Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Despite the obvious symbolism, Joyce’s style in this story and elsewhere in Dubliners is straightforward and realistic (some have even said naturalistic), and it has been compared to that of Anton Chekhov, Guy de Maupassant, and Emile Zola. Any such indebtedness notwithstanding, Joyce conceived of “The Sisters” (like the rest of Dubliners) as an “epiphany,” a story in which a character experiences a “sudden spiritual manifestation.” In this story, the boy gains enlightenment, learning the truth about Father Flynn; significantly, at the very moment of the revelation, when Eliza pauses for a bit, the boy rises, goes to the altar-like table where Nannie has laid out the refreshments, and tastes his sherry, a conscious ceremonial gesture in the concluding act of this particular rite of passage.

Eliza is the third medium through which Joyce develops Father Flynn’s character in the story. First there is the narrator, who recalls his experiences when a boy with the priest; second, there is the dialogue between Cotter and the boy’s uncle, who raise questions and speak negatively about Father Flynn. The sympathetic attitude of the boy, called into question by the mutterings of the neighbor and uncle, finally is placed in the proper perspective by Eliza’s testimony.