Summary (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
Dubliners is not a collection of short stories that were written at various periods and with various themes. It is clearly meant to be a unified work of art. Joyce said that he chose Dublin as the setting because it was “the center of paralysis.” Yet he also stated that his purpose was to depict “the eventual spiritual liberation of my country.” Such a “liberation” could occur only if the Dubliners were to shed the myths about Ireland and face their true situation.
The stories of Dubliners are cunningly arranged. The first three stories clearly constitute a unit; they portray the life of a child in Dublin and are filled with disillusionment and a recognition of failure. “Araby” describes a failed quest as a nameless boy promises to go to a bazaar called Araby to buy a gift for a young girl. The boy is a dreamer who ignores daily life to dwell upon his beloved. It is significant that he invests her with religious imagery when he speaks of a “chalice” he is protecting. He also does not see her clearly; she is always a brown shape to him, and he worships his idea of her rather than her true self.
On the day of his planned visit to Araby, his uncle is late, and it seems that the boy will not be able to go. Finally, the uncle enters, drunk, and gives him money. It is late when the boy arrives at the bazaar, and he finds not the magic and mystery of his dreams but a woman flirting with two men at a counter. He hears a voice announce that the light is out—a metaphor for the extinguishing of his quest. The epiphany is very harsh: “Gazing up into the darkness I saw myself as a creature driven and derided by vanity; and my eyes burned with anguish and anger.” The boy feels ashamed of his earlier dreams; he, like the other Dubliners, is incomplete. His dreams have been smashed and he is filled with self-loathing.
The next stories deal with young and mature people in Dublin. They suffer from a paralysis of the will as well as a failure to fulfill plans or complete escapes or projects. In “Eveline” the main character has found a beau, Frank, who wishes to take her to Buenos Aires against the opposition of her father. She sits in a dusty room and weighs the claims of both sides. Most of her meditation deals with her father and her home. It is a familiar if grim place; the father is a drunk who makes Eveline give him all the money she earns at her job. She can recall only a few positive images of her father. In contrast, Frank is “very kind, manly, open-hearted.” He loves music and will give Eveline an honorable place as his wife. Eveline seems to decide between the two when she thinks of the fate of her mother: “that life of commonplace sacrifices closing in final craziness.” In panic, she chooses Frank; he will save her. At the end of the story, however, she cannot answer the call of Frank to join him on the ship. She remains in a state of paralysis between Frank and her home. Her fears of being drowned and her obligations to her family overcome the freedom promised by Frank. She cannot escape Dublin and is described as being “passive, like a helpless animal.” “Eveline” is a quintessential...
(The entire section is 1300 words.)
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Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
James Joyce, the preeminent experimental modernist, began Dubliners with a version of “The Sisters.” A first-person narrative, it appeared in a 1904 issue of Irish Homestead under the pseudonym Stephen Daedalus. Thus the narrator was part of the story, its now mature protagonist. A character of the same name was already the protagonist of an autobiographical novel-in-progress, Stephen Hero, that ultimately became A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1914-1915). Stephen Dedalus (why Joyce changed the spelling of the last name is uncertain) would also be a major character in Joyce’s masterpiece, Ulysses (1922).
Stephen’s namesake, Daedalus, the first artist of Greek mythology, is most famous for inventing human flight by combining mundane things—feathers, frames, wax, and knowledge about birds. Like the father of flight, “Stephen Daedalus” uses everyday life in his art, creating soaring insights. Joyce called such insights epiphanies, analogs of the epiphanic belief of New Testament Magi that the manger-housed infant of a Jewish newlywed was their God. Joyce no longer believed in the religious Epiphany but thought art should yield epiphanic insights using mundane facts and events.
Initially, he planned a dozen stories, arranged into four categories. Including a revision of “The Sisters,” there would be three stories each, devoted to childhood, adolescence, mature life, and public life. By 1907, he had created a fifth category, married life. Stories on married life were inserted between the stories of adolescence and mature life. “The Sisters,” first of the childhood stories, is about a boy’s relationship with his teacher, Father Flynn, who just died. The boy’s uncle and aunt, who are raising him, and their friend Cotter wonder what happened between the two. The uncle defends Flynn, suggesting that he had a “great wish” for the boy—presumably the priesthood—and the speculation seems to be corroborated by what the boy studied: Latin and priestly duties to the Eucharist and the confessional, in which sinners are absolved in absolute confidentiality. The boy is awed by those duties and, it is suggested, thinks Father Flynn wanted him in the order until he learns through the denials of Flynn’s sisters that Flynn spilled sanctified wine, failing in his duty to the Eucharist, and was found paralyzed, helplessly laughing to himself in the confessional. These facts, which Flynn could not share because of a “too scrupulous” duty to the confessional, enable the boy to realize epiphanically that Father Flynn did not intend to awe and to attract but rather to awe and to dissuade him from becoming a priest.
“An Encounter” leads to its protagonist’s realization that his attitude toward his fellows has been wanting. Searching for adventure, he and his classmate Mahoney ditch school. The Dillon boys do not join them, and the protagonist takes pleasure in imagining a disciplinarian caning one of them. When a perverse, scholarly old man who disdains common children confesses to the protagonist a delight in administering whippings, the protagonist recognizes a destructive parallel in himself. In “Penitent,” he acknowledges the loyal Mahoney as a friend who does not deserve the disdain he felt for him.
“Araby” concludes the childhood group with an epiphanic story about love. The shy protagonist, infatuated with “Mangan’s sister,” is approached by her one day. She wonders whether he will be going to Araby, a bazaar. She would love to go, she says. When he asks why she cannot, she blames a retreat at her convent. Determined to buy her something, the protagonist goes to the bazaar alone and finds a saleswoman flirting with two men: She claims that she did not say something; they claim that she did. In that context, the love-smitten boy realizes that Mangan’s sister had discretely offered to accompany him to the bazaar. Her covert offer would have allowed her to deny doing so if he had teased her about it; too naïve to realize what she was doing, and too shy to say, “Let’s go together,” he loses the opportunity by assuming she could not go. Crushed, the boy leaves without buying anything.
For the boy, experience yields insight. Protagonists of the remaining narratives, with the possible exception of “The Dead,” end benighted. In the subsequent stories of Dubliners, epiphanies are reserved for readers.
The adolescents are all failures. Eveline, in the story that bears her name, wants her beau Frank to resemble her dead brother Ernest, who protected her from their violent father. However, doubting Frank’s intentions, she fails to determine whether Frank’s offer to spirit her to Buenos Aires is earnest or useful. Instead, a frightened animal, she freezes at the boarding ramp of the boat on which Frank leaves.
Jimmy Doyle of “After...
(The entire section is 2007 words.)
Summary and Analysis
The Sisters: Summary and Analysis
Narrator: boy, 8–9 years old
Father Flynn (dead): boy’s mentor
Narrator’s Aunt and Uncle
Nannie and Eliza: priest’s elderly sisters
Old Cotter: family friend
This story is narrated by a young boy, probably about eight or nine, discussing the imminent death of Father Flynn, an older priest whom he has befriended. After three strokes, the priest is paralyzed, but the boy hesitates to ask for certain if he has died. His aunt, uncle, and a family friend discuss the priest’s odd habits, the friend adding that the priest might not be a good influence on a younger person. The boy takes offense at what he believes is a...
(The entire section is 1166 words.)
An Encounter: Summary and Analysis
Narrator: boy, 8–9 years old
Mahoney: school friend of the narrator
Leo Dillon: school friend of the narrator
Joe Dillon: Leo’s brother
Older Man in Field: quite likely a sexual pervert
The narrator of this story is once again a boy around eight or nine years old (possibly the same boy as in the previous story, but not specified), who loves reading stories of the Wild West and American detective tales. Although he acts out some of these western adventures with his friends, he feels stifled by both these childish games and school. With his two friends, Leo Dillon and Mahoney, the narrator plans to skip school for one day...
(The entire section is 1274 words.)
Araby: Summary and Analysis
Narrator: boy, 9–12 years old
Mangan’s sister: sister of narrator’s friend with whom the boy is in love
Narrator’s Aunt and Uncle
“Araby” is a puzzling story upon first reading because very little happens in terms of plot. The narrator, looking back upon his youth (he is approximately 12 years old), recalls a time when he was deeply in love with his neighbor, Mangan’s sister. Although we never learn the narrator’s or the sister’s name, we understand that the boy has a vivid imagination and is desperate to prove his devotion to the object of his affection.
When he hears of an exotic neighborhood fair called Araby, the...
(The entire section is 1553 words.)
Eveline: Summary and Analysis
Eveline Hill: young woman, 18–20 years old
Eveline’s Father: an alcoholic
Eveline’s Mother: who died and Eveline loved
Frank: Eveline’s betrothed
Nearly all the events in this story take place in Eveline Hill’s mind as she prepares to run away from her father’s home and elope with a sailor. About 18–20 years old, Eveline has supported and cared for her alcoholic father for an unspecified number of years after her mother’s death. Although her existence is described in her thoughts as extremely empty, she has profound misgivings about leaving: her duty to her father, her promise to her dying mother that she would look...
(The entire section is 959 words.)
After the Race: Summary and Analysis
Jimmy Doyle: wealthy 20–21 year-old Irishman
Charles Segouin: owner of a French race car, his friend
Andre Riviere: friend of Segouin
Villona: Hungarian friend of Segouin
Routh: English friend of Segouin
Farley: American friend of Riviere
The story begins with a young, wealthy Dublin college graduate, Jimmy Doyle, engaging in a motor car race through Dublin with three Europeans from the continent: two Frenchmen and a Hungarian. Although Jimmy’s family is known in Dublin for its wealth, among the sophisticated Europeans, he is more in awe of them than their equal, and he is thrilled at being seen in their...
(The entire section is 900 words.)
Two Gallants: Summary and Analysis
Corley: a womanizer about 25 years old
Lenehan: his buddy, approximately the same age
Servant Girl (“Slavey”): whom Corley is dating
The story commences as Corley and Lenehan are walking through Dublin at the end of the workday, discussing Corley’s exploits with women and passing time before Corley’s date. Currently, he is involved with a servant girl (a “slavey”) whom he uses and has sex with but has no intention of marrying. Lenehan enjoys listening but offers little judgment and no stories of his own.
As they pass a club, they hear a harpist on the street playing an Irish folksong to a crowd. Soon thereafter, Corley...
(The entire section is 1120 words.)
The Boarding House: Summary and Analysis
Mrs. Mooney: owner of the boarding house
Polly Mooney: her 19-year-old daughter
Bob Doran: boarder with whom Polly has become romantically involved
Polly Mooney, 19, lives in her mother’s boarding house with her brother and the young male boarders and tourists who make up its inhabitants. Polly is pretty, and she receives flirtatious advances from many of the boarders and reciprocates, but Mrs. Mooney is frustrated by her daughter’s lack of progress in finding a husband. When Polly begins to have a not-too-subtle affair with one of the boarders, Bob Doran, Mrs. Mooney stays surprisingly quiet and her daughter wonders if she’s acquiescent. In...
(The entire section is 948 words.)
A Little Cloud: Summary and Analysis
Little Chandler: Thirty-ish clerk and amateur poet
Ignatius Gallaher: Little Chandler’s school friend, now a journalist living in London
Little’s Wife (Annie) and Baby Son
Little Chandler, a 30-year-old legal clerk, is anticipating his evening meeting with Ignatius Gallaher, a friend from his youth. In the eight years since they’ve seen each other, Gallaher has moved to London to become a journalist, a situation which both impresses Little and makes him envious. He covets Gallaher’s freedom to travel as well as his career as a writer. As he prepares for their meeting, Little allows himself to hope that Gallaher might be able to help him...
(The entire section is 1250 words.)
Counterparts: Summary and Analysis
Farrington: Forty-ish clerk and alcoholic
Mr. Alleyne: Farrington’s boss
Weathers: an English entertainer whom Farrington meets in a pub
Several of Farrington’s Drinking Companions
When the story begins, Farrington, an alcoholic administrator in a law office, is enduring the chastisement of his boss, Mr. Alleyne, for his shabby work. Diving into a pub for a drink to calm his anger, Farrington returns to the office even more muddled than before and makes several more errors in his work. When Alleyne rebukes him, this time in front of a client, Farrington responds insultingly, and the boss nearly goes wild with anger.
(The entire section is 1048 words.)
Clay: Summary and Analysis
Maria: middle-aged worker in an Irish charitable laundry
Joe Donnelly: her nephew
Maria, the protagonist in this story, works in a charitable laundry service in Dublin. This evening, Halloween, she has the night off after serving the laundresses their holiday cakes. On her way to visit her nephew Joe and his family, Maria carefully calculates how much she can spend on treats and picks up special desserts for Joe’s family.
Once she arrives at their home, Maria discovers that she’s left one of the costly treats in the tram and becomes upset at her absent-mindedness, but the family comforts her. Thereafter, the children...
(The entire section is 898 words.)
A Painful Case: Summary and Analysis
James Duffy: middle-aged ascetic and scholar
Emily Sinico: middle-aged married woman who becomes attached to Duffy intellectually and personally
James Duffy is a middle-aged ascetic who lives an isolated and intellectual life. He writes and reads philosophy, attends concerts, but lives far removed from human companionship.
At a concert, he meets Mrs. Emily Sinico, who attends the concert with her daughter. After she makes a comment, Duffy speaks to her. At their next chance meeting at another concert, he speaks more personally, finding out that her husband, a sea captain, often travels for long periods.
After their third accidental...
(The entire section is 966 words.)
Ivy Day in the Committee Room: Summary and Analysis
Old Jack: caretaker of headquarters
O’Connor: young political canvasser
Hynes: canvasser whom others suspect of working for the rival side
Henchy: a canvasser
Crofton: a canvasser
Lyons: a canvasser
Richard Tierney: politician running for office in the Royal Exchange Ward and for whom the canvassers are working
Father Keon: de-frocked priest and friend of Tierney
Charles Stewart Parnell: (dead) Irish Revolutionary in whose honor ivy is worn on the lapel to commemorate anniversary of his death
On the anniversary of the death of Irish political leader Charles Stewart Parnell,...
(The entire section is 1153 words.)
A Mother: Summary and Analysis
Mrs. Kearney: overbearing mother and socially ambitious member of Dublin middle class
Mr. Kearney: her quiet, ineffectual husband
Kathleen Kearney: her teenage daughter
Mr. Holohan: assistant secretary to the Eire Abu Society
Mr. Fitzpatrick: secretary to the Eire Abu Society
Mrs. Kearney, a socially ambitious middle-class mother, arranges for her daughter Kathleen to play the piano at a fairly prestigious Celtic revival festival in Dublin. In order for the several performances to turn out splendidly, Mrs. Kearney spends extra money on the daughter’s clothes, arranges the program, and orders several tickets for...
(The entire section is 948 words.)
Grace: Summary and Analysis
Tom Kernan: a tea merchant and alcoholic
Messrs. Power, Cunningham, M’Coy and Fogarty—Tom Kernan’s friends
Mrs. Kernan—his wife
Father Purdon—priest running the “businessman’s retreat” at the local church
The beginning of “Grace” finds Tom Kernan, a tea merchant, lying face-down and drunk on the lavatory floor of a Dublin pub. Helpless and incoherent, Kernan is saved from further embarrassment by his friend, Mr. Power, who delivers him home to his wife.
Two days later, Kernan receives three visitors: Messrs. Power, Cunningham, and M’Coy. Unbeknownst to Kernan, Power has informed Mrs. Kernan that the three...
(The entire section is 1064 words.)
The Dead: Summary and Analysis
Gabriel Conroy: teacher and amateur writer
Gretta Conroy: his wife
Julia and Kate Morkan: Gabriel’s aging aunts, piano and voice teachers in Dublin
Mary Jane: Gabriel’s cousin, an unmarried piano teacher who lives with the aunts
Molly Ivors: Gabriel’s colleague and passionate Irish nationalist various party guests of the Morkans
Michael Furey: (dead) adolescent love of Gretta Conroy
At the opening of “The Dead,” Gabriel Conroy, a teacher and amateur writer, arrives with his wife, Gretta, at a Christmas party given by his aunts, Julia and Kate Morkan. Though the mood of the annual affair is festive,...
(The entire section is 1764 words.)