“I,” the first-person narrator of the first three stories, often thought of as one character. In “The Sisters” and “Araby,” he reveals that he lives with an uncle and aunt. In “An Encounter,” he does not mention his home life, but there too he is bright, admired by his teachers, and disdainful of common people, an attitude he learns to reject.
James Flynn, a deceased priest in “The Sisters,” and a former teacher of the narrator. Unable to forgive himself for breaking a chalice containing sacred wine, he was found laughing to himself in a confessional. Relieved of his priestly duties, his sisters cared for him until his death from a third stroke.
Mahoney, the boy who ditches school with the protagonist of “An Encounter.” Slightly wild, he chases a cat while a perverted old man tries to seduce his friend, but he then runs back as if to aid him.
The Old Josser
The Old Josser, a sadistic pederast garbed in priestlike black who approaches the truant boys in “An Encounter,” hoping to seduce the protagonist emotionally.
Mangan’s sister, the attractive girl on whom the narrator of “Araby” has a crush. Followed to school by the boy every morning, she finally speaks to him, offering a friendly date, but she is not understood.
Eveline, the protagonist of the story that bears her name. She promised her dying mother that she would keep the family together and failed. Her favorite brother Ernest dead, she lives with her threatening father and works at the Stores, hoping for escape. Her new beau, Frank, offers to spirit her away to Buenos Aires but may not be trustworthy.
Little Chandler, a clerk in “A Little Cloud.” With a wife and child to support, Chandler dreams of escape. Bright and sensitive, he is too timid to trust his own perceptions. He loves Byron, but his favorite poem is one Byron wrote before his poetic powers matured. He aspires to write poetry but never does. He admires a reporter whose character is flawed.
Farrington, a physically powerful man trapped in “Counterparts” in a world of modern commerce that has no use for his strength. His dehumanizing job in a law office amounts to work as a duplicating machine. His human need for individuality and dignity proves a flaw in him from the perspective of his puny boss, Mr. Alleyne. He regards himself as neglected by his pious wife. His bravado at pubs does not relieve his anguish, so he beats his son.
Maria, the well-intentioned woman of “Clay.” She was a nanny for many years and regrets the rift between two of her former charges. Witch-or nutcracker-like, her nose and chin almost touch when she laughs. Lonely and proper, she pretends to like living at the Dublin by Lamplight Laundry, among former prostitutes.
James Duffy, a hermit bank clerk of Chapelizod in “A Painful Case.” Disapproving of the world and himself, he “lives at a distance” even from himself. Mozart is his one “dissipation.” the walls of his apartment are bare; its color scheme is black and white, with a dash of red. His books are arranged by weight in his bookcase, and he regards his father’s death as equivalent to his boss’s retirement.
Gabriel Conroy, an educator and literary critic in “The Dead.” Gabriel attempts to liberate himself from Ireland but fails. His dead mother chose the presumptuous names Gabriel and Constantine for him and his brother. Her conviction that his wife, Gretta, is beneath him still troubles him. He bristles when he is playfully mocked by Gretta for buying continental galoshes as protection against Irish winters. When Lily, his aunts’ servant, speaks generally about untrustworthy men, he perceives that she is attacking him. His colleague, Molly Ivors, incurs his wrath for chiding him gently about his neglect of Ireland. Gabriel, who poses as independent, depends on approval from others and ultimately sees himself as second in Gretta’s affection to Michael Furey, a long dead beau of her schoolgirl days.
Gretta Conroy, Gabriel’s warm, witty wife, the mother of two. Naïve when she moved from rural Connacht, where young Michael Furey risked his life in a storm to see her, she was regarded by Gabriel’s mother as “country cute.” Intelligent in her responses to Gabriel’s attempts to control her, she appreciates his generosity. When a song stirs her memory, she thinks of Michael with affection.
Molly Ivors, a professor, political activist, and lover of Irish culture. A match for Gabriel intellectually, she would perhaps have seemed to his mother to be an acceptable mate for him.