After the Race: Summary and Analysis

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 900

New Characters:
Jimmy Doyle: wealthy 20–21 year-old Irishman

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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 his collection, Joyce felt that “After the Race” was among the least successful. The story of Jimmy Doyle and his careless wealth is a bit cliched; his international playboy friends are also somewhat predictable. At the heart of the story, though, is Dublin within an international arena, aching to be recognized on its own, even if the price of that recognition is exploitation. Jimmy’s story is Dublin’s (and Ireland’s) in microcosm, although Jimmy is substantially wealthier than the other Dubliners in this collection. When the reader learns more about him, we discover that Jimmy’s father was “an advanced [Irish] nationalist” but moderated his views early, only then gaining his wealth. Significantly, that wealth allowed Jimmy an upbringing far removed from native Irish traditions: he attended school in England, studied at Dublin University (the prestigious Protestant college in Dublin with close British ties), and then returned to Cambridge (England) to “see a little life.” Thus, the life to which Jimmy is exposed is hardly an Irish one, despite his father’s early nationalist leanings.

Consequently, Jimmy’s acquaintances (whom he considers friends) in the race car are an international group, for he finds great pleasure in those who have “seen so much of the world.” Indeed, everything about the race through Dublin, described as a “channel of poverty and inaction” along the racing route, exhilarates Jimmy. Not once does he realize that the cheering crowds of the “gratefully oppressed” represent his kinship with the city; he much more willingly identifies with Segouin and his bon vivant crowd. Having been seen in this company, Jimmy enjoys his condescending return to the “profane world of spectators” and basks in their admiration of his status, wealth, and worldliness.

Yet amid the worldliness, Jimmy is still a Dubliner hoping for recognition from the outside world. He and his parents feel “pride” and “eagerness” as Jimmy anticipates the sophisticated dinner at Segouin’s home. Once there, he’s dazzled by the company and conversation, although the description of the latter is hardly harmonious. When the British Routh’s comments awaken the “buried” nationalist zeal of Jimmy’s father in the younger Doyle, the reader imagines that Jimmy might identify with the Irish at last. Rather, Segouin proposes an ironic toast to “Humanity” and Jimmy’s momentary flash of nationalism disappears.

As the night continues and more friends are encountered, Jimmy finds himself awash in an international sea of cosmopolitan debauchery. To his naive mind, the silly dancing and drinking songs are tantamount to “seeing life,” yet the author adds the additional thought “at least.” With this, Joyce indicates Jimmy’s vague doubts about the value of the “merriment,” but he suppresses these doubts as he did his earlier feelings of nationalism.

Feelings of doubt also infiltrate Jimmy’s thoughts regarding his business venture in Segouin’s motor car, a deal which translated into “days’ work that lordly car in which he sat” earlier in the afternoon. He and his father both support the deal, but the author shrewdly keeps the extent of Jimmy’s financial involvement ambiguous; the reader is made to feel uneasy about the investment’s security. If Jimmy’s ego were not so easily flattered by Segouin’s attentions, Joyce intimates, Jimmy might feel more alert—and more uneasy as well.

The insecurity of the investment is re-figured at the end of the story in the group’s night of card playing. Reckless and unskilled, Jimmy knows he’s outmatched by the experienced Europeans but is “glad of the dark stupor that would cover up his folly.” Apparently, the privilege of being swindled by sophisticated continentals more than makes up for his crushing losses. Significantly, Routh—the British guest—wins the game, symbolizing Britain’s exploitation of Ireland in international affairs. The “Daybreak!” call at the story’s end indicates that Jimmy must now face the unpleasant consequences of having been defrauded by his “friends,” just as Ireland, Joyce suggests, must awaken to the realities of its own exploitation by foreign powers.

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