Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“Grace” is the penultimate story in Dubliners (1914), a collection that James Joyce called “a chapter of the moral history of my country” that would reveal Dublin as “the center of paralysis.” The collection’s stories proceed through four changing stages of life: childhood, adolescence, maturity, and public life. “Grace” concerns itself with public life—specifically the relationship between the business and the religious worlds.

All the Dubliners stories are relatively brief and ostensibly direct presentations of everyday events in the Irish capital. “Grace” is an unremarkable story about ordinary events. Although there is some trauma involved with Tom Kernan’s initial crisis (for example, he bites off the tip of his tongue and must remain bedridden for several days), the damage that he experiences is more to his dignity than to his physical health. There may be greater danger to his marital or spiritual well-being, but these possibilities are evaded rather than discussed in the story. The events in “Grace” are simple: A businessperson who drinks too much is taken by his friends to a retreat so that he can reform. It is the underlying theme of irony, expressed through indirection and Joyce’s careful use of specific words, that give the story its real meaning, that of the essential hollowness of “religion” in early twentieth century Dublin life.

The Christian concept of “grace” has to do...

(The entire section is 494 words.)