What happens in Dubliners?

In Dubliners, Joyce weaves together the stories of many Dublin residents. Joyce called Dublin "the center of paralysis," and this is evident in the most famous stories from the collection, "Araby" and "The Dead."

  • The first three stories in the collection all concern one boy. In "Araby," this young man plans to attend a bazaar called Araby, where he intends to buy a gift for a girl he likes.

  • In "The Dead," the protagonist, a bookish young man named Gabriel attends a dinner, at which he's ridiculed by servants and guests alike. He declares that he's sick of his country and later realizes that he must journey west.

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Summary

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Dubliners is not a collection of short stories that were written at various periods and with various themes. It is clearly meant to be a unified work of art. Joyce said that he chose Dublin as the setting because it was “the center of paralysis.” Yet he also stated that his purpose was to depict “the eventual spiritual liberation of my country.” Such a “liberation” could occur only if the Dubliners were to shed the myths about Ireland and face their true situation.

The stories of Dubliners are cunningly arranged. The first three stories clearly constitute a unit; they portray the life of a child in Dublin and are filled with disillusionment and a recognition of failure. “Araby” describes a failed quest as a nameless boy promises to go to a bazaar called Araby to buy a gift for a young girl. The boy is a dreamer who ignores daily life to dwell upon his beloved. It is significant that he invests her with religious imagery when he speaks of a “chalice” he is protecting. He also does not see her clearly; she is always a brown shape to him, and he worships his idea of her rather than her true self.

On the day of his planned visit to Araby, his uncle is late, and it seems that the boy will not be able to go. Finally, the uncle enters, drunk, and gives him money. It is late when the boy arrives at the bazaar, and he finds not the magic and mystery of his dreams but a woman flirting with two men at a counter. He hears a voice announce that the light is out—a metaphor for the extinguishing of his quest. The epiphany is very harsh: “Gazing up into the darkness I saw myself as a creature driven and derided by vanity; and my eyes burned with anguish and anger.” The boy feels ashamed of his earlier dreams; he, like the other Dubliners, is incomplete. His dreams have been smashed and he is filled with self-loathing.

The next stories deal with young and mature people in Dublin. They suffer from a paralysis of the will as well as a failure to fulfill plans or complete escapes or projects. In “Eveline” the main character has found a beau, Frank, who wishes to take her to Buenos Aires against the opposition of her father. She sits in a dusty room and weighs the claims of both sides. Most of her meditation deals with her father and her home. It is a familiar if grim place; the father is a drunk who makes Eveline give him all the money she earns at her job. She can recall only a few positive images of her father. In contrast, Frank is “very kind, manly, open-hearted.” He loves music and will give Eveline an honorable place as his wife. Eveline seems to decide between the two when she thinks of the fate of her mother: “that life of commonplace sacrifices closing in final craziness.” In panic, she chooses Frank; he will save her. At the end of the story, however, she cannot answer the call of Frank to join him on the ship. She remains in a state of paralysis between Frank and her home. Her fears of being drowned and her obligations to her family overcome the freedom promised by Frank. She cannot escape Dublin and is described as being “passive, like a helpless animal.” “Eveline” is a quintessential Dubliners story. The dream of a fuller life is betrayed by fear and paralysis of the will.

The last group of stories deals with institutions: “Ivy Day in the Committee Room ” with...

(The entire section is 2,537 words.)