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Dubliners by James Joyce
Dubliners is a collection of fifteen short stories which Joyce had finished writing in 1906. They were not published until 1914. He told Richards his publisher that his purpose in writing Dubliners was to help ‘the Irish people have a good look at themselves in my nicely polished looking-glass’ Earlier he had written to Richards declaring that his intention in Dubliners was to write a moral chapter of the history of his country, and by doing so he declared, ‘I have taken the first step towards the spiritual liberation of my country’.

Each of the stories deal with what he saw as some aspect of Irishness and of Dublin at that particular time.
Plot Summary

The Sisters
The first story is entitled The Sisters. The narrator is a young boy who is coming to terms with the death of an old friend an elderly priest. His mother brings him to the wake where he finds himself sitting with the two sisters of the dead priest. Through their conversation the young boy learns about the priest’s behavior and how he had certain scruples about his use of the sacred vessels during the mass.

An Encounter
This story also deals with a young teenage boy who is playing hookey with his pal. They encounter a strange man who from his conversation seems to take delight in whipping boys.

This is another story which deals with a young man. This time the young man is in the throes of passion and hoping to win a young girl’s affections he wants to buy her a gift at Araby an Orientalist bazaar. When he goes to Araby eventually he is disappointed.
Eveline is a young nineteen-year-old girl who lives with an alcoholic and abusive father. She is forced to rear the family but is hoping to emigrate with her boyfriend to Buenos Aires. The story dramatizes her desire to take flight and yet her fear to take the plunge. At the conclusion she remains at home with her family.
After the Race
Jimmy Doyle is the son of a nouveau-riche merchant. Jimmy tries to keep up with the lifestyle of his wealthy and sophisticated friends. At the conclusion of the story he ends up losing badly in a card game.
Two Gallants
Two fellows called Corley and Lenehan plot to use a ‘slavey’ or a young working woman to get money. Corley goes off to meet her while Lenehan goes into a seedy restaurant and begins to reflect on his wasted life. At the conclusion Corley returns with the gold coin which the ‘slavey’ has given him.
The Boarding House
Mrs. Mooney is the owner of a boarding house. She tricks a young respectable man called Mr. Doran into marrying her feckless daughter Polly.
A Little Cloud
Little Chandler drinks with Gallagher who is an old friend now living in London. Chandler realizes that he will never be able to become a poet as it is too demanding on family life.
Farrington is an alcoholic who is frustrated in his job as he does not get on with his boss. Farriington goes to the pub and gets drunk. He is humiliated as a result and returns home and takes it out on his son by beating him.

Maria is an older Catholic woman who spends Halloween Eve with Joe Donnelly. During the Divination Game she picks up clay which is a symbol of death.

A Painful Case
James Duffy has an affair with Mrs. Sinico and unhappily married woman. They are inhibited in their relationship and after a while they split up. Later on he reads about her death in a tram accident.

Ivy Day in the Committee Room
A few political canvassers meet in a committee room one day. We learn about Jack and Mr. O Connor who are working for money rather than any real political development. The story shows a picture of Irish political life and how nationalism seems to have lost its force. The committee room is full of men with divided loyalties.

A Mother
Mrs. Kearney is a domineering woman who has become involved with Erie Abu and its attempts to mount a musical production. When this flops she threatens to ruin the performance if her daughter is not paid the contractual fee that was promised.

Mr.Kernan is a man struggling with alcoholism. His wife, with the help of some of his friends, convince him to go on a retreat. The priest on the retreat in his homily tells the men to use God’s grace in order to set things right by God’s account.

The Dead
This is the most important story in the whole collection. In many ways it gathers together the themes that are articulated in the early stories. Gabriel is a young middle class school teacher who arrives at the annual Christmas party hosted by his two maiden aunts. He is married to a woman called Gretta. At the party Gabriel meets a young Irish nationalist called Miss Ivors who accuses him playfully of being a West Brit. Gabriel is deeply sensitive and worries about the usual after dinner speech that he must give to those assembled at the party. Freddy Malins is a young man who has taken too much to drink and who says too much as a result. After the party Gabriel and his wife Gretta return to a hotel room where he learns that she has been pining for a young boy called Michael Furey who died many years ago. He begins to realize that he knows little about his wife even though they have been married for many years.
Many of the stories are told through dialogue. Joyce makes use of flashback in his story the Dead to develop the plot and storyline. Joyce also makes use of a number of key symbols and motifs in each story which are echoed throughout each story. Some examples of these are his use of darkness or squalor, or clothes. These serve the purpose largely of highlighting his main themes of stagnation and paralysis.
Cultural Context
Dublin in the early twentieth century forms the cultural backdrop of these stories. It is a negative image of Dublin that is dominant in this collection. Poverty is rampant and Joyce shows a vision of poverty on every level. Alcoholism is also an integral feature of the society depicted in many of the stories. There are different social classes represented in the stories as Joyce was intent in showing a realistic insight into Ireland in the early twentieth century. There are many references to political sentiments of nationalism but in many ways Joyce seems to be mocking Ireland’s aspirations towards freedom and showing the inability in Ireland to achieve through transcendence of their situation. The clergy are mentioned at several stages but mainly in an ironic or satiric manner. Women in the stories seem to be tough survivors.
General Vision or Viewpoint

The overall general vision is depressing. Each story paints a grim picture of Irish society in a state of grim stagnation. Many stories depict the dual personality inherent in the Irish psyche and the underlying contradictions in the Irish temperament. We witness how many characters are trapped by their narrow environment and mentality and their various struggles to transcend this type of atmosphere

The general vision or viewpoint that emerges from these stories is therefore bleak and depressing. Many of the stories depict a sordid and negative vision of a society in stagnation. This stagnation seems to exist on every level-socially, politically, psychologically and spiritually. Since Joyce’s intention in writing Dubliners was to give the Irish people a chance ‘to look into my nicely polished looking-glass’ the effect is grim and very harsh in many cases.

Themes or Issues

Much of the settings and dress of the characters show the dominance of poverty in this world created by Joyce. Two Gallants is dominated by the theme of money and poverty and shows in a highly dramatic way impoverished attitudes and the lack of a real richness of life. Poverty does not just extend to material poverty but it is also shown in relationships, in a type of spiritual stagnation inherent in many of the characters created by Joyce.

Almost all of the stories deal with the theme of mortality. Joyce was intent in showing the stagnation that dominated Irish society in the early twentieth century. The story The Dead is filled with hints of mortality and humankind’s vulnerability and fragility. Gabriel sees an image of his aunt laid out in her coffin shortly before the conclusion and after he has learned about his wife Gretta’s past relationship with young Furey.At the conclusion of the story Gabriel looks of out the window and begins to ponder on mortality and the fact that we are all merely drops in this great universe.

This theme is reflected in almost all of the stories in the collection. All of the characters are intent on escaping from the narrow restrictive life which threatens to overwhelm them. Many of them try to seek escape through alcohol and fights of fantasy. Eventually all of them are forced in some way to come to terms with the reality of their limited life.
In each story, Joyce seems to repeat the same pattern, a pattern that accentuates this acute debility of a society clearly in stagnation, and one dominated by a deep sense of paralysis. In each of the lives of the central protagonists, there is a great lack of political, religious, or moral stability that would enable them to transcend the limitations of their environment and achieve a true liberation of spirit. Joyce’s method was deeply ironic. Each of the central protagonists are governed by an acute desire to dominate their environment and escape to a better world, yet each become the means of consolidating the constricting sense of frustration that is a hallmark of their lives. Take for instance Eveline who longs to escape from a bad family background of abuse and violence. She desires a better life in Buenos Ayres, away from a violent father and a life of strife and poverty. She dreams of this better life, but is unable to carry it out at the conclusion. Her courage fails her as she finds herself confronted with the reality of a new, but unknown environment, ‘All the seas of the world tumbled about her heart. He was drawing her into them: he would drown her’. Unable to face an unknown reality, Eveline finally succumbs to the familiar but hard life in Dublin. Joyce’s vivid depiction of Eveline’s helplessness here could be a representation of the underlying intensity of paralysis which he saw to be dominant in Dublin at this time.

Aspects of story

Tension builds up in Joyce’s main story The Dead when Gretta reveals that she has been silently mourning Michael Furey for many years.

The climax of the Dead is shown when Gabriel is forced to face the truth about his marriage and acknowledge that his wife Gretta has been in love with another man.

The resolution of this story occurs when Gretta falls asleep in the hotel room having disclosed to her husband the truth about her love for somebody else. Gabriel struggles to come to terms with this news and proceeds to look out of the window as the snow is falling. He realizes his own mortality and how fragile everything in life is.

Hero / Heroine / Villain

Because there are many different types of stories in the collection Dubliners it is difficult to delineate clearly who exactly is the hero or heroine or villain. Since the main story in this collection seems to the last one The Dead then Gabriel could be taken to be the main hero here. He is a character who becomes painfully aware of his limitations and weaknesses and who is acutely self-conscious. He suffers a lot in the story because of his feelings of personal inadequacy yet he is the one who experiences the epiphany towards the conclusion of the story. He does struggle however to come to terms with his own limitations and that of life towards the conclusion.

There are also a number of different heroines in each story. In the story The Dead Gretta is the main heroine. She is a tragic character who is married to Gabriel but who has suffered because of a love for a young man who is now dead. Her story is tragic as she represents the situation of someone who has never really experienced real love in her life.

Miss Ivors could in some ways be seen to be the villain insofar as she tries to disconcert Gabriel and rouse him to think about his life and commitments.