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Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

*Dublin

*Dublin. Ireland’s capital city, which had a population of some three hundred thousand people in the early twentieth century. Joyce, who grew up in Dublin, once told a publisher that no writer had yet presented the city to the world, a situation that he hoped this book would rectify. Dubliners does indeed give a strikingly detailed picture of the city, with attention to its topography and the texture of its daily life.

In many stories, characters traverse Dublin on foot, and Joyce carefully records their movements, naming actual streets, bridges, public squares, churches, monuments, shops, and pubs along the way. In “Two Gallants,” for example, he creates a kind of verbal “map” of central Dublin, tracing the long, circuitous route that the aging Lenehan follows—first with his friend Corley and then alone—during a warm gray August evening. Lenehan’s wanderings give texture to the story, helping create a sense of Dublin as an actual place. He and Corley hear a harpist playing mournful music for a small group of listeners on Kildare Street. Later, Lenehan visits a shabby shop where he eats a solitary meal of grocers’ peas and ginger beer. Near the end of his wanderings, he watches the late-night crowds dispersing on Grafton Street, one of Dublin’s most fashionable shopping areas. Such details not only give the story a strong sense of place, they also allow Joyce to suggest the frustration and futility of Lenehan’s life as a “paralyzed” Dubliner; his route is essentially circular, his journey lonely and pointless. After eating his meager supper, he feels his own poverty of purse and spirit.

Joyce himself was an avid stroller and often spent hours with his friends roaming the streets of Dublin. His walking knowledge of the city is evident not only in Dubliners but in all his fiction, especially Ulysses (1922), a novel built around the wanderings of Leopold Bloom on a summer day in Dublin.

*North Richmond Street

*North Richmond Street. Principal setting of “Araby,” one of the three stories about childhood that open Dubliners. The Joyce family lived at number 17 on this street during the mid-1890’s, and Joyce incorporates many experiences from that time into his fiction. The unnamed boy narrator of “Araby” describes North Richmond as a quiet street, whose houses gaze at one another with brown “imperturbable faces.”

Joyce also evokes scenes of childhood play in the surrounding area—the dark and muddy lanes behind houses and the dripping gardens where odors arose from the garbage dumps. On Saturday evenings, with his aunt, the boy goes marketing in the “flaring streets,” jostled by drunken men and “bargaining women.” Such passages capture the rough, run-down character of north central Dublin in the 1890’s, a poor part of the city with crowded streets and dilapidated buildings. In “Araby” and in the other childhood stories—“The Sisters” and “An Encounter”—these gloomy surroundings weigh heavily on the sensitive young narrator. While he is not yet “paralyzed” by his environment, he feels a growing disillusionment with Dublin and its citizens.

Committee room

Committee room. Wicklow Street center of political campaign operations for Richard Tierney in “Ivy Day in the Committee Room .” A few campaign workers and other men gather here, mainly to escape bad weather and to wait for the bottled stout that Tierney has promised to send. The room is dark, cold, and gloomy, warmed only by a small coal fire that needs constant tending. When one of the men finally lights two candles, the “denuded room” comes into view, its walls bare, apart from a copy of an election address. Joyce uses the bleak room to mirror the dreary lives of his characters, most of whom are poor, unemployed, and cynical about Tierney and municipal politics generally. Those who support the Irish nationalist cause seem ineffectual, more interested in drinking stout and talking sentimentally about their dead...

(The entire section is 3,916 words.)