A Study Guide; James Joyce, Dubliners

Next week, we’re studying Dubliners at university, and so this post is going to be a bit different. This is my first of what will hopefully be many study guides. I want it to be something I can come back to later on in the year, and be able to revise from it rather than read the book again. It’s a very long post but it needs to be in order to lay it all out clearly.

The Sisters

Father Flynn has died. An unnamed narrator is a child, staying with their aunt and uncle. The child has a dream, or it’s assumed to be a dream, of a “grey face”, that murmured and followed them. The child flashes back to when they were taught by Flynn about the bible, and the Eucharist/confessional. It is assumed the child is a boy because he is being educated in Latin and Napolean. Back in the present, the child and their aunt visit Mr Flynn in his coffin at his house. “His face was very truculent, grey and massive, with black cavernous nostrils and circled by a scanty white fur.” It Ends with the notion that he went mad after breaking a chalice.

Screen Shot 2015-10-07 at 13.56.16An Encounter

A group of boys read lots of Wild West fiction, and reenact western scenes together. One day, Leo’s father finds one of his western books and chastised him for it, claiming it to be rubbish, and not Roman history.

Two of the boys, Mahoney and the unnamed narrator, arrange to meet Leo on a bridge so they can get a ferry somewhere for the day. Leo does not show up, so the narrator and Mahoney go together. By the end of the day they are getting tired, when they meet a strange man. The man asks if either of the boys have girlfriends. The man talks about “what nice soft hair [girls] had and how soft their hands were and how all girls were not so good as they seemed to be…” He then goes on to boys, how

“if a boy had a girl for a sweetheart and told lies about it then he would give him such a whipping as no boy ever got in this world. He said that there was nothing in this world he would like so well as that.” ( p. 18-19, Penguin edition, 2000).

It is clear this man is a paedophile or a sadomasachist. The narrator becomes scared, but he is unsure why. He and his friend run away back home.


A young boy is playing with his friend when the friend’s sister calls them in to eat. It is obvious the young boy fancies the sister, but he has never spoken to her. One night, he is in the back drawing-room when she asks him if he is going to Araby. He doesn’t understand what that is, but asks if she is. She says she cannot because she has a retreat to go to, and therefore the boy says he will go and bring her something back. By the time he gets there, the place has nearly closed. There is only one stall still open selling vases. He is not interested in them. All the lights go off for closing. Suddenly he has an epiphany. The last line of the novel is:

“Gazing up into the darkness I saw myself as a creature driven and derided by vanity; and my eyes burned with anguish and anger.” (p. 28, Penguin edition, 2000).


This is the first story of Dubliners that is narrated by a female. Her father has been abusive to her brothers in the past, but not to her, because she was a girl, but he used to threaten her. She decides to run away with her lover, Frank in secret. She arrives at the boat dock and is considering changing her mind when someone grabs her wrist. It is unclear whether it is her father, dragging her home, or her future husband, grabbing her to take her away. The story ends.

After the Race

The first story in a third person narration follows Jimmy and his three companions who have been racing their car that day. Afterwards, they go to Jimmy’s house for dinner and play at gambolling. Jimmy loses, but when a winner is declared, the sun has begun to come up.

Two Gallants

The story begins with Lenehan and Corley, the two “gallants”. Corley is sharing a story with Lenahan about the maid girl he met, and he has planned something with her. At first, the reader thinks it is sex. Corley meets her and Lenehan, the narrator, leaves them to it. After walking around Dublin for a while, he spots Corley and the girl, and he assumes Corley could not get what he wanted. The pair stop at a house, and the girl goes in by one door and comes back out of another. Confused, Lenehan, who has watched the whole thing, catches up to Corley and asks how it went. Corley holds out a gold coin the maid has obviously stolen from her master/mistress.

The Boarding House

Mrs Mooney has a husband, and their daughter Polly, who is nineteen, has many love interests. However her mother notices she is getting quite serious with one man in particular. Her mother sits Polly down and asks her many frank questions about their relationship. The narrative changes to Mr Doran’s point of view, the suitor, and he worries about whether he loves her or whether it is purely sexual attraction. He is unsure. It ends with Polly’s mother stating Mr Doran wishes to speak to her. Is it a proposal or a breakup?

The Little Cloud

Little Chandler is a clerk living in Dublin who dreams of moving to London like his hot-shot friend, Gallaher. However, Little Chandler has a wife and a son who would not be willing to move. Chandler has not seen in Gallaher in eight years, so when he stops in at Dublin, they go for a drink, or three, together. After they meet, Chandler becomes aware of how much he wants to move to London. The story moves to his home. His wife has gone out and he is in charge of their two year old, who starts crying. Chandler is trying to think of his options and cannot cope with the screaming baby, so he yells ‘STOP’ in it’s face. His wife comes home to find the baby terrified. He feels guilty and the story ends.


The story begins in an office. A man named Farrington is a copier and is always in trouble with his boss, Mr Alleyn. It is clear Farrington has a drinking problem; he leaves work hoping his boss won’t notice, and goes to the pub for one drink before returning to work. Farrington still has fourteen pages to copy, and only half an hour to do so. He hands his papers in to Mr Alleyn without the last two letters attached. Mr Alleyn confronts him and Farrington replied that he had copied them, but he couldn’t think where they’d gone. Later that day, Farrington returns home to his family, and whips his little boy for allowing the fire to go out. He is an abusive alcoholic.


Maria works as a maid in a rich household. On a Saturday, she is planning to leave in time to buy some cakes to surprise her family. The woman of the house has her friends over for cake and tea, and Maria serves them. She leaves and buys 10 penny cake and a special plum cake that was quite dear. She meets a gentleman on the train on the way home and they chat. Having been distracted by the gentleman, she leaves her cakes on the train and is very disappointed when she returns home, having wanted to surprise her children. The story ends with Maria singing for the family.

Screen Shot 2015-10-07 at 13.57.52

William Street, Galway

A Painful Case

One evening, Mr Duffy meets a woman and her daughter at a concert. They meet again coincidentally. After a few more purposeful meetings, she invites him to meet her husband. They have an affair secretly, until he cuts it off, claiming “every bond…is a bond to sorrow”. Four years pass…he has stayed away from music concerts in case he runs into her. He reads in the paper one evening that she has died after being run over by a train. He blames himself for her death, wondering if things could have been different had he not stopped the affair.

“The whole narrative of her death revolted him and it revolted him to think that he had ever spoken to her of what he held sacred…He began to feel ill at ease. He asked himself what could he have done. He could not have carried on a comedy of deception with her; he could not have lived with her openly. He had done what seemed to him best.” (p112, Penguin edition, 2000).

Ivy Day in the Commitee Room

The story begins with one man, Old Jack, making a fire in the committee room. Mr O’Connor joins him, and they chat about politics and parenting for a while. Mr Hynes soon joins them followed by Colgan, Mr Henchy and Father Keon. They discuss politics as it is an important day. Ivy Day (6th October) is the day Charles Stewart Parnell was buried, so called because the mourners took ivy leaves from the graveyard and placed them in their lapels. In December 1890, the Irish Parliament failed to support Parnell as leader because of his role in the divorce action taken by Captain O’Shea against his wife Katherine. Hence the discussion of politics throughout the story. It ends with a song about Parnell.

A Mother

Mrs Kearney has a daughter, Kathleen, who has become known in the local community for being able to speak French and sing very well. Mr Holohan asks if Mrs Kearney had ever considered entering her daughter into a concert. They arrange four concerts to take place on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday. The first two nights were a disappointment and so the theatre considered cancelling the Friday one. Mrs Kearney isn’t happy, demanding she paid for four concerts. On the final night, for which they have saved the best performers, Mrs Kearney has forbidden her daughter from going on stage unless they are paid first. They receive half their payment and the daughter sings on stage.


Mr Kernan, a man who enjoys his drink, has fallen down the stairs of the pub while in a drunken stupor. He has managed to bite a chunk of his tongue loose. A friend, Mr Power, accompanies him home and puts him to bed. His wife, angry at his antics, claims she sent her husband out for food. She thanks God he isn’t an abusive husband or father, but thinks he should stop drinking. The next day, Mr Kernan’s friends visit him, admitting they are thinking of going to Confession to “wash the pot”. They invite Kernan to join them. They discuss the Pope for a while. They arrive at the Jesuit Church, in the end he declares to “set right my accounts”.

The Dead

An annual party is being held by Kate and Julia Morkan. Gabriel’s and his wife, Gretta attend. Gabriel begins to dance with Miss Ivor’s who accuses him of being very West Briton. Gabriel snaps back that he is fed up of Ireland anyway. Soon dinner is served. After dinner, Mr Bartell D’Arcy sings a song. After he has performed, Gretta is acting strangely.mthey leave the party and retire to their hotel room. Gretta is still in a funny mood and Gabriel is irritated by it. He asks her what is wrong. She says when she was younger, she had a lover who sang her that same song once. He died from waiting outside her window in the cold. Gabriel thinks about a graveyard being covered in snow.

Key Themes

Leaving Dublin: A lot of the characters mention escaping their home town. An Encounter deals with escapism and imagination, so more of a metaphorical way of leaving Dublin. The boys dream about the Wild West and adventure. Similarly, Eveline hopes for a new life abroad. Little Chandler desperately wants to join his friend in London and travel to other cities like Paris, but he cannot because of his family.

Religion: Obviously there are a lot of Catholics in Ireland in the present day, and Joyce uses religion a lot throughout Dubliners. There are many references to priests and religious belief. In The Sisters, Father Flynn drops a chalice which sends him mad and he eventually dies from insanity. Obviously Grace has a title with religious connotations attached to it, but the story also contains religious links. Tom Kernan is a big drinker and his friends suggest they all go to confessional for a clean slate.

Food and drink: Nearly all the characters eat or drink within the written scenes. In A Painful Case, Mr Duffy’s meals are interrupted by the news that his past lover has died. The dinner served in The Dead might seem humorous and joyful, but the order at the table is military. Lenehan, in Two Gallants, orders peas and a ginger beer to allow him to dwell on his life.

I do apologise for tthe length of this post, but considering it a study guide, rather than a review, I’ll let myself off. I do hope this can help other students out there also studying Dubliners.

Sarah xxx


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