Study Guide

A Painful Case

by James Joyce

A Painful Case Summary

Summary (Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

James Duffy, a middle-aged bachelor without family or friends, is a cashier in a private bank and lives a spartan existence in a Dublin suburb. He dislikes physical and mental disorder, ignores beggars’ pleas for alms, and does not attend church. His only luxuries are playing Mozart’s music on his landlady’s piano and attending an opera or concert. At three such concerts, he sees Emily Sinico, the wife of a ship captain who has “dismissed [her] from his gallery of pleasures.” The pair begin meeting for evening walks, but because Duffy objects to stealth, he convinces Emily to invite him to her home. Thinking that Duffy is interested in his daughter, Captain Sinico welcomes the visits. Now, for the first time in his life, Duffy has an audience for his political and social ideas, and he lends Mrs. Sinico books and explains them to her. A good listener, she also encourages him to talk about himself, but she fails to persuade him to publish his thoughts, for he eschews both competition and criticism.

Their solitary meetings, often in darkness, inevitably bring them closer together. A sense of companionship develops, and the union eventually begins to smooth the rough edges of his character and even “emotionalize[s] his mental life.” At the same time, he continues to assert the soul’s incurable loneliness, believing that every person is an island, which ultimately is alone. When one night Mrs. Sinico presses his hand to her cheek, he is...

(The entire section is 594 words.)