Dubliners A Mother: Summary and Analysis
by James Joyce

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A Mother: Summary and Analysis

New Characters:
Mrs. Kearney: overbearing mother and socially ambitious member of Dublin middle class

Mr. Kearney: her quiet, ineffectual husband

Kathleen Kearney: her teenage daughter

Mr. Holohan: assistant secretary to the Eire Abu Society

Mr. Fitzpatrick: secretary to the Eire Abu Society

Mrs. Kearney, a socially ambitious middle-class mother, arranges for her daughter Kathleen to play the piano at a fairly prestigious Celtic revival festival in Dublin. In order for the several performances to turn out splendidly, Mrs. Kearney spends extra money on the daughter’s clothes, arranges the program, and orders several tickets for acquaintances. The arranger of the festival and assistant secretary to the society, Mr. Holohan, is so hapless in this planning stage that he accepts Mrs. Kearney’s help gladly.

When the first two concerts arrive, Mrs. Kearney nervously observes that the house is nearly empty and the program poorly run. When told that the third and penultimate concert will be cancelled to guarantee a fuller house on the last night, Mrs. Kearney underscores to the society’s secretary, Mr. Fitzpatrick, that this should not alter her daughter’s contracted fee. Fitzpatrick is non-committal.

On the evening of the final night, Mrs. Kearney once again attempts to confirm that Kathleen will receive her promised sum. When Fitzpatrick pays her four shillings short and doesn’t discuss the remainder, Mrs. Kearney informs him that Kathleen will not play—even though the program has already commenced and the performers need an accompanist. Furious that her daughter’s contract is of so little importance, Mrs. Kearney stubbornly insists, refusing to compromise, although such behavior attributed to the girl could ruin her future in Dublin music circles. Ultimately, Fitzpatrick, Holohan and Mrs. Kearney part, both sides furious with the other, and Kathleen having had no say in her own participation in the event.

The surface incidents in “A Mother” portray Mrs. Kearney as an overbearing stage mother, and, to a degree, she certainly is. However, like the previous story, “A Mother” has political meaning which transcends this plot.

Because her daughter’s name is Kathleen (the traditional name and personification of Ireland), Mrs. Kearney “takes advantage of her daughter’s name” and involves her in the Gaelic revival movement popular among the Dublin middle class at the time. According to the author, this consists merely of learning Gaelic phrases and sending “Irish picture postcards” back and forth to friends; neither Kathleen nor her mother is genuinely politicized. Thus, Mrs. Kearney sees the invitation from the Eire Abu society (a patriotic society whose Gaelic name means “Ireland to victory!”) as the perfect opportunity to showcase Kathleen’s talents and culture. That the society hopes to generate support for and interest in native Irish culture doesn’t seem significant to Mrs. Kearney, but she throws herself into its planning to guarantee a good audience for her daughter’s debut. Taking over almost completely for Mr. Holohan, Mrs. Kearney arranges the program, buys tickets in advance, and provides for Kathleen’s expensive gown.

Therefore, it stuns her to see the near-empty house on the festival’s first night, a clear indicator of Dublin’s lack of interest in things Gaelic. Further, Mrs. Kearney feels a growing frustration with Messrs. Fitzpatrick and Holohan (the secretary and assistant secretary of the society) who laconically accept the poor planning, bad attendance, and mediocre artistic performances.

Mrs. Kearney’s annoyance and the men’s inertia exemplify Joyce’s impression of the Irish political movement: troubled from within by divergent goals and personalities, thwarted from success by inept management. Although there’s obviously a problem in the concert’s planning, only Mrs. Kearney notices it; the others are too involved in the importance of...

(The entire section is 948 words.)