Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

In his own words, Joyce sought to describe the dilemmas of the inhabitants of “dear, dirty Dublin” in “a style of scrupulous meanness.” He sought to give his countrymen “one good look at themselves” in a “nicely polished looking-glass,” so as to take the first step toward their “spiritual liberation.” Accordingly, the treatment is cool, detached, contemplative. The omniscient point of view often describes without comment the action of the story, as Mrs. Mooney would see it, and leaves all judgments to the reader: “she was an outraged mother. She had allowed him to live beneath her roof, assuming that he was a man of honour, and he had simply abused her hospitality.” However, at other times, Joyce’s anger and indignation show, as in his description of Polly as “a little perverse madonna” and of Mrs. Mooney: “She dealt with moral problems as a cleaver deals with meat.”

The theme of paralysis is reinforced, throughout the story, by the fact that very little happens, and whatever does happen takes place offstage. Accordingly, the final scene of the story focuses on Polly daydreaming in her lover’s bedroom, as her mother speaks with him downstairs, but the reader is not privy to their crucial conversation. The treatment is deliberately anticlimactic: To a character such as Bob Doran, life is what happens to him, never what he chooses or determines.