In Dubliners, what is the underlying idea behind 'A Mother'?i.e. what does Joyce want to tell the reader with this story?

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susan3smith eNotes educator| Certified Educator

"The Mother" is a short story in James Joyce's Dubliners that comes in the section he called "Public Life."  Here we see characters interacting somewhat on a broader scale than in many of the domestic scenes of the previous stories.  In this story, Mrs. Kearney publicly challenges Mr. Holohan for the money that she believes is due her daughter for her commitment in a musical program.  Although the daughter agreed to perform four nights, the program has been cut to three because of lack of attendance and ticket sales.  Mrs. Kearney wants her daughter paid for all four performances since this was the initial agreement.

On the final night Mrs. Kearney creates quite a scene by not allowing her daughter to go on stage until she receives the money that she is owed.  Although Mr. Holohan and his partner come up with some of the money, Mrs. Kearney feels cheated and refuses to let her daughter perform.

This story fits in with the rest of Dubliners showing the lack of trust that the characters have in each other.  As in "The Two Gallants," suspicion and distrust seems to characterize the relationships, and in "The Mother" this distrust causes all of the characters to lose.  The mother's insistence on her daughter's being paid results in her daughter not performing on a night when the attendance is particularly high, possibly ruining the daughter's chances of ever being hired again.  Mr. Holohan loses a good performer and possibly his credibility with other performers (although the performers seem to support Holohan).

And, it seems that both Mr. Holohan (and his partner) and the mother are to blame for this stalemate.  Mr. Holohan is lax about payment, tries to give the mother the runaround, while the mother is so concerned with money and pride that she literally upstages her daughter.   Thus, we have another example of paralysis that is pervasive in the lives of the ordinary characters of Joyce's work.