Study Guide

Dubliners

by James Joyce

Dubliners Analysis

Places Discussed (Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

*Dublin

*Dublin. Ireland’s capital city, which had a population of some three hundred thousand people in the early twentieth century. Joyce, who grew up in Dublin, once told a publisher that no writer had yet presented the city to the world, a situation that he hoped this book would rectify. Dubliners does indeed give a strikingly detailed picture of the city, with attention to its topography and the texture of its daily life.

In many stories, characters traverse Dublin on foot, and Joyce carefully records their movements, naming actual streets, bridges, public squares, churches, monuments, shops, and pubs along the way. In “Two Gallants,” for example, he creates a kind of verbal “map” of central Dublin, tracing the long, circuitous route that the aging Lenehan follows—first with his friend Corley and then alone—during a warm gray August evening. Lenehan’s wanderings give texture to the story, helping create a sense of Dublin as an actual place. He and Corley hear a harpist playing mournful music for a small group of listeners on Kildare Street. Later, Lenehan visits a shabby shop where he eats a solitary meal of grocers’ peas and ginger beer. Near the end of his wanderings, he watches the late-night crowds dispersing on Grafton Street, one of Dublin’s most fashionable shopping areas. Such details not only give the story a strong sense of place, they also allow Joyce to suggest the frustration and futility of Lenehan’s life as a “paralyzed” Dubliner; his route is essentially circular, his journey lonely and pointless. After eating his meager supper, he feels his own poverty of purse and spirit.

Joyce himself was an avid stroller and often spent hours with his friends roaming the streets of Dublin. His walking knowledge of the city is evident not only in Dubliners but in all his fiction, especially Ulysses (1922), a novel built around the wanderings of Leopold Bloom on a summer day in Dublin.

*North Richmond Street

*North Richmond Street. Principal setting of “Araby,” one of the three stories about childhood that open Dubliners. The Joyce family lived at number 17 on this street during the mid-1890’s, and Joyce incorporates many experiences from that time into his fiction. The unnamed boy narrator of “Araby” describes North Richmond as a quiet street, whose houses gaze at one another with brown “imperturbable faces.”

Joyce also evokes scenes of childhood play in the surrounding area—the dark and muddy lanes behind houses and the dripping gardens where odors arose from the garbage dumps. On Saturday evenings, with his aunt, the boy goes marketing in the “flaring streets,” jostled by drunken men and “bargaining women.” Such passages capture the rough, run-down character of north central Dublin in the 1890’s, a poor part of the city with crowded streets and dilapidated buildings. In “Araby” and in the other childhood stories—“The Sisters” and “An Encounter”—these gloomy surroundings weigh heavily on the sensitive young narrator. While he is not yet “paralyzed” by his environment, he feels a growing disillusionment with Dublin and its citizens.

Committee room

Committee room. Wicklow Street center of political campaign operations for Richard Tierney in “Ivy Day in the Committee Room.” A few campaign workers and other men gather here, mainly to escape bad weather and to wait for the bottled stout that Tierney has promised to send. The room is dark, cold, and gloomy, warmed only by a small coal fire that needs constant tending. When one of the men finally lights two candles, the “denuded room” comes into view, its walls bare, apart from a copy of an election address. Joyce uses the bleak room to mirror the dreary lives of his characters, most of whom are poor, unemployed, and cynical about Tierney and municipal politics generally. Those who support the Irish nationalist cause seem ineffectual, more interested in drinking stout and talking sentimentally about their dead political idol, Charles Stewart Parnell (a real person), than in working to end British colonial rule in their country. The fading fire in the Committee Room seems to suggest the dim prospects for political renewal in Dublin.

Morkin house

Morkin house. Home of Kate and Julia Morkin; a dark and gaunt house on Usher Island, a quay running along the south side of the River Liffey, that is the main setting of “The Dead.” Joyce modeled this house on the residence of his great aunts at 15 Usher Island. In “The Dead,” the final story of Dubliners, Joyce somewhat softens the harsh picture of Dublin given in earlier stories. He makes the house of the Morkin sisters a symbol of what he came to regard as a notable Irish virtue: hospitality. The sisters open their house for a lavish Christmas party, with music, dancing, drink, and an ample supper. Nevertheless, for Gabriel Conroy, the story’s protagonist, the house becomes a stifling place. Nervous about the speech he must give and flustered by his unpleasant encounter with Miss Ivors, Gabriel twice imagines being away from the house, outdoors in the snowy night, enjoying the outdoor coolness and being able to walk alone. Like many of Joyce’s Dubliners, he feels trapped and longs for escape. At the end of the story, after learning of his wife’s girlhood love, Michael Furey, Gabriel recognizes his own self-deception and self-centeredness. Joyce hints that Gabriel might now be poised to live with great compassion and self-awareness, recognizing his connection with all the living and the dead.

*Galway

*Galway. City in western Ireland’s Connacht province and girlhood home of Gretta Conroy in “The Dead.” While the actual setting of “The Dead” never moves outside Dublin, the west of Ireland—Galway in particular—plays a crucial role in the narrative. Gretta’s husband, Gabriel, experiences a crisis of identity at the end of the story that is precipitated by Gretta’s disclosure of events from her girlhood in Galway. This revelation sharply focuses an east-west tension in the story, with Dublin (in the east) representing Gabriel’s once-secure sense of self and Galway (in the west) drawing him toward a new identity, one less certain and stable. Thus, in the final story of Dubliners, Joyce suggests an alternative to Dublin, a place Gabriel might go, if only in imagination, to restore his sense of self.

Dubliners Historical Background

As he portrays it in his work, Joyce’s Dublin was composed mostly of lower-to middle-class residents oppressed by financial hardships,...

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Dubliners Setting

The title of the volume immediately draws our attention to the importance of the setting—both place and time unites these diverse stories....

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Dubliners Quizzes

The Sisters: Questions and Answers

Study Questions
1. Interpret the significance of the first sentence.

2. When the boy dreams of Fr. Flynn, why does he “try to think of Christmas”?

3. The boy, considering the intricacies of Church doctrine, thinks: “I wondered how anybody had ever found the courage to undertake [learning] them.” Explain the irony in this.

4. When viewing the body, the boy says that the candles looked like “pale thin flames.” What is the symbolism of this?

5. When Flynn was paralyzed, he dropped his breviary to the floor. Can you interpret this?

6. When Eliza reminisces about her brother, she says that when he was ill, “You wouldn’t hear him in the house any...

(The entire section is 430 words.)

An Encounter: Questions and Answers

Study Questions
1. Why is it surprising that Joe Dillon chooses the priesthood for a vocation?

2. What is the overall significance of the statement: “Real adventures, I reflected, do not happen to people who remain at home: they must be sought abroad”?

3. Explain how Leo Dillon represents the narrator’s conscience.

4. What is the symbolism of the color green in the story?

5. Why does Mahoney brag about having “totties”?

6. Why is Mahoney unconcerned about the bizarre qualities of the man, while the narrator notices them?

7. Why does the old man “seem to plead” with the boy “that [he] should understand him”?

8. What is...

(The entire section is 384 words.)

Araby: Questions and Answers

Study Questions
1. Knowing how important religious symbols are in “Araby,” what do you make of the “wild garden” in the boy’s backyard, with its “central apple-tree”?

2. The first sentence of “Araby” describes the Christian Brothers’ School “set[ting] the boys free” at the day’s end. How is this wording significant?

3. Although the narrator is madly in love with Mangan’s sister, he reveals this to no one. What does this imply?

4. The narrator says that her name “sprang to his lips […] in strange prayers and praises which I myself did not understand.” Why isn’t he able to understand or interpret them?

5. What is the significance of the...

(The entire section is 472 words.)

Eveline: Questions and Answers

Study Questions
1. What is the overwhelming characteristic of Eveline’s youthful memories?

2. Explain the significance of the nameless priest whose photo hangs on the wall.

3. Frank’s background is given, but he’s not physically described. Why not?

4. How can we tell that Eveline is not in love?

5. What is the significance of all the “dust” in the house?

6. Why is Eveline’s job at the Stores mentioned?

7. Why does Eveline find her life not “undesirable” at the moment she’s about to leave it?

8. Explain the significance of the Italian organ player’s music when Eveline is getting ready to leave.

9. Eveline...

(The entire section is 383 words.)

After the Race: Questions and Answers

Study Questions
1. Interpret the significance of Jimmy’s inconsistent education.

2. Why is it meaningful that Jimmy’s father becomes wealthy only after he abandons his patriotic beliefs?

3. Jimmy’s investment in Segouin’s racecar is ambiguously described. Why has the author failed to provide further details?

4. Interpret the sentence: “Rapid motion through space elates one; so does notoriety; so does the possession of money.”

5. What’s ironic about Seguouin’s toast to “Humanity”?

6. The story describes the circuitous route taken by the “friends” as they wander around after the race. What is the symbolism implied in their wandering?...

(The entire section is 356 words.)

Two Gallants: Questions and Answers

Study Questions
1. What is the symbolism of the “veiled moon” in this story?

2. Is there religious significance in Lenehan’s repeated statement that Corley’s exploits “take the biscuit”?

3. What effect can we draw from Corley’s always walking “as if he were on parade”?

4. Corley used to date a higher class of girls before he started dating a “slavey.” Why has he “traded down”?

5. The slavey is wearing blue and white for their date, the traditional colors of the Virgin Mary. What is the meaning of this?

6. After Corley leaves him, Lenehan is famished. What’s the significance of this?

7. Rather than just having encounters,...

(The entire section is 354 words.)

The Boarding House: Questions and Answers

Study Questions
1. What is implied in the fact that Polly couldn’t continue to work in the corn-factor’s office?

2. Why is Mrs. Mooney so intent on her daughter marrying practically anyone?

3. How innocent was Polly’s initial approach to Bob Doran?

4. Interpret the statement: “She was an outraged mother.”

5. The “short twelve” Mrs. Mooney hopes to catch after her conversation is the abbreviated noon-time mass. What’s the symbolism implied in this?

6. Bob seeks religious counsel after the affair has become serious. What is the irony in this?

7. Why is Polly’s brother physically described before Bob talks to Mrs. Mooney?

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(The entire section is 369 words.)

A Little Cloud: Questions and Answers

Study Questions
1. Why is Little made to appear so juvenile in the story?

2. What is the significance of Gallaher’s working for the London press?

3. Interpret the line about Little: “At times he repeated the lines [of poetry] to himself and this consoled him.”

4. Thinking of his meeting with Gallaher, Little feels “superior” to others “for the first time in his life.” Why and what does this represent?

5. The restaurant where Gallaher is to meet Little is a swanky spot, where the waiters “spoke French and German.” What’s the significance of this?

6. Why is Gallaher described as possessing an “unhealthy ¬pallor”?

7. What does...

(The entire section is 318 words.)

Counterparts: Questions and Answers

Study Questions
1. What tone does Alleyne take when reprimanding Farrington?

2. Why does Joyce describe Alleyne as small and egg-shaped in appearance?

3. Where does Farrington imply that he’s been going all afternoon?

4. What is suggested by the fact that Farrington holds out for an extra shilling (a small amount) at the pawnbroker’s?

5. What is the symbolism implied in Farrington’s pawning of his watch?

6. The bartender is referred to as a “curate.” What’s the irony in this?

7. What is the significance of the alluring woman at the bar?

8. Farrington’s wife is at the chapel when he returns. What is the irony in this?

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Clay: Questions and Answers

Study Questions
1. Joyce had originally intended to title this story “Hallowe’en.” Why was the title changed to “Clay”?

2. To what degree is Maria able to develop a relationship at her job?

3. How does Maria’s early relationship with her nephews compare to her present one?

4. What is the irony of Maria’s description as a “peace-maker”?

5. Why is Joyce’s description of Maria so grotesque?

6. Why, ironically, is Maria able to converse with the man on the train?

7. What is the significance of Joe’s drinking problem?

8. How can we tell that Maria is alienated from Joe’s children?

9. What is the ironic...

(The entire section is 314 words.)

A Painful Case: Questions and Answers

Study Questions
1. Mr. Duffy lives in Chapelizod, in legend associated with the great romance of Tristan and Isolde. Comment on the irony of this.

2. The reader is surprised to find a copy of Wordsworth’s poetry on Duffy’s shelf. Why?

3. Why is his liking for Mozart described as a dissipation?

4. Duffy collects quotations and communicates with Emily through them. What’s the significance of this?

5. Why does Duffy insist that they meet at her house?

6. Why has it never occurred to Duffy to publish his ideas?

7. When he first learns of Emily’s death, Duffy feels no responsibility. Why not?

8. Where does Duffy go to think about...

(The entire section is 362 words.)

Ivy Day in the Committee Room: Questions and Answers

Study Questions
1. The men wear their collars turned up due to the weather. What is the irony in this?

2. Jack longs for the good old times of Ireland and Irish politics, but the younger men don’t. What does this imply?

3. Before he was a politician, what was Richard Tierney’s profession?

4. The men are extremely focused upon the arrival of the stout. What does this imply?

5. There’s irony in their distrust of Tierney in light of question #4. What is it?

6. Why is Fr. Keon described as looking like “a poor clergyman or a poor actor”?

7. What does Tierney’s connection with Keon imply?

8. What does O’Connor’s unwillingness...

(The entire section is 303 words.)

A Mother: Questions and Answers

Study Questions
1. What is the significance of Mr. Holohan’s limp?

2. Why is Mrs. Kearney so overbearing and eager to showcase her daughter at any cost?

3. Explain the similarity between Mr. Holohan and Mr. Kearney.

4. The story’s controversy centers around Kathleen Kearney’s playing, but she never speaks. What the implication of this?

5. Madam Glynn, the English soprano, is described as “startled” and “meagre.” What does she represent?

6. What is ironic about the Eire Abu society?

7. What is Joyce’s implication in the poor quality of the performances artistes?

8. The name Healy was notorious in Joyce’s day because it...

(The entire section is 363 words.)

Grace: Questions and Answers

Study Questions
1. Considering the title, why is Kernan’s fall ironic?

2. Comment on the meaning of grace in the following quote: “[Kernan] had never been seen in the city without a silk hat of some decency and a pair of gaiters. By grace of these two articles of clothing, he said, a man could always pass muster.”

3. Why is it ironic that Mrs. Kernan celebrated her anniversary by waltzing with her husband “to Mr. Power’s accompaniment”?

4. What is significant about Mr. M’Coy’s comment that the Jesuits are “the boyos [that] have influence”?

5. When Kernan recollects hearing Fr. Tom Burke preach, he recalls that he sat in “back near the door.” What...

(The entire section is 457 words.)

The Dead: Questions and Answers

Study Questions
1. What function does the “fringe of snow” on Gabriel’s coat play at the story’s beginning?

2. When Mary Jane plays the piano, “the only persons who seemed to follow the music was Mary Jane herself.” What does this signify?

3. Why is it ironic that Molly Ivors and Gabriel dance to an Irish tune during their argument?

4. During the argument, Gabriel “wanted to say that literature was above politics,” but he doesn’t. What is Joyce’s opinion about that belief?

5. What is signified by the fact that Gabriel—standing in the party—longs to “walk out alone, first along the river and then through the park”?

6. What is ironic...

(The entire section is 386 words.)