerk and a self-pitying would-be poet who serves as the central figure in the story. After an eagerly awaited meeting with his expatriate friend, Ignatius Gallaher, who is visiting from London, Little Chandler begins to feel dissatisfied with his own drab and circumscribed life. Gallaher’s seemingly successful life and sophisticated ways—his speech, his manner, his dress—are in sharp contrast to his own circumstances, which Little Chandler comes to see as impediments to happiness that he has imposed on himself, out of timidity. The story ends with Little Chandler humiliated at losing his temper after being unable to comfort his crying infant son as he is reprimanded by his wife, whose love and concern are directed only to the baby.

Gallaher, Ignatius (Fred)
He is a character whose success as a reporter plays a prominent role in highlighting the dissatisfaction of Little Chandler. Gallaher is now a self-assured reporter working in the London press, but at one time he was with the Freeman’s Journal in Dublin. In “A Little Cloud,” Gallaher’s carefree, affected continental ways are sharply contrasted to the monotony and entrapment of Little Chandler’s daily life. Gallaher displays a generally condescending attitude toward life in Ireland. He is also mentioned in passing in the Aeolus episode of Ulysses—under the headline The Great Gallaher (Ulysses 7.626–656)—Myles Crawford, the editor of the Evening Telegraph, recounts Gallaher’s unique journalistic coverage of the Phoenix Park Murders. “Counterparts” This is the ninth story in Dubliners.


is the second story in the third division, maturity, and it was the sixth story in order of composition. Joyce had finished it by July 12, 1905.

The story follows the movements of Farrington, a nondescript solicitor’s clerk, through an unsatisfying afternoon at work and into a series of evasions and humiliations that occur over the course of an evening’s debauch. The compelling element of the description of Farrington’s behavior is not so much the self-indulgence with which he drinks away the money he has gotten from pawning his watch or his categorical disregard for the welfare of his family but rather the joylessness that characterizes his actions. He does not regard drinking as a means to pleasure or satisfaction. On the contrary, he seems to drink merely to dull the ache of existence.

“Counterparts” opens with a tone that combines anger and frustration—with Mr. Alleyne, one of the firm’s partners issuing the harsh peremptory command to “Send Farrington here” (Dubliners 86)—that alerts the reader to Farrington’s tenuous grip on employment. This presages the first of a series of humiliations that Farrington will endure, and in some cases precipitate, over the course of the afternoon in his job at the firm of Crosbie & Alleyne. While the narrative carefully points to Farrington’s complicity in bringing this abuse upon himself, it also makes clear the insensitivity and boorishness of the martinet who employs him.

After Mr. Alleyne confronts a plodding and lazy Farrington several times with his shortcomings, the matter comes to a head when Farrington is publicly rebuked and made to apologize for an inadvertent witticism made at the expense of his employer. The exchange puts Farrington in a towering rage. It forces him to confront his impotent position at the firm, and whets his appetite for alcohol. He pawns his watch to finance an evening of drinking, and sets off to use alcohol as a means of forgetting the day’s humiliations.

As he makes the rounds of a series of pubs located in the center of the city, Farrington recounts the story of his exchanges with Mr. Alleyne altering the details and omitting the embarrassing portions to show himself in a better light. As the evening wears on, however, he finds himself getting increasingly less satisfaction from the rounds of drinks that he has been buying. Finally, his night of carousing comes to a bitter end when he finds himself teased by a young actress at Mulligan’s pub and then beaten at arm wrestling by a young man whom he had treated to drinks.

Not surprisingly, Farrington returns home in a sullen, angry state. He rages that with all the money he has spent he still cannot feel properly drunk. Seeking some way to vent his fury, Farrington threatens and then beats his son Tom, on the grounds that the boy has let the hearth fire go out, though in fact his violence strikingly reflects frustration over his own inadequacies.

The harsh realistic theme of the story underscores a complex portrait of the psychological frustrations that punctuate the lives of many of the lower-middle-class Dublin men. In a November 13, 1906, letter to his brother Stanislaus, Joyce made the following comment on the story: “I am no friend of tyranny, as you know, but if many husbands are brutal the atmosphere in which they live (vide Counterparts) is brutal and few wives and homes can satisfy the desire for happiness” (Letters, II.192).


Alleyne, Mr.
He is a minor but pivotal character. Alleyne, as one of the partners at the firm of solicitors Crosbie & Alleyne, is the direct supervisor of the clerk Farrington, and the one particularly irritated with the performance of the central figure of the story.

He emerges as the main character in the story. Farrington works as a scrivener (copyist) for the legal firm of Crosbie & Alleyne. Throughout the story, Farrington is subjected to humiliations and defeats, first at his place of employment and then later in a pub, where he loses an armwrestling match to an Englishman. At the end of “Counterparts,” the humiliated Farrington vents his rage and frustration on his little son Tom. As Joyce explained in a November 1906 letter to his brother Stanislaus, the savagery of Farrington’s actions at the end of the story reflects the viciousness Farrington himself experiences in the world in which he lives (see Letters, II.192). That explains the significance of the title. Farrington and his son Tom are counterparts. They both suffer unjustly from the casual brutality of an unfeeling world. The irony that Farrington not only has no sympathy for his son but also that the father’s acts of violence will likely make the son evolve into a brutal husband is borne out by the story’s title.

Flynn, Nosey
He appears as a minor character in the story, standing Farrington a drink (see Dubliners 93) after hearing a rather distorted account of Farrington’s exchange with Mr. Alleyne.

He is Farrington’s young son. He is bullied by his father when the latter returns home drunk and humiliated by his arm-wrestling loss.


This is the 10th story of Dubliners and the third in the third division of the collection, maturity. In order of composition, it was the fourth story written by Joyce, composed early in 1905, shortly after he had abandoned work on a story called “Christmas Eve.” It was originally entitled “Hallow Eve”. Joyce tried several times, unsuccessfully, to have “Clay” (and the earlier version, “Hallow Eve”) published before it finally appeared as part of the Dubliners collection in June 1914.

“Clay” focuses on the impressions of an aging, unmarried woman, Maria, who works as a scullery maid in the Dublin by Lamplight laundry, a Protestant institution for reformed prostitutes in Ballsbridge. (The Catholic Church had similar establishments called Magdalene Homes. Dubliners at the time would have had some sense of the austere conditions faced by women who lived in these places, though perhaps not have been aware of the possibilities for abuse highlighted in the 2002 motion picture Magdalene Sisters.) On the day on which the story takes place—Hallow Eve—Maria has been given permission to take the evening off after serving tea and cake to the women at the laundry, and she has planned to visit the home of Joe Donnelly, his wife, and their children in Drumcondra to attend a Hallow Eve party. Maria’s ambiguous position with the family comes out gradually, over the course of the narration. She had worked for the Donnelly family when Joe and his brother Alphy were children, and, as adults, they had gotten her a position at the laundry.

The visit to the Donnelly home obviously means a great deal to Maria, and she makes a special effort to see that all will go well. She stops first at Downes’s pastry shop—at the time a well-known store on what is now O’Connell Street—to buy penny cakes, and then at a store around the corner on Henry Street to buy a plumcake because “Downes’s plumcake had not enough almond icing on top of it” (Dubliners 102). Despite her careful plans, however, Maria remains easily flustered by strangers, and, when she finds herself sitting next to a drunken man on the tram to Drumcondra, she becomes so rattled that she forgets her plumcake.

When she arrives at the Donnellys’ house, the family makes a great fuss over Maria, but her response suggests that the conviviality has an inauthentic quality. As the party progresses, it seems quite clear that Maria is very much on edge, carefully scrutinizing every gesture and hoping that nothing signals a change in the festive mood of the gathering. One source of concern for Maria is the estrangement between Joe Donnelly and his brother. While the cause of their falling out remains unclear, Joe’s refusal to see his brother ever again attests to its gravity. The strength of Joe’s resolution becomes quite clear when Maria attempts to mediate the quarrel between the two men and succeeds only in increasing Joe’s sense of outrage.

Nonetheless, all wish the party to proceed pleasantly, so as a diversion they begin a round of games. Maria joins a game of saucers (a game of divination of the future based on which object the blindfolded person selects) and is tricked by one of the neighborhood girls into choosing clay, which symbolizes death. This brings a sharp rebuke from Mrs. Donnelly. Although the matter seems to be forgotten, afterwards, when singing “I Dreamt That I Dwelt” (a song from Michael Balfe’s opera, The Bohemian Girl), Maria mistakenly repeats the first verse of the song. Whether the lapse comes from her faulty memory or from a desire to avoid unpleasant reminders of her mortality, it brings the story to an ambiguous and uncomfortable conclusion.

Despite the ostensibly mundane features of urban domesticity surrounding the story, “Clay” in fact presents a rather ominous view of the life of lowermiddle- class Dublin women. Superficially, Maria’s existence seems ordered and secure. However, the lapses in memory, awkward public exchanges, and mild social embarrassments she suffers over the course of the evening suggest at best a tenuous control over her environment. The events that unfold in the story attest that as a woman without the support of a family or the security of sound financial resources, she is acutely vulnerable, continuously if subtly under threat. Although she seems to enjoy the goodwill of the Donnelly family, Joe’s moodiness and the spitefulness of the neighborhood girl show how much her position rests upon the sufferance of others. Like those of characters in other stories in Dubliners, Maria’s life is circumscribed by a lack of options and opportunities. The deft maneuvers that she employs to avoid acknowledging the precariousness of her situation leaves it unclear how conscious she may be, but the reader cannot deny the bleakness of her existence.


Donnelly, Alphy
This is the name shared by two characters, uncle and nephew, in the story. The elder Alphy Donnelly, an offstage character, is the estranged brother of Joe Donnelly. When Maria mentions Alphy’s name while visiting the Donnellys on Halloween, Joe responds indignantly and denies any possibility of ever seeing him again. The younger Alphy Donnelly is Joe Donnelly’s son, apparently named after the uncle in happier times. Maria gives him a bag of cakes to divide among the children when she visits the Donnelly family on Halloween.

Donnelly, Joe
He appears as the head of the Donnelly household, the family that Maria visits on Halloween. Maria had worried that he would be drunk (Dubliners 100) and spoil the evening, but Joe proves to be a pleasant host, although he does become irritated momentarily when Maria brings up the name of his estranged brother, Alphy. However, his anger is quickly dispelled and when Maria sings “I Dreamt That I Dwelt,” from Michael William Balfe’s opera The Bohemian Girl, Joe’s eyes tear up. At the same time, the narrator ironically undercuts the sincerity of his emotion by linking his sentimentality with drink: “his eyes filled up so much with tears that he could not find what he was looking for and in the end he had to ask his wife to tell him where the corkscrew was” (Dubliners 106).

Donnelly, Mrs.
She is the wife of Joe Donnelly. The narrative never does reveal her given name. During Maria’s visit to the Donnelly family on Halloween, Mrs. Donnelly provides entertainment for her guests by playing the piano and by accompanying Maria when she sings “I Dreamt that I Dwelt,” from Michael William Balfe’s The Bohemian Girl. She attempts to provide the moderating influence between the children’s high spirits and her husband’s emotionality.

She is the central character in the story. The narrative identifies her as a woman well into middle age who works as a cook’s assistant in a Protestant institution dedicated to the reformation of prostitutes. As is made clear early on, Maria seems almost willfully unaware of the more brutal aspects of day-to-day life. Early in the story, she is described by the matron as “a veritable peace-maker!” (Dubliners 99), a description that yields ironic overtones as the story unfolds. In fact, this imperative for tranquility emerges from Maria’s aversion to unpleasant behavior, like the public drunkenness of the man on the Drumcondra tram, a subtle reminder to the reader of her detachment from the troubled lives around her.

The action of “Clay” revolves around Maria’s movements from the time that she leaves work at the Dublin by Lamplight laundry in Ballsbridge to her performance of “I Dreamt That I Dwelt” at the close of a Hallow Eve party at the Donnelly house in Drumcondra. Her journey across the city highlights Maria’s fastidious determination to follow her plans, come what may; but her flightiness proves too much for her and through inattention she leaves behind the expensive cake that she had purchased for the Donnelly family.

Once at the party, she feels great discomfort over the quarrel that had alienated Joe Donnelly from his brother, Alfy. Later, the embarrassment and even pain she feels after choosing a piece of clay (a sign of death) during a parlor game underscores the vulnerability that lies beneath her veneer of charming eccentricity. Her mistake in repeating the first verse of the song that she sings rather than going on to the second brings the story to the point of bathos. (In a contrasting way, it also presages the performance of Julia Morkan in the last story of the collection, “The Dead.”)

A Painful Case

This is the 11th story in Dubliners, and it is the final work in the book’s third division, accounts of maturity. “A Painful Case” was seventh in order of composition, written in July 1905 (originally composed under the title “A Painful Incident”) and then repeatedly revised, indicating Joyce’s dissatisfaction with the story.

“A Painful Case” gives an account of the events that characterize the ultimately frustrated and sterile relationship between James Duffy and Mrs. Emily Sinico. What begins as a normal, healthy acquaintance takes a nasty turn when Mrs. Sinico makes a tentative gesture toward blending affection with friendship. Duffy peremptorily rebuffs her overtures, and immediately severs the relationship. Four years later, Duffy comes across a newspaper article, with the subheading “A Painful Case,” that details the inquest into Mrs. Sinico’s death. She had been struck by a railroad train while trying to cross the tracks at the Sydney Parade Station. The story touches on problems with alcohol, and Duffy cannot resist feeling a measure of self-justification over his actions four years previously. Joyce’s brother Stanislaus Joyce claimed that Joyce got his inspiration for this story from Stanislaus’s own experience with an older woman, an account of which he recorded in his diary.

The story opens with a bit of geographical irony. It locates the residence of the misanthropic James Duffy in the Dublin suburb of Chapelizod, a locale near Phoenix Park long associated with the mythical lovers Tistan and Isolde. In implicit contrast to their sensuous world, the narrative’s description of Duffy’s rooms emphasizes their ascetic quality without bringing forward a corresponding spiritual foundation. By highlighting Duffy’s attraction to discipline and self-denial for their own sake, the opening description establishes him as an isolated man living a life without direction or convictions: “He had neither companions nor friends, church nor creed” (Dubliners 109).

Despite his aloofness, Mr. Duffy’s reserve is not impenetrable. One evening during a concert given at the Rotunda, a woman seated next to him, Mrs. Emily Sinico, strikes up a casual conversation. The two meet again by chance at another concert, given at the National Concert Hall in Earlsfort Terrace, which leads to an opportunity “to become intimate” (Dubliners 110). Today’s readers might interpret such a phrase as an indication of an established sexual relationship, but the narrative quickly disabuses us of such an idea, indicating that Duffy and Mrs. Sinico have begun to establish emotional ties. The potential for such a misreading, however, points out one of the strengths of the story. Sexual tension runs throughout the narrative, and Duffy’s ignorance of its presence, at least until he is forcefully confronted with it, is nicely summarized by the term alluded to above.

Indeed, more than any other condition, the tendency to misperceive situations and characters—on the part of both Duffy and Mrs. Sinico—drives the action. While a sexual liaison, or at least some form of physical tenderness, may be precisely what Mrs. Sinico seeks, for Mr. Duffy the very existence of such a desire stands as an impediment to establishing a deep, personal relationship. He says as much in a journal entry (in words that are an almost exact quote of a phrase found in the diary of Stanislaus Joyce [My Brother’s Keeper, pp. 165–166]) two months after breaking off his relationship with Mrs. Sinico because of her growing demands for greater intimacy: “Love between man and man is impossible because there must not be sexual intercourse and friendship between man and woman is impossible because there must be sexual intercourse” (Dubliners 112). The chilling brittleness of Duffy’s assessment of human relations provides an unambiguous representation of his circumscribed nature, and it allows readers to understand how he could absolve himself from any culpability when he learns of the death of Mrs. Sinico four years later. However, Joyce does not leave matters there to impose a single possible interpretation upon the story.

Rather than close the narrative with Duffy’s reaction to the newspaper’s announcement of Mrs. Sinico’s apparent suicide (allusions to her melancholy and drinking problem make the cause of death ambiguous), Joyce places this event just past the midpoint in the story, the second half of which gives an account of Mr. Duffy’s faltering efforts to absorb the full impact of the news. After reassuring himself that this tragedy underscores the correctness of his decision, Mr. Duffy experiences a growing unease as he moves from the restaurant in the city where he read of the news, to a pub at the Chapelizod Bridge near his home where, uncharacteristically, he drinks several hot whiskey punches. After Mr. Duffy leaves the pub, he wanders into Phoenix Park. There, standing on top of Magazine Hill, he looks into the city. “He could hear nothing: the night was perfectly silent. He listened again: perfectly silent. He felt that he was alone” (Dubliners 117).

In these closing lines the sense of alienation that Mr. Duffy has experienced from the beginning of the story reasserts itself in the reader’s imagination. Duffy’s tone has changed dramatically. While previously Duffy had gloried in his aloofness from the rest of humanity, the certitude that enabled such a view now seems missing. The narrative does not elaborate upon what Mr. Duffy does feel, but it does ambiguously seem to acknowledge his new sense of the complexity of human relations and the profound desolation that permeates his own psyche.

As noted above, Joyce’s frequent revisions indicate that he was not fully satisfied with the story. Nonetheless, one can see that “A Painful Case” easily fits into the overall pattern and themes of Dubliners. The forced confinement of Mrs. Sinico’s life and the cultivated barrenness of Mr. Duffy’s exemplify the sterile atmosphere that permeates all the stories in the collection. At the same time, the conscious ambiguity of the narrative’s final lines frustrates the type of closure that Mr. Duffy’s own reductive nihilism invites. Whether or not Mr. Duffy’s experiences and insights into his life will lead to any change in his nature or behavior are questions not appropriate to the structure of the story. What is clear is that the modernist ideas that were emerging in Joyce’s work at this time ensure that the story resists the easy resolution of the issues raised in the narrative through some conventional form of literary closure.


Duffy, James
He is a cashier at a private bank and the main character in the story. Throughout the narrative one sees Mr. Duffy as a very private person set in his mundane ways. He is a man who “had neither companions nor friends, church nor creed” (Dubliners 109). He is given the chance at a romantic relationship with a woman, Mrs. Emily Sinico, whom he first meets at a concert and begins to see frequently. However, he rejects it as antipathetic to his nature. When Mr. Duffy later records the following summary of his thoughts on the incompatibility of humans, it clearly delineates his own abhorrence of human contact: “Love between man and man is impossible because there must not be sexual intercourse and friendship between man and woman is impossible because there must be sexual intercourse” (Dubliners 112). Joyce drew these sentiments from the journal of his brother, Stanislaus Joyce, and he most certainly used his brother as a source for a number of Duffy’s idiosyncrasies. It would, however, be a mistake to assume a strict parallel between Stanislaus and this fictional partial counterpart.

Sinico, Captain
He is a character alluded to, but never seen, in the story. His title comes from his occupation as the captain of a merchant ship that regularly sails between Dublin and Holland. He is the husband of one of the story’s central characters, Mrs. Emily Sinico. The incompatible temperaments of the captain and Mrs. Sinico, his frequent and extended absences, and his general indifference to his wife’s needs contribute to Mrs. Sinico’s restlessness and to her eventual decline.

Sinico, Mrs. Emily
With Duffy, she is one of the central characters in the story. Mrs. Sinico is the alienated and isolated wife of Captain Sinico. After what seems to be a chance encounter with Mr. James Duffy at a music concert at the Rotunda, a friendship springs up between the two. Although for a time they seem to be progressing toward a greater intimacy, Mr. Duffy’s temperamental aloofness prevents their relations from developing into real affection. After he rebuffs Mrs. Sinico’s efforts to force the issue, the two drift apart, and Mrs. Sinico takes to drink. A few years later, while crossing some railroad tracks at a Sydney Parade Staion, she is struck and killed by a train. With revulsion and possibly a degree of guilt, Mr. Duffy reads of her death in a newspaper article that hints that Mrs. Sinico was drunk and suicidal at the time.

Sinico, Mary
She appears as the daughter of Mrs. Emily Sinico. Mary accompanies her mother to a concert where they first meet Mr. James Duffy. When Duffy subsequently visits Mrs. Sinico at her home, Mary’s inattentive father wrongly assumes it is in pursuit of Mary’s hand. In a newspaper article describing the inquest into her mother’s death, Mr. Duffy reads Mary Sinico’s account of the desultory nature of her mother’s final years.

Ivy Day in the Committee Room

This is the 12th story in Dubliners, and the first of the fourth and final division of the book, stories relating to public life. (The final story “The Dead,” serves as a coda to the collection.) It was the eighth story in order of composition. Joyce completed it in the late summer of 1905.

“Ivy Day in the Committee Room” takes place on a cold, bleak, rainy October 6 in an unspecified year—either 1901 or 1902. (It is clear from the narrative that the action takes place some time after the death of Queen Victoria in January 1901 and before the visit of King Edward VII to Ireland in July 1903.) It derives its title in part from the day set aside to commemorate the death of Charles Stewart Parnell (Ivy Day). Further Parnell associations come from the committee room mentioned in the title. It not only designates a political headquarters in Dublin’s Royal Exchange Ward. It also alludes to Committee Room No. 15 in the Houses of Parliament in London, where on December 6, 1890, Parnell lost control of the Irish Home Rule Party.

The story centers on a number of professional campaign workers of various political loyalties who have, for reasons of expediency, accepted employment from “Tricky Dicky” Tierney (a candidate for local office). They are canvassing various parts of the ward to solicit votes for him. At the end of the day, these men gather in Wicklow Street at the Royal Exchange Ward office of the Nationalist ticket. There, they drink stout and express cynical opinions relating to the current municipal elections, the political process, and the various politicians whom they have encountered. Despite their critical attitude, their sentimental affections for the memory of Parnell come to the fore at the end of the story after the recitation by Joe Hynes of his poem, “The Death of Parnell.” Indeed, their uncritical acceptance of this maudlin work indicates to the reader their distorted sense of a political past and calls into question their abilities to assess the present state of affairs.

Like Simon Dedalus in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, where he is called “praiser of his own past,” the men in “Ivy Day in the Committee Room” fill the narrative with nostalgic recollections, which are often compared by various speakers with what they see as the deteriorating condition of contemporary Irish society; however, the narrative undercuts such a perspective. For example, Old Jack is the caretaker of the building in which the men have gathered. However, his job is as ironic as so many other elements in the story. The description of the feeble old man in the opening paragraph makes it seem as if Old Jack himself needs looking after. When he goes on to fulminate against his worthless son to the other man in the room, the party hack Mat O’Connor, impotence is laid over fragility. As the narrative progresses and various political workers pass in and out of the Committee Room, they reinforce this impression of human failure, weakness, and self-delusion as the dominant features in their lives.

A group of these men—O’Connor, Joe Hynes, John Henchy, J. T. A. Crofton, and a man identified only as Lyons (possibly Frederick M. “Bantam” Lyons, a character who later appears in Ulysses)— have been hired to go through the Royal Exchange Ward seeking votes for Tierney, the Nationalist candidate. They all freely admit that their personal political views cover a broad spectrum, that they are motivated by little more than the promise of financial gain, and that their actual efforts to secure votes often consist of little more than sitting by the fire all day. This combination of personal apathy and dependence upon political patronage leads them to numerous denunciations of the electoral process in general and of a wide range of political figures, from Edward VII to their employer Tierney, in particular. For all of their bluster, however, each man has achieved little in his own life. In consequence, an undertone of cynicism and bitterness pervades all of their remarks.

While this representation may seem a familiar modernist concern, Joyce nonetheless does not allow the narrative to slip into a predictable linear discourse. Just as the men have reached the height of their self-serving criticism of the world, Joe Hynes, fueled by alcohol and sentimentality, steps forward and recites his poem on Parnell. The tone of the poem echoes the same trite and maudlin sentiments that others in the room have expressed throughout the story, but it also conveys a measure of respect that no other figure or institution has been able to evoke. By putting the poem at the end of the story, Joyce reinforces the reader’s experience of the twin modes of ambivalence and ambiguity that play such important roles in his work. The pedestrian quality of the verses points toward the simplistic nostalgic view of Parnell that sustains Hynes and the others. At the same time the undeniable sincerity of Hynes’s recitation and of the verses themselves are in stark contrast to the apathy and the hypocrisy of the present day.

The poem genuinely seems to move the men in the room, who offer unreserved praise. At the same time, as Hynes sits mutely after his recitation, a cork from a Guinness bottle laid on the fire loudly pops. It reminds the reader that alcohol invariably plays a role in much of this sentiment expressed by the men and leaves one ambivalent about how sustained these feelings will be.

In a letter to his publisher Grant Richards dated May 20, 1906, Joyce identified this story as his favorite (see Letters, I.62). “Ivy Day in the Committee Room” also proved to be one of his most troublesome, for it was among the stories that the publishers Grant Richards and later George Roberts urged Joyce to alter. They objected particularly to references to the adulterous habits of the Prince of Wales and to the appearance of the expletive “bloody” at several points in the narrative. Although Joyce offered to address some of their criticisms, his refusal to make all the changes they demanded contributed to the decisions by Richards in 1907 and by Roberts in 1912 not to publish Dubliners. When Grant Richards finally agreed to publish Dubliners in 1914, he withdrew his previous objections, and this story and all the others appeared in the form that Joyce intended.


Henchy, Mr. (John)
He is one of the canvassers for the Nationalist politician Richard J. Tierney, the politician running for office in the story. In the conversations that run through the narrative, Mr. Henchy expresses the moderate, accommodating sentiments of a political pragmatist, and his tolerant attitude toward King Edward VII provides a neat contrast to the ideologically hard-line positions of the Parnellite, Joe Hynes, and the Unionist, Crofton.

Hynes, Joe
He is a newspaper reporter and a staunch admirer of Charles Stewart Parnell. The end of the story focuses attention on Hynes when he recites the sentimental poem that he has composed entitled “The Death of Parnell.” .

Old Jack
He is the caretaker of the offices where the men gather awaiting their pay for their canvassing efforts.

Tierney, Richard J.
He is the politician and pub keeper, nicknamed “Tricky Dicky Tierney,” for whom the men in the story are canvassing. Though he never appears with their pay, he does send up bottles of stout to placate them.

A Mother

This is the 13th story in the Dubliners collection, it is the second in the fourth and final division of the volume, public life. (The final story, “The Dead,” serves as a coda.) “A Mother” was the 10th story in order of composition. Joyce finished working on it sometime in late September 1905.

The narrative of “A Mother” focuses on the efforts of the snobbish, social-climbing Mrs. Kearney, the mother to which the title refers, to forward the musical career of her daughter, Kathleen Kearney. The story details the backstage machinations that surrounded the promotion and staging of concerts in turn-of-the-century Dublin, and through these representations Joyce is able to make a subtle, ironic commentary on the effect of the Irish Literary Revival on the popular culture of the time.

As the story opens, Mrs. Kearney’s disposition hints at the way her obstinacy will shape subsequent events. “Miss Devlin had become Mrs. Kearney out of spite” (Dubliners 136). The reader soon sees that her malice is not directed at her husband, for she has a fierce loyalty to her family, but at “her friends [when they] began to loosen their tongues about her [remaining single for so long]” (Dubliners 137). Public opinion obviously has meant a great deal to Mrs. Kearney all her life, but her deeply ingrained pride also pushes her to seek ways of gaining esteem on her own terms rather than according to the dictates of others. It is these opposing forces that shape her behavior over the course of the story.

After her marriage, Mrs. Kearney concentrates her desire for attaining esteem within the community on her daughter Kathleen, whom she is ambitious to establish socially. The increasing popularity of the Celtic Revival provides her with a handy vehicle for her efforts, and Mrs. Kearney sees to it that Kathleen’s musical talents are cultivated in a manner that will enable her to exploit the growing popular interest in Irish culture.

To further these ends, Mrs. Kearney agrees to allow her daughter to be the piano accompanist for a series of four concerts planned by the Eire Abu Society. (Eire Abu, “Ireland to Victory,” is a very common slogan that appears on flags from the time of the Williamite Wars on through to the Irish Volunteers at the height of the Ascendancy during Grattan’s Parliament and thence on into the 19th century. Joyce probably intended his readers to associate this fictitious society with any of the many similar groups springing up at that time as offshoots of the Celtic Revival.)

The importance of this event to Mrs. Kearney becomes clear to the reader through the tremendous effort she puts into preparing her daughter for the concert. She even goes so far as to give a hand to the desultory efforts of Mr. “Hoppy” Holohan, assistant secretary of the society, to promote it. As a result, she quickly comes to realize that much of the concert’s success—and by extension, her daughter’s— depends upon ticket sales and that in turn relates to the energies of the nebulous group of men who are responsible for the organizing and the staging of the performances. Mrs. Kearney becomes concerned when, after two evenings of disappointing attendance, the Friday concert is canceled, in order “to secure a bumper house on Saturday night” (Dubliners 140).

In keeping with this underlying concern, on the evening of the final performance, the narrative begins with great subtlety to shift its emphasis away from music and toward more mundane social concerns. This in turn highlights the smallness of Mrs. Kearney’s ambitions. Although the narrative pays ample attention to Mrs. Kearney’s point of view, it reveals that she gives little or no thought to the actual quality of the performance. Rather, she is fixated upon the question of how successful the concert will be perceived to be.

By this point, she has understood that she has no control over the number of people who will attend, and perhaps as compensation she turns her attention to the money that Kathleen is to be paid for her performance. This becomes for Mrs. Kearney the definitive index of her own success. Consequently, in the moments before the Saturday night performance is to begin she pursues Holohan with dogged determination throughout the backstage area, seeking assurances that Kathleen will receive the full eight guineas agreed upon by contract.

When the organizers are not forthcoming with the payment, she threatens to hold up the performance by refusing to let her daughter go on stage. As a compromise, Mrs. Kearney is given four pounds, and the first half of the concert gets under way. At the interval, however, the organizers decline to pay any more money until “after the Committee meeting on the following Tuesday” (D 148). Mrs. Kearney again refuses to allow her daughter to perform, but by now the organizers have found a replacement for Kathleen and the second half of the concert begins without her. The story concludes with Mrs. Kearney stalking out of the hall and threatening further action.

In its representation of the character of Mrs. Kearney, “A Mother” deftly portrays a domineering, social-climbing woman who exercises complete and unquestioned authority within the matriarchal realm of her family. However, her lack of real control over the people and events outside her home clearly delineates the limited scope of her authority. At the same time, this is not simply an account of a snobbish woman whose ambition causes her to overreach. Like the other stories of the Dubliners collection, “A Mother” critiques not simply the foibles of one person or even a particular type of individual. Rather, it holds up for scrutiny the petitbourgeois mentality that permeates so much of Dublin life. The irony that runs through the narrative is that the strength of character that impels Mrs. Kearney rests upon a profound insecurity and reveals an intense dependence for validation from a rather tenuous social structure. As a result, Mrs. Kearney is compelled to fawn upon and ultimately importune men like “Hoppy” Holohan (a man with whom she would refuse to consort in any other circumstance), and as a result she ultimately leaves herself vulnerable to their oafish behavior.

The reader can easily and with obvious justification condemn her behavior throughout the story, but to stop at that point blunts the force of “A Mother.” At the same time, one can find ample evidence to support the view that Mrs. Kearney turns out to be as much a victim as an oppressor. While she bullies her husband and her daughter whenever she feels the necessity to do so, the men who have organized the concerts prove less susceptible to her demands. In the end, she falls victim to the tyranny of a set of values associated with a social class to which she can only vainly aspire. If one cannot feel pity for her, one must at least acknowledge the moral complexity of her situation.


Holohan, Hoppy
He is the assistant secretary of the Eire Abu Society and the man responsible for arranging the concert at the center of the story.

Kearney, Kathleen
She is a supporting character in the story, and also is mentioned in Molly Bloom’s soliloquy in the Penelope episode (chapter 18) of Ulysses. Kathleen Kearney is a pianist, a singer, and an enthusiastic supporter of the Irish Literary Revival. Although Kathleen is portrayed as the docile child who becomes the victim of her mother’s bullying in “A Mother,” Molly Bloom resents her as a figure who is representative of a group of younger singers who receive preferment over herself. Despite her aura of sweetness through most of the story, Kathleen’s callous dismissal of Madam Glynn, the soprano performing at the concert in “A Mother”—“I wonder where did they dig her up. . . . I’m sure I never heard of her” (Dubliners 143)—seems to justify Molly’s animosity.

Kearney, Mr.
He is a minor character in the story, a shoemaker by trade, the father of Kathleen Kearney, and the meek “much older husband” of the title character. The absence of dialogue for him in the story underscores his principal function in the household—namely, to provide a comfortable living for the family and to serve as his wife’s factotum. His reticence allows Mrs. Kearney to assume the role of the head of the family.

Kearney, Mrs.
She is the title character in the story. From the opening lines, she displays a pronounced and willful aggressiveness and a calculating, if relatively modest, drive for social recognition. From the first lines that identify her—“Miss Devlin had become Mrs. Kearney out of spite”—to her final words in the story—“I’m not done with you yet”—her behavior combines equal measures of determination and ruthlessness, coarseness and pretension, cunning and foolishness all marshaled to advance her banal aspirations. Mrs. Kearney’s tenacity in promoting her daughter’s musical career is the motivating force of the story, and her alternating concern and disdain for the opinions of society animates her efforts. The key feature of her character, however, hinted at throughout and made evident in the final pages of the story, is her temperamental inflexibility, which repeatedly undermines her own best efforts to succeed.


This is the 14th story in Dubliners. It is the third story in the fourth and final division of the collection, scenes of public life. (The final story, “The Dead,” serves as a coda to the collection.) “Grace” was the 12th in the order of composition, written in late 1905. It did not appear in print until Dubliners was published in 1914.

The narrative traces the efforts of a group of friends of Tom Kernan, an alcoholic commercial traveler for a tea company, to make him reform his drinking habits. The story begins with an account of Kernan’s fall down a flight of stairs into the basement of a pub during a drinking bout and of his subsequent extrication from this extremely embarrassing situation by Jack Power. The central portion of the narrative focuses on the visit paid by Martin Cunningham, Jack Power, C. P. M’Coy, and Mr. Fogarty, the grocer, to the recuperating Kernan, with the intention of setting in motion the process of reforming him.

The men gather around Kernan’s bedside, and Martin Cunningham turns the discussion toward religious subjects. Gradually the men reveal their intention to make an evening’s retreat. (A retreat in Roman Catholic practice is a period of group withdrawal for prayer, meditation, or study.) Kernan, a convert to Catholicism, shows an initial skepticism toward the project, but despite this early reluctance, he eventually agrees to accompany the others to the evening service at St. Francis Xavier, a Jesuit church in Gardiner Street. The story ends with the opening words of the sermon by Father Purdon, who emphasizes a commercial view of the spiritual life as he exhorts his congregation to set right their accounts (see Dubliners 174).

Stanislaus Joyce has noted that in its broad structural design “Grace” can be read as a parody of Dante’s Divine Comedy. Mr. Kernan’s fall represents the descent into the inferno. His convalescence is analogous to the purgatorio. And St. Francis Xavier Church becomes a kind of paradiso. While that may well be true, given the scope of the story, this point has a rather limited interpretive significance.

More tellingly, and in keeping with the general tone of the collection, the narrative offers a sharp commentary on the relationship between commerce and religion. In the easy way that the men convince Kernan of the relative harmlessness of the evening’s exercise—using the homey, domestic image of a time to “wash the pot” to signify their intention to purge themselves of sin—there emerges a sense of the whole matter moving forward on a mercantile footing. Further, Joyce develops the character of the retreat master, Father Purdon, as a figure who makes conscious efforts in his sermon to link the act of spiritual renewal to sound business practices by using commercial metaphors for spiritual transactions. Thus, Joyce introduces another Dantean theme, simony (a concept that is also present in “The Sisters,” the opening story of Dubliners).

One can see in the discourse of “Grace” an unvoiced cynicism toward the middle-class Dublin Catholic milieu that figures prominently in so many of the preceding stories in the collection. Here, however, the narrative does not single out some easily identifiable spiritual or psychological flaw, as is the case in earlier stories. Rather it is the complacency of the central characters, their inability to look critically at the way that they live their lives— here Martin Cunningham and the others seem to come under even greater criticism than Kernan, who is merely a heavy drinker—that makes their behavior so profoundly disturbing.


Cunningham, Martin
He is a supporting character in the story. In the context of Joyce’s narratives, people express sympathy for him because of his wife’s alcoholism. Because of his sensitivity and persuasive manner, Cunningham is given the responsibility of convincing the convalescing Tom Kernan to attend a retreat and to remain sober (Dubliners 157).

Kernan, Tom
His behavior drives the action in the story. It begins when he injures himself in a pub by falling drunk down the stairs leading to the toilets. Shortly thereafter, a group of Kernan’s friends led by Martin Cunningham scheme to reform him by bringing him to a men’s retreat conducted by Father Purdon at the Jesuit Church of St. Francis Xavier on Gardiner Street. Several ironies inform the action of the story. Kernan, a tea taster and salesman, has nearly bitten off his tongue as a result of his drunken accident. He is brought to the Catholic retreat to “wash the pot,” although, as one who converted in order to marry, his opinion of the efficacy of Catholic rituals is rather low. Finally, Father Purdon’s sermon seems so tailored to a business mentality that its spiritual intentions all but disappear.

M’Coy, C. P. “Charlie”
Like Simon Dedalus, M’Coy is sometimes down on his luck, a fact highlighted in “Grace.” M’Coy, who plays the buffoon for the company, is treated coolly by Jack Power, who remembers that M’Coy had borrowed luggage from him “to enable Mrs. M’Coy to fulfill imaginary engagements in the country” (D 160) and had then pawned the luggage.

Power, Jack
He is a minor character who appears in “Grace” and again, at various points, in the narrative of Ulysses. Power is a member of a unit of the Royal Irish Constabulary based in Dublin Castle. Early in “Grace,” he fortuitously encounters the drunken and injured Tom Kernan. He uses his influence to prevent Kernan’s arrest for public drunkenness, and then sees the man home. Subsequently Power, in the company of Martin Cunningham, C. P. M’COY, and several other men, visits Kernan at home with a scheme to get Kernan to rehabilitate himself. Together, the men convince Kernan to accompany them to a men’s retreat being conducted a few days later by Father Purdon at St. Francis Xavier’s, the Jesuit church in Gardiner Street.

Purdon, Father
He is a Jesuit priest who appears at the end of the story, conducting an evening of recollection, or spiritual reflection, for businessmen at the Jesuit St. Francis Xavier’s Church. Father Purdon’s surname would have had a peculiar resonance for Dubliners of Joyce’s generation, for Purdon Street was a main thoroughfare in the red-light district of Dublin during Joyce’s youth.

The Dead

This is the last and longest story in Dubliners. In fact, its length and density make it in effect a novella. Because of its thematic complexity and wide-ranging characterization, readers often view “The Dead” as a coda to the collection. Joyce wrote “The Dead” in the spring of 1907 in Trieste, soon after he and his family had returned from Rome, where they resided between July 1906 and March 1907.

A number of factors make “The Dead” a fitting conclusion to the Dubliners collection. Most obviously, it recapitulates and elaborates upon the major theme of paralysis that permeates the narratives of all the stories, but it does so with a measure of sympathy that makes its application far more open to interpretation than had been the case in the preceding stories. In particular, one sees the bitterness over the protagonist’s apparent inability to affect the status quo—so obvious in such stories as “Counterparts” and “A Painful Case”—balanced by a sense of possibility, an awareness of options not present in the other pieces in the collection. While “The Dead” hardly exudes optimism, it moves beyond the fatalistic vision that seems to crush many of the characters of the other Dubliners stories.

From the start, oscillating perspectives, in the sense developed by John Paul Riquelme’s study of Joyce’s canon, balance a sense of exuberance and energy against the muted feelings and truncated responses of Gabriel Conroy that make up so much of the narrative. Indeed, the narrative opens by presenting a view of exaggerated motion: “Lily, the caretaker’s daughter, was literally run off her feet” (Dubliners 175). The fussiness, the hyperbole, the aura of intimacy created by the use of her first name only—all these pull the reader willy-nilly into the flow of the narrative. The first few paragraphs continue this tone and convey the excited bustle of guests arriving at the annual Christmas dinner-dance given by the Misses Morkan, sometime between New Year’s Day and January 6, the Feast of the Epiphany (Twelfth Night). With a mixture of good nature and pomposity, their favorite nephew, Gabriel Conroy, comes to the door grumbling over the length of time his wife, Gretta Conroy, spends dressing and clumsily tries to compliment Lily. In both instances, Conroy manages to make himself look and feel slightly foolish without becoming a caricature. (Here more than in any other story in the collection Joyce captures the complex and even contradictory elements of the identities of his central figures.)

Counterpointing Gabriel’s behavior and that of the other guests at the party is a narrative voice that unfolds the story with an intimate sense of the various characters’ perspectives, even as it maintains an ironic distance from them. The narrative thus leads the reader to sharp insights into the natures of these individuals without categorizing them or alienating them from our sympathy. Joyce subsequently used a similar narrative technique in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.

As the evening progresses, the detailed representations of the hostesses and their guests illustrate the complex dynamics of Dublin society. The Misses Morkan and their niece Mary Jane stand for a kind of sentiment and hospitality that evokes both sentimentality and feelings of loss. Freddy Malins’s inebriated good nature reflects both a stereotype of an Irish alcoholic and a sharply delineated individual with a very real human failing. Bartell D’Arcy and Mervyn Browne are variants of sententious pomposity, while Molly Ivors stands as both a parody of nationalism and a poignant representation of genuine longing for community and personal relationship. Through all this Gabriel functions as the presiding spirit who animates events at the party, carving the goose, giving an after-dinner speech, and offering a running, if unvoiced, critical commentary on all that transpires.

Up to the end of the party, Gabriel’s sometimes caustic views delineate the familiar parameters of a typical Dubliners story. However, in the final pages the narrative introduces a series of events that suggest that Joyce has begun to modify this harsh perspective. As guests are leaving the house Gretta has an epiphany of sorts, in the form of memories of the now dead Michael Furey—memories sparked by D’Arcy’s singing of the forlorn love ballad “The Lass of Aughrim.” The implications of Gretta’s recollections are not immediately apparent to the reader or to her husband; but from this point, there is a marked shift in the tone of the narrative.

After the party, Gabriel and Gretta return to the Gresham Hotel, where they plan to spend the night before journeying back to their home in Monkstown. As they cross the city in a cab, Gabriel’s increasing sexual desire for his wife becomes evident to the reader. At the same time, the preoccupied Gretta remains detached and unaware of Gabriel’s feelings. She has focused her attention on the memory of Michael Furey, a young man who was in love with her when she was a girl in Galway.

When they reach their hotel room, Gabriel is finally confronted with Gretta’s fixation. The details of Michael Furey’s adolescent devotion to Gretta force Gabriel to consider the depth of the other man’s love and the contrasting shallowness of his own. Gabriel also must deal with the hold the dead man has over Gretta and with his powerlessness to loosen it. These insights prove to be both humbling and illuminating, for it serves not simply as a critique of his feelings but as a revelation of the possible depth of human emotion. At this point, the story takes on a kind of ambiguity not found in the other pieces in the collection. While it may seem relatively easy to dismiss Gabriel’s feelings as shallow in comparison with those of Michael Furey, it remains unclear whether he possesses the ability to change.

In the final moments of his self-examination the major themes in Dubliners—death, paralysis, sexual frustration, hopelessness, and futility—run through Gabriel’s thoughts and shape his feelings. Recollections of Michael Furey, a sense of doubt regarding the value of his own life, his unsatisfied desire for Gretta and a growing feeling of aimlessness threaten to overwhelm Gabriel’s consciousness. In this moment of desolation, he is drawn to the window by the sound of falling snow. “His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead” (Dubliners 224). For Gabriel—in contrast to characters in other Dubliners stories—this moment of crisis also contains the potential for illumination. The empathy reflected in those lines shows a break in Gabriel’s solipsism. Whether this is a momentary or a lasting change remains unclear, for the reader sees Gabriel at the instant of recognition with no indication in the narrative as to its effect on him. The reader is left to consider Gabriel’s possible moral future and, by extension, that of the Irish society that is the real subject of the entire work.

Sylvia Beach and James Joyce at Beach’s bookshop, Shakespeare and Company, in 1922 /The Nation


Browne, Mervyn
Archdale He appears as a minor character in the story, acting as a fatuous nemesis to Freddy Malins. According to Richard Ellmann, a first cousin of Joyce’s mother married a Protestant by that name who was a music teacher and insurance agent, and he probably provided Joyce, at the very least, with the name of this fictional figure. There is also a reference to Mervyn Browne in the Hades episode (chapter 6) of Ulysses, in which Leopold Bloom recalls an anecdote that Browne told him about the burning off of gas that accumulates in coffins.

Conroy, Gabriel
He stands as the central character in the story. He and his wife, Gretta Conroy, are among the guests at the annual dinner party given by his aunts, Kate and Julia Morkan, sometime between New Year’s Day and January 6 (Twelfth Night). Much of the narrative reflects, through free indirect discourse, Gabriel’s perception of events.

In many ways Gabriel represents a better educated, more sophisticated version of the average man—l’homme moyen sensuel—who will be personified by Leopold Bloom in Ulysses. Though much more at ease with his fellow Dubliners than is Bloom, Gabriel nonetheless sees himself as set apart from the society that he inhabits. He is neither belligerent nor accommodating, but rather asserts his independence from Ireland without severing the material ties that bind him to his country.

Conroy is a teacher and book reviewer upon whom his aunts rely to serve both as paterfamilias and as a toastmaster who can provide an intellectual cast to their annual celebration. While to all appearances he is eminently suited to fulfill these roles, it is evident from the narrative’s description of his nature that Gabriel occupies a position psychologically far removed from local customs and from the celebration over which he presides. From his Continental affectations to his hostility toward the renewed interest in Irish culture—evident in his responses both to Molly Ivors and to his wife— he clearly inhabits a world markedly different from that of those around him.

These broad differences between Gabriel and his fellow Dubliners become increasingly evident over the course of “The Dead.” As the story moves to its conclusion, however, a shift in emphasis in Gabriel’s identity emerges. Sexuality and sexual appetites come to dominate his consciousness, and they sharply underscore his isolation from other characters in the story. The degree to which his own responses to love and desire have set Gabriel apart becomes painfully obvious in the final scene at the Gresham Hotel. There, unaware of the sexual desire that has been building in her husband during their ride from the Morkans’ to the hotel, his wife abruptly quashes his cravings by her offhand recollections of her innocent love affair long ago in Galway with young Michael Furey. It quickly becomes clear that not only did Gabriel know nothing of this attachment, but he comes to feel that he had never experienced a love as profound as that which Gretta describes.

The story ends without a definitive resolution of Gabriel’s final condition. He obviously feels a sense of rejection and isolation, and his relations with his wife certainly cannot go back to their former condition. This does not irrevocably mean that the experience was disastrous. Clearly, the final pages of the story underscore the fact that Gabriel has gained a great insight into his life. Its significance, however, is left to the reader to decide. Joyce’s technique makes it impossible to say with certitude whether Gabriel’s new knowledge will lead to a greater sensitivity and a fuller life or simply to a keener awareness of what he has lost. Indeed, the power of the story comes from its willingness to allow the reader to witness Gabriel’s spiritual crisis and then to interpret the impact that it has upon his consciousness.

Conroy, Gretta
After Gabriel Conroy, her husband, she is the character in the story upon whom the action hinges. While she lacks her husband’s education and his sophistication, Gretta is clearly the erotic and emotional center of his life. The story does not elaborate upon her nature, but it does offer insights, especially in the final pages, into the features that so dominate Gabriel’s interest. His feeling for her, however, remains muted until near the end of the story. As they return from the party to the hotel where they will spend the night, Gabriel’s sexual desire for his wife becomes increasingly strong. Before he can act upon his desire, however, Gretta unwittingly precipitates a spiritual crisis for him when she speaks about the long-dead Michael Furey, a young man who had loved her deeply years before in Galway. In Gretta’s romantic vision, Furey died for her, having gotten up from his sickbed on a rainy night to visit her before she left for Dublin. Joyce modeled aspects of Gretta on Nora Barnacle, and the character of Michael Furey on a figure from Nora’s past, Michael Bodkin.

D’Arcy, Bartell
He is a minor but recurring character in Joyce’s fiction who first appears in “The Dead.” At the Morkans’ Christmas party he emerges as a fussy and insecure man, an operatic tenor still seeking to establish his reputation in music-mad Dublin. Because he is suffering from a cold, D’Arcy is reluctant to perform before the assembled guests at the dinner, and it is only at the end of the evening that he is prevailed upon to sing “The Lass of Aughrim,” the song that brings to Gretta Conroy’s mind the memory of Michael Furey. D’Arcy appears through allusion in the Lestrygonians episode (chapter 8) of Ulysses, where Bloom dismisses him as a “conceited fellow with his waxedup moustache” (Ulysses,, 8.182). He is also mentioned in passing in Molly’s soliloquy in the Penelope episode (chapter 18). According to Richard Ellmann, Joyce’s biographer, the character of D’Arcy was based on a singer of Joyce’s father’s day, Barton M’Guckin.

Furey, Michael
He is the now deceased adolescent boy whom the young Gretta Conroy knew in Galway and whose spectral presence dominates the story’s last pages. Gretta fondly recalls his memory when she hears Bartell D’Arcy singing “The Lass of Aughrim,” a song that Furey often sang for her. When she tells Gabriel about her recollections of Michael Furey and of his untimely death, it causes a major shift in the mood of the story. Gabriel broods upon the circumstances of Michael Furey’s death, and a profound sadness overwhelms him. The biblical echoes in the names Michael (the archangel of God’s judgment and fury) and Gabriel (God’s messenger) are analyzed by Florence Walzl in an essay reprinted in the A. Walton Litz & Robert Scholes edition of Dubliners. Joyce modeled Michael Furey on Nora Joyce’s adolescent friend Michael Bodkin.

Ivors, Miss Molly
She is a minor but significant character in the story. Miss Ivors is an ardent Irish nationalist. While dancing with Gabriel Conroy at the Misses Morkans’ annual Christmas party, she chastises him as a “West Briton” (that is, any Irish person more inclined to identify with the English point of view than the Irish) because of his emphatic lack of interest in anything relating to Irish culture. Miss Ivors goes on to tease Gabriel because he has written a book review that appeared in the pro-British Daily Express, and she urges him to spend his summer holiday on the Aran Islands in order to regain a sense of his Celtic culture. Though good-natured, her mockery strikes a sensitive spot and greatly offends Gabriel. Perhaps because she too has been affected by their exchange, Miss Ivors leaves the party before dinner and Gabriel’s speech.

She is a minor character who appears in the opening pages. Identified simply as “the caretaker’s daughter,” Lily, in fact, acts as a housemaid to Kate and Julia Morkan. As the story opens, Lily is meeting guests and taking their coats as they arrive for the Morkans’ annual Christmas party. The clumsy efforts at gallantry made by Gabriel Conroy, and Lily’s unexpectedly sharp retort about the nature of men—“The men that is now is only all palaver and what they can get out of you” (Dubliners178)—marks the first in a series of assaults by women of all ages and backgrounds upon Gabriel’s complacency regarding Irish history, culture, society, and relations between men and women.

Malins, Freddy
He appears in the story as a guest at the annual Christmas party given by the sisters Julia and Kate Morkan and their niece Mary Jane. Freddy’s inebriation both causes concern and provides a source of amusement for others at the party. Over the course of the narration, however, Malins comes to serve a more important function than that of a minor disruption in the otherwise tranquil proceedings. His inability to control his drinking, his profound respect for popular custom, and his gushing sentimentality set him in sharp contrast to the aloof, abstemious, and somewhat disdainful Gabriel Conroy. In his lack of self-control, Freddy comes across as the weaker individual, and he reflects many of the same flaws that hamper such characters as Farrington, Bob Doran, and Joe Hynes in other Dubliners stories. At the same time, Freddy’s kindhearted empathy and his uninhibited openness stand in sharp contrast to Gabriel’s brittle nature.

Mary Jane
She is one of the figures at the center of the action in the story because of her role in setting its atmosphere. As the unmarried niece of the sisters Kate and Julia Morkan, she is a very popular music teacher who every year organizes a concert given by her pupils in the Antient Concert Rooms. Mary Jane’s earnings have become the major source of support for the three women, and the story gently hints at the frustration she sometimes endures because of her contrasting roles as breadwinner and as niece. Mary Jane has assumed the role of one of the hosts of the annual Christmas party that dominates the action of the story. Both by her profession and by her demeanor, Mary Jane reflects the continuity of the tradition of culture and gentility embodied by her aunts and patronizingly alluded to by her cousin Gabriel Conroy in his after-dinner speech. Mary Jane affirms the determined, if guardedly optimistic, view of the world that these three women hold.

Morkan, Julia
She is an aunt of both Mary Jane and Gabriel Conroy. Despite her advanced age, she is “still the leading soprano in Adam and Eve’s” Catholic Church (Dubliners 176). As a reflection of the importance that she gives to custom and hospitality, Julia Morkan (with her sister Kate) still hosts the annual Christmas party that dominates the action of the story. She sings “Arrayed for the Bridal” as part of the entertainment at the party, in a scene that—both in her choice of the song and in her delivery—ironically echoes similar entertainment by Maria in the Dubliners short story “Clay.” In both cases the songs these women select are clearly more suitable to young girls whose prospects and talents are as yet unaffected by age. Nonetheless, in both cases, a measure of poignancy in the representation mitigates the final effect.

Morkan, Kate
She is an aunt of both Mary Jane and Gabriel Conroy. Although younger than her sister, Julia, she is clearly a woman of advanced years. Nonetheless, Kate, with Julia, still hosts the annual Christmas party that is the setting for most of the story. She also gives piano lessons for beginners to supplement the household’s income. Kate Morkan is alluded to in Ulysses as the godmother of Stephen Dedalus (Ulysses 17.139–140). O’Callaghan, Miss She is a minor character in the story. As a guest at the Christmas party given by the Morkan sisters, she unsuccessfully urges the tenor Bartell D’Arcy to sing.

Analysis of James Joyce’s Novels

Key Theories of James Joyce

Analysis of James Joyce’s Stories

Modern Novels and Novelists

A Brief History of Irish Novels

Experimental Novels and Novelists

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Source: Fargnoli, A. Nicholas. James Joyce. Carroll & Graf, 2003.

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