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...
(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...
(The entire section is 2007 words.)
Dubliners is a short-story cycle, but unlike other such cycles, Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio (1919), for instance, or Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories, its stories are not linked by recurring characters, but by theme and setting, two elements that are intimately related in this collection. Joyce's initial intention, as he explained in a letter to the publisher Grant Richards, was to hold a mirror up to Dublin, to present as realistic a portrait of the city as possible by depicting Dubliners of various ages and from various walks of life. That portrait is, generally speaking, a disparaging one, but the negative tone is not consistently maintained throughout. By the time the volume concludes, with "The Dead" a story written slightly later than the others and which differs markedly from his earlier writing, a more sympathetic note is sounded, and we may glimpse there the far more generous vision that would characterize Joyce's later comic masterpiece, Ulysses.
(The entire section is 156 words.)
Summary of the Short Stories
In turn-of-the-century Dublin, the lives of several lower and middle-class Irishmen are described by the author. The first of these stories, “The Sisters,” portrays a boy of 8-9 years whose friend and mentor, Father Flynn, has just died. The boy and his aunt pay their respects to Flynn and his sisters at the sisters’ house.
In “An Encounter,” the narrator and his school-boy friend, Mahoney, cut a day’s school to have an adventure in Dublin. Just when it seems that nothing exciting will happen to them, they meet an elderly eccentric in a park. As it turns out, the older man is a sexual pervert and describes to the narrator his fantasies, which frightens the boy.
In “Araby,” the narrator describes in retrospect an intense crush he had on a friend’s sister when he was about 12-13 years old. At the time, he promised the sister that he’d go to a local fair and bring her back a gift (perhaps making her his girlfriend), but the mission ended with disappointment when he found nothing suitable for her.
“Eveline” finds a 19-year-old girl about to leave her father’s home in Dublin to elope to South America with her beau. However, she is too afraid of change and believes she owes her loyalty to her father; at the story’s end, she won’t join her pleading boyfriend on the trans-atlantic steamer.
Jimmy Doyle, in “After the Race,” is one of the collection’s...
(The entire section is 1081 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 patronizing statement, but says nothing.
After having a nightmare about Fr. Flynn, the boy discovers a notice at the priest’s sisters’ home that Flynn has died. Rather than feeling mournful, however, the boy feels an inexplicable freedom. He recollects the details about Catholicism that he learned from Flynn, but he still cannot interpret his giddiness.
Going to pay his respects with his aunt later in the evening, the boy is distracted, cannot pray, and cannot make smalltalk with Eliza (one of Fr. Flynn’s sisters) as his aunt can. Instead he listens to the sisters and his aunt discuss the priest’s disappointing career and life in the clergy, which was muddled by his dropping a chalice during a mass earlier in...
(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 and have a real adventure in Dublin. Each puts in a sixpence to fund the adventure and they agree to meet in the morning.
When Leo Dillon fails to show up (presumably out of cowardice), Mahoney decides that he has forfeited his sixpence and the two split the extra money. They wander the quays and buy snacks, but the boys feel vaguely dissatisfied with their escapade. As the time for their return home draws nearer, they sit aimlessly in a field while Mahoney tries to slingshot a cat.
An older, dishevelled-looking man approaches them and begins to make conversation, asking them about school, books, and girlfriends. Though bored, they respond politely, but the narrator is made uneasy by the man, while Mahoney more or...
(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 boy asks the sister if she plans to attend. She tells him she must attend a religious retreat instead, and he promises to bring her something as a memento. After he promises her this, the boy is simultaneously excited and terrified at having made this vow, and what his commitment implies.
On the day of Araby, the boy is extremely anxious and cannot concentrate; he fears that his uncle will forget to give him pocket money, and his fears are justified. When the uncle returns home late in the evening, there is a danger that the boy won’t be allowed to attend, but his aunt intervenes for him, and he takes a late train to the fair site.
Entering Araby, the boy feels unsettled because it is nearly empty and quite dark....
(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 after the home, and the fear of making such a significant change in her life all appear to immobilize her.
Finally, when Eveline reaches the port where her fiance is waiting and where their ship will depart, she’s overcome by inertia and can’t leave with him, although he begs her.
The protagonist and namesake of this story is not named by the author until the last few lines of the story. This should indicate to the reader that Eveline Hill does not possess a fully-developed sense of self; she exists for other people, and this is the crux of her dilemma.
Eveline sits at the window, tired, inert, and considering the “rather happy” times of her youth, although she is still only a...
(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 company by his Irish friends.
After the race, Jimmy attends a dinner at the home of Segouin, the owner of the race car, where he meets an English friend of Segouin and talks about Irish politics. But before the conversation can become serious, the host interrupts and the group goes for a walk in the streets. Meeting an American friend of Riviere, the men drink, carouse and return to Segouin’s to play cards. Playing far into the night, Jimmy loses a considerable, but unspecified, amount of money due to his drinking and lack of gambling skill. Nevertheless, he continues to be dazzled by the international suavity of the group until daybreak comes and the debts are calculated.
Of all the stories in...
(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 spots the servant girl, whom Lenehan looks over in appraisal. After the two leave on their date, Lenehan walks aimlessly through the city, eats dinner at a cheap shop, and continues to think about Corley’s exploits and audaciousness with the girl.
Finally, after the time at which they’d agreed to meet, Lenehan spots Corley as he walks the girl home. He sees her enter the house, come out cautiously for a moment, and then return. Lenehan is so overwhelmed with curiosity that he calls out to the now-solitary Corley, who at first doesn’t answer him. Ultimately, Corley smiles and shows Lenehan the gold coin in his hand, which the servant has given to him.
The late addition of this story to...
(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 fact, Mrs. Mooney waits until the relationship between them is quite advanced before she decides to talk—first to Polly and then to the young man.
When Polly turns to Bob, she confesses that she’s frightened of her mother’s suspicions and the consequences of their situation; Bob reassures her limply. Soon thereafter, Mrs. Mooney asks to speak with Bob in private. Although he understands the content of their meeting and feels full of dread, he complies.
Meanwhile, Polly composes herself in her room and relaxes as she thinks of her liaisons with Bob. When her mother calls her from below, she tells Polly to come downstairs because Bob wants to speak with her. The reader never learns the exact content of either of...
(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 launch a literary career as a poet, perhaps even outside of Dublin.
Gallaher, however, talks mostly about himself—not about Little’s literary ambitions—and Chandler finds his manner slightly vulgar, especially when discussing the immorality that abounds abroad. After several more drinks than Little’s customary number, they discuss Little’s wife and baby son. Although Gallaher congratulates him he swears that he would never marry and, at the end of their last drink, patronizes the entire notion of marriage.
When Chandler returns home he argues with his wife about a petty complaint and she leaves him with the baby to run an errand. Alone with his son, Chandler begins to resent and regret the different elements...
(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.
Later, Farrington retreats to a bar with his friends. When he re-tells the scene during which he insulted his boss, Farrington grows obviously more proud of his wit, and the small party of men drinks in celebration. Weathers, a British performer, joins their crowd and allows several of the men to buy him a round of drinks without offering to buy one himself. This annoys Farrington, as money is tight and the Londoner orders expensive drinks. Later, when his friends suggest he arm wrestle with Weathers, Farrington is further annoyed when the performer beats him twice.
Furious that he’s out of money and liquor and has been humiliated by a stranger, Farrington returns home in a foul mood. After his young son tells him that his mother...
(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 play a holiday game in which the player is blindfolded and chooses between a number of objects laid out on a table. When Maria plays, she puts her hand in a mound of clay, which unsettles the family and upsets Joe’s wife. The children re-arrange the objects and Maria chooses a prayer book on her second try.
Finally, Maria is asked to sing; she chooses an Irish ballad but mistakenly sings the first verse of the song twice. No one points out her error and her nephew’s eyes fill with tears at the close of the ballad.
Maria is a female celibate, a virgin, and her name calls to mind the Virgin Mary. Like a nun or a saint, Maria is a “veritable peace-maker,” and her life revolves around the...
(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 meeting, Duffy makes an appointment to see Mrs. Sinico, which then becomes routine. Fearing that he’ll appear under-handed, he asks to be invited to Mrs. Sinico’s home. Her husband encourages Duffy’s visits for he thinks Duffy intends to ask for his daughter’s hand in marriage.
In Emily, Duffy finds an intellectual companion with whom he can share books, discuss music and politics. Over time, the pair become more intimate until one evening, when Emily becomes so caught up in his conversation that she seizes Duffy’s hand and presses it to her cheek. Duffy is repelled by her response and almost immediately breaks off his friendship with her.
Four years later, Duffy notices a news item in the paper stating that...
(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, several political canvassers meet at headquarters to compare progress and discuss an upcoming campaign. Although they all believe they’re skilled pollsters and persuasive political manueverers, they are very cynical about their candidate, Richard Tierney, and the Dublin political process in general. They also fear that they might not be paid by Tierney; furthermore, he’s even failed to deliver a complimentary case of Irish stout as promised.
As the canvassers converse with the caretaker of headquarters, other canvassers come and go, several checking to see if the money—or the stout—has been delivered. A de-frocked priest and friend of Tierney’s, Father Keon, also appears but leaves almost immediately.
(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 acquaintances. The arranger of the festival and assistant secretary to the society, Mr. Holohan, is so hapless in this planning stage that he accepts Mrs. Kearney’s help gladly.
When the first two concerts arrive, Mrs. Kearney nervously observes that the house is nearly empty and the program poorly run. When told that the third and penultimate concert will be cancelled to guarantee a fuller house on the last night, Mrs. Kearney underscores to the society’s secretary, Mr. Fitzpatrick, that this should not alter her daughter’s contracted fee. Fitzpatrick is non-committal.
On the evening of the final night, Mrs. Kearney once again attempts to confirm that Kathleen will receive her promised sum. When Fitzpatrick pays her...
(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 friends intend to bring Tom to a church retreat that will help him mend his ways. The three shrewdly suggest that Kernan join and he agrees, believing it was his idea—and not theirs—that he come along.
The retreat has been specifically designed for businessmen, and the four friends are joined by a fifth, the grocer Fogarty, and many other merchants whom they know from the community. The priest, Father Purdon, delivers a sermon on a passage from the Gospel of Luke (16:8-9), which he tells them is designed for men who live “in the world and, to a certain extent, for the world.” The men listen attentively.
Stanislaus Joyce tells us that his brother patterned Tom Kernan’s progress in this...
(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, Gabriel is unnerved by a series of misunderstandings and uncomfortable events during the evening. In chatting with the maid, Gabriel makes a slight faux pas to which she answers bitterly. Later, dancing with a colleague from school, Gabriel argues with her about Irish nationalism and her response offends him. Finally, in making a toast to the evening’s hostesses, Gabriel agonizes over what to say—and second-guesses himself for the rest of the evening about whether his choice was appropriate.
When the time comes to leave for the hotel at which they’re staying, Gabriel finds his wife listening to a tenor singing an Irish ballad in the music room, and his thoughts about Gretta turn amorous. On the way home in the cab, Gabriel...
(The entire section is 1764 words.)