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Term Definition

The Dubliners consist of stories in which Joyce seeks to explore the nature of Irish identity and the modern condition. It has often been stated that the stories tend to hinge on Joyce's key literary concept of the epiphany. That is, the characters are portrayed in situations in which they are able to access a deeper, quasi-mystical understanding of their own natures as a result of the interactions and situations that develop within the stories. 

Introduction & Summary

Dubliners is a collection of 15 short stories published in 1914 by Irish novelist James Joyce (1882-1941). Depicting middle class life in the Dublin area during the early 20th century, the stories are as follows:

  • "The Sisters" – A young boy superficially copes with the death of his beloved priest, Father Flynn.
  • "An Encounter" – A pair of truant schoolboys meet a geriatric man.
  • "Araby" – A lad tries unsuccessfully to buy a valuable gift at the Araby bazaar for his best friend's sister: the object of his affection.
  • "Eveline" – A young lady considers leaving Ireland in the arms of a sailor.
  • "After the Race" – Collegiate Jimmy Doyle attempts to blend in with his upper-class mates.
  • "Two Gallants" – Con artists Lenehan and Corley gain the cooperation of a disloyal maid.
  • "The Boarding House" – Mrs. Mooney arranges to have her daughter, Polly, get married to an upper class lodger, Mr. Doran.
  • "A Little Cloud" – Little Chandler ruminates over his failed literary ambitions and how his newborn son is now the household center of attention.
  • "Counterparts" – A struggling scrivener becomes a pub-dwelling drunkard who abuses his son.
  • "Clay" – Maria, an aging maid, spends Halloween with the family of Joe Donnelly, who used to be her foster child.
  • "A Painful Case" – A lifelong loner, Mr. Duffy, bonds with a married woman, Mrs. Sinico, only to rebuff her advance: a move he later regrets when he learns of her suicide.
  • "Ivy Day in the Committee Room" – Discussions get tense in a committee room when small-time political figures show their incompetence about 19th century national hero Charles Stewart Parnell.
  • "A Mother" – Mrs. Kearney, a former child prodigy, secures a prestigious gig for the daughter Kathleen, a promising pianist, but withdrawals over a payment dispute with facilitator Mr. Holohan.
  • "Grace" – Mr. Kearny injures his tongue in a drunken fall down a flight of stairs at a pub, after which his friends try to lure him to a Catholic retreat.
  • "The Dead" – Gabriel Conroy has an epiphany about mortality after learning that his wife had once loved a boy who died at an early age.

The last of these stories—arguably the most popular in the book—is often considered a novella unto itself due to its relatively large word count.

Themes & Motifs

The stories in Dubliners reflect a time of extreme nationalism in Irish culture. In the years leading up to the Irish War of Independence, the nation was at a historic crossroads; in search of a unifying purpose and identity. Joyce reflected these sentiments by framing his stories around epiphanies; moments where a central character experiences a profound revelation that causes a reconsideration about the meaning of life. In order to convey this process as something that helps people grow into maturity, the author places these stories in sequence where the early characters are children and adolescents and the later protagonists are older adults.

Additional Information

Joyce spent nine years trying to get this book published. He first submitted the manuscript in 1905, but publishers rejected it multiple times. At one point, the book was almost lost when a printing company held sheets of the pages hostage over unpaid printing costs. By the end, he'd sent the book to 15 publishers, 18 different times.

In 1963, Irish dramatist Hugh Leonard staged six of the book's stories as Dublin One at the title-city's Gate Theatre.

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