James Joyce, “Dubliners”


The 15 stories of Dubliners are often read as a naturalist experiment in Dublin, the city operating as a closed, competitive environment for a variety of characters. The diegetic time of the stories are normally around one day (seemingly looking ahead to the experiment of Ulysses), and the movement through the stories from childhood (1-3), adolescence (4-7), adulthood (8-11), and public life/death (12-15) has been likened to a developmental bildungsroman, albeit without a central character (seemingly looking ahead to Portrait of the Artist).

1) The Sisters – first person, a boy learns a priest was mad only after he dies.

2) An Encounter – first person, a boy and his friend go off on an adventure and seem to narrowly escape a pervert.

3) Araby – first person, a boy is enamored of a girl and tries to go to the fair to buy her a present. He arrives very late and finds he is paralyzed: “I saw myself as a creature driven and derided by vanity; and my eyes burned with anguish and anger” 35.

4) Eveline – switches to 3rd person, a girl considers running away with a sailor, but music outside her window reminds her of her promise to her mother to stay. At the docsk, “She set her white face to him, passive, like a helpless animal. Her eyes gave him no sign of love or farewell or recognition” 41.

5) After the Race – the man gambling on a yacht.

6) Two Gallants – the story of trailing in the city, the prostitute.

7) The Boarding House – Mrs. Mooney tempts the tenants with Polly, but when Polly gets pregnant, she is shocked and forces the couple to marry, drawing a confession from the boy. It ends: “Come down, dear. Mr. Doran wants to speak to you. Then she remembered what she had been waiting for” 69.

8) A Little Cloud – Gallaher, Little Chandler, the pretentions of writing.

9) Counterparts – A sad drunk man beats his son after a bad day.

10) Clay – Maria and the holiday game.

11) A Painful Case – James Duffy meets a woman at the theater and they and their thoughts become “entangled” as they continue to meet. They break it off because she is married. Four years later, he sees an article about her death, euphemizing her suicide as “an accident.” It revolts him, but he mourns her and tries to go back to their old haunts. “He could hear nothing: the night was perfectly silent… He felt that he was alone” 117.

12) Ivy Day in the Committee Room – Men gather at the pub on Ivy Day and discuss Parnell’s death. A eulogy poem is read, which is declared “a very fine piece of writing,” but the story emphasizes the gap between the discourse of poetry and reality 135.

13) A Mother – Mrs Kearney is proud that her daughter Kathleen will be singing at a concert. Though few people show up, she insists on her daughter being paid: “They thought they had only a girl to deal with and that, therefore, they could ride roughshod over her. But she would show them their mistake. They wouldn’t have dared to have treated her like that if she had been a man” 148. She becomes enraged, “like an angry stone image” (Medusa) and she and Kathleen are thrown out.

14) Grace – Two men bring another disoriented man home.

15) The Dead – Kate and Julia Morkan are having a party. Gabriel, their nephew, gives a long oratory at the dinner on the waning of Irish hospitality in the new overeducated generation. He sees his wife listening wistfully to music at the top of the staircase and imagines her as an aesthetic object in a painting he has created, “as if she were a symbol of something” 210. When they arrive home, Gretta admits that the song (by chance, as in “Eveline”) reminded her of Michael Furey, her first love, who died for her. The knowledge of her secret life horrifies Gabriel. The story ends with him standing at the window, the snow “falling on every part” of Ireland, ” falling softly… softly falling… falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead” 223. The alliteration and chiasmus here suggest a kind of unity, infinity, and symmetry in that accompany this psychic realization, as well as an opening out into the wider world, all of which seems more like modernism than naturalism.


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