Dubliners (1914) is a collection of fifteen short stories by one of the 20th century’s most influential writers, James Joyce (1882-1941). Based in Dublin around the turn of the century, the stories feature middle-class characters as they face crises and epiphanies during everyday life. Instead of focusing on plot-driven stories with clear morals, Joyce uses the stories to immerse the reader in each character's thought process. By featuring a wide range of characters, Joyce was able to investigate the confines and problems of life in his home city.  

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Table of contents

    Dubliners, Portrait of James Joyce, StudySmarterBorn and raised in Dublin, James Joyce did not want to romanticize his hometown. Pixabay.

    Summary of Dubliners

    “The Sisters”

    The unnamed narrator is a young boy whose mentor, Father Flynn, has just died after suffering a third stroke. The boy overhears his uncle and a family friend discussing the priest and commenting that his relationship with the boy was unhealthy. Rather than feeling sad at the death of his mentor, the boy feels a sense of freedom and release. After viewing the body, the boy overhears adults discussing the priest's increasingly odd behavior towards the end of his life.

    “An Encounter”

    Inspired by tales of the Wild West, two schoolboys decide to skip class and have an adventure. The unnamed narrator is accompanied by his friend, Mahony, on a journey around Dublin. After riding a ferry across the Liffey, they stop for a rest in a field where they encounter a middle-aged man. The narrator remarks on the man’s odd appearance and erratic behavior as he discusses disciplining young boys who misbehave. Although never explicitly stated, it is inferred that the man is masturbating.


    In North Dublin, a young boy falls in love with the girl across the street. Too frightened to speak to her, the boy is shocked when she approaches him. She mentions the ‘Araby’ bazaar, a fair organized by the church, and how she cannot attend. The narrator offers to go to the bazaar and bring her a gift. The boy envisions a romantic quest to retrieve a thoughtful gift. After several hold-ups, the boy finally makes it to the market in time to see the stalls beginning to close. He is disgusted by the cheap gifts which shatter his romantic illusion. Disappointed, he cries as the market shuts down.


    Eveline Hill, a 19-year-old woman, sits at home, recalling her childhood. The happy memories contrast with the trauma of her drunken, abusive father. She is torn about whether she should elope with her lover Frank to Argentina or stay at home and remain dutiful to her father. She remembers good times with family and the promise she made to her dying mother to stay at home and tend to her father as long as possible. Paralyzed by guilt and fear, she cannot leave.

    “After the Race”

    After an international car race on the outskirts of Dublin, Jimmy Doyle accompanies his French friend Charles Ségouin back into the city for a night of drinking. They join a group of wealthy, foreign tourists in town for the races and have dinner. Jimmy feels important in such a prestigious company. The group adjourns to a private yacht, where they continue to drink. During a card game, Jimmy loses a large amount of money to the wealthy tourists.

    “Two Gallants”

    Two young men named Lenehan and Corley walk around Dublin after a day of drinking. Corley tells Lenehan about a young housemaid he’s been seeing and how he plans to scam her out of a sum of money. They meet up with the maid, and Corley escorts her on a separate walk, leaving Lenehan to kill time awaiting their return. Over dinner, he thinks about his hand-to-mouth existence and yearns for a more stable and respectable life. Lenehan goes back to meet Corley and the girl.

    “The Boarding House”

    Having recently separated from her abusive, alcoholic husband, Mrs. Mooney runs a small boarding house with her daughter Polly. When Polly begins an affair with one of the guests, Mr. Doran, Mrs. Mooney does not intervene or comment on the potentially scandalous affair. She allows it to continue until all the other boarders become aware of it. After confronting Polly, she reasons that Mr. Doran should propose to Polly or he will risk his reputation and standing.

    “Little Cloud”

    Little Chandler is a Dublin clerk who is frustrated by his dull job and the confines of his marriage. He looks forward to going to the pub every night after work and dreams of one day being a poet. His old friend, Ignatius Gallaher, now lives in London, working as a successful journalist. When Gallaher returns to Dublin for a visit, the pair meet for dinner.

    Gallaher tells Chandler of his adventures throughout the cities of Europe. His tales of women and wine are at odds with Chandler's relatively small married life. A frustrated Chandler returns home and takes his frustration out on his wife and baby.


    Farrington works as a copy clerk for his overbearing boss Mr. Alleyne. Most of his days are spent copying boring legal documents as he dreams of visiting the pub after work. After missing an important deadline, Alleyne shouts at Farrington in front of his colleagues. Embarrassed and frustrated, Farrington pawns a watch and goes on a drinking spree with his friends. After failing to flirt with a woman and losing an arm-wrestling match, the emasculated Farrington returns home and beats his son.


    On Halloween night, Maria travels to visit the family of Joe Donnelly. As an unmarried and childless woman, Maria has no family connections. She seems naïve and sheltered. After buying some sweets for the children, she takes a tram to Joe's house. During the journey a drunk man starts to talk to her, embarrassed and afraid, Maria forgets the sweets. At the party, Maria plays a traditional Irish Halloween game. The game involves a blindfolded player picking one object off a table. Maria grabs the lump of clay which symbolizes death.

    “A Painful Case”

    Mr. Duffy is a bank clerk who enjoys a predictable life. When he meets Mrs. Sinico at a concert, they start to meet for walks and discuss their shared love of literature. As Mrs. Sinico's husband is often away at sea for long periods, she appreciates the company and the two continue to meet, despite the potential for scandal. After several months of meeting, she reaches for Mr. Duffy's hand. Duffy sees this as a sexual advance and immediately rebuffs her. The two meet one more time and agree not to speak again. Four years later, Duffy reads a report of death in the newspaper. The report claims it was heart failure but also says she was a heavy drinker who had become distant from her husband. Mr. Duffy suspects she committed suicide and realizes their relationship was the closest thing to love he’s ever had.

    “Ivy Day in the Committee Room”

    'Ivy Day' commemorates the death of Charles Stewart Parnell, one of the most important political figures in Irish history. It is also election day, and political canvassers gather at the party's Committee Room to smoke and talk politics. The men discuss the political candidate they will be canvassing for and question whether his loyalty lies with Irish independence or the British crown. Despite being in the same political party, tensions emerge within the group. Several bottles of beer are drunk, and the group begins to bond. The men are awestruck when one of them reads a poem entitled the “Death of Parnell.”

    At the climax of "Ivy Day in the Committee Room", the men are jolted from their drunken nostalgia by a cork popping from a bottle of beer that had been placed too close to the fire. Joyce did this to show how the men's nostalgia and good cheer were based on alcohol rather than genuine unity.

    “A Mother”

    Mr. Holohan is a theatre manager who wants to stage a show displaying acts of traditional Irish singing, oratory, and theatre. He approaches Mrs. Kearney, whose daughter is known to be a talented pianist and Irish speaker. Inexperienced at hosting events, Holohan accepts Mrs. Kearney’s offer to help design programs and agrees on a payment. The first two concerts have low attendance due to the poor line-up. Holohan cancels the third, hoping to drive up attendance for the last concert. The overbearing Mrs. Kearny is upset at the plan and demands Kathleen is paid before her final performance.


    After a day of heavy drinking, Tom Kernan falls down a flight of stairs and injuries himself. His friend Mr. Power accompanies him home safely, where he talks to Kernan's wife and children. He learns that the once successful and eloquent salesman has fallen on hard times and started to drink regularly. Mr. Power pledges to help him reform. While recuperating from his injuries, Kernan is visited by his friends Mr. Power and several other friends who urge him to attend a religious retreat with them in order to help with his rehabilitation. While the other men listen intently to the priest's sermon about spiritual balance, Kernan is unable to buy into it.

    “The Dead”

    Considered to be a novella, “The Dead” is twice as long as the other entries in Dubliners and is the most widely read story from the collection. Gabriel Conroy is a professor and book reviewer who is attending a fancy dinner party at his aunt's house along with his wife Gretta. During the evening, Gabriel has a series of embarrassing and anxiety-ridden encounters with other characters at the party. He is called out about his reviews being published in a British newspaper and questioned about his Irish identity. Noticing that Gretta seems increasingly distant, Gabriel feels isolated. As the guests leave the party, a tenor sings a tragic ballad about lost love. Gretta is mesmerized by the performance. When they get back to the hotel, Gretta is lost in thought and melancholy. She admits that the ballad reminds her of a boy she once loved; he died at 17 and was the love of her life. Gabriel sits on the bed thinking about the all dead and how they influence the living. He reasons that he, too, will someday be only a memory and stares out the window at the falling snow.

    Themes of Dubliners

    Here are some themes in Dubliners.

    Paralysis and Confinement

    Joyce wanted to use Dubliners to present an honest representation of the home city. One of the biggest features of Irish life during this time was a sense of repression. Historically, Joyce saw Dublin and Ireland's growth as stunted by the centuries of British colonialism and the strict teachings of the Catholic church, which dominated all aspects of Irish life. In Dubliners, he presents characters as being trapped by societal confines of religion, politics, and class.

    The idea of being stuck and unable to move reoccurs throughout the stories. In “Sisters,” the priest is paralyzed after suffering a third stroke. “Eveline” is frozen, unable to make a decision. When she tries to step onto the boat, she is unable to move. This physical paralysis reflects the paralysis of Dublin society in general, stuck in the past and too scared to move forward.

    Dubliners, chains around feet, StudySmarterMany of the characters in Dubliners feel shackled by the constraints of religion, politics, class, and family. Pixabay.

    Many characters in Dubliners are shown walking around aimlessly, moving but never really getting anywhere like Lenehan in "Two Gallants". While many of them dream of better lives and new experiences, they are shown to be trapped in inescapable routines and stations in life. Some are scared to break out, while others are shackled by family commitments.

    The imagery and idea of paralysis recur throughout most of the stories in Dubliners. Can you find 3 more examples of characters who are physically or emotionally stuck?

    Stages of life

    Joyce envisioned the collection as encompassing four stages of life. While these stages are never clearly delineated, thematically and in terms of the protagonist, the stories chronically develop from childhood to adolescence, then maturity, and finally into public life.


    The collection’s first three stories - “The Sisters”, “An Encounter,” and “Araby” - cover the period of childhood and feature young boys as protagonists. Each story deals with a loss of innocence and an experience with the grim realities of the real world. In “The Sisters”, the boy experiences the death of his mentor and the revelation that the man he admired may have been involved in something scandalous. The boys in “An Encounter” want a Wild West adventure but instead meet a disturbed and abusive adult. In “Araby,” the narrator's romantic hopes and dreams are punctured by the tatty gifts on display.


    The stories “Eveline”, “After the Race”, “Two Gallants,” and “The Boarding House” portray characters in late adolescence as they enter adulthood. These characters are struggling to accept their confined adult lives as they yearn for adventure.

    Eveline is torn between her life of servitude to an abusive father and the chance to start a new life with her lover. In “Two Gallants”, both Lenehan and Corley are frustrated by their lot in life and fantasize about more socially upstanding lives but are forced to face the reality that they are stuck in a life of petty crime and disappointment. In "The Boarding House" Polly begins her affair with Mr. Doran as a childish tryst but is soon forced to face the adult responsibility for her actions. Jimmy Doyle from "After the Race" feels a frustrating sense of inferiority in comparison to his international companions.


    The third group of stories deals with characters trying, and often failing, to make peace with their station in life. “A Little Cloud”, “Counterparts”, “Clay,” and “A Painful Case” all feature adult protagonists struggling with the boundaries of their social setting. In “Clay” and “A Painful Case,” the female leads are restricted by gender norms. Mrs. Sinico is a lonely married woman who desperately wants some form of companionship. Her attempt to become close with Mr. Duffy is considered shameful. In “Clay,” Maria is unmarried and childless. She is shown to be childish and stunted because of this. The men in “A Little Cloud” and “Counterparts” are frustrated by their jobs and family. Both wish for a better life but end up seeking solace in pubs and alcohol. The men each let their frustrations out by beating their children.

    Public life

    The final set of stories, consisting of “Ivy Day in the Committee Room,” “A Mother,” “Grace,” and “The Dead”, deal with the pressures and restraints of social life in Dublin. Joyce uses the final set of stories to reflect on the public life of characters in Dublin society. Characters are shown to be obsessed and tormented by their social standing and reputation. They live in fear of other people’s judgment and gossip. In “A Mother”, Mrs. Kearney is desperate to show off her daughter so she can improve her standing in Dublin’s social circle. In “Ivy Day in the Committee Room”, characters discuss politics with little critical thought or insight and loyally repeat the party line on all issues. They are all trying to fit in and be accepted rather than rock the boat with differing opinions. Tom Kernan from “Grace” is a Protestant who converted to Catholicism in order to marry his wife. At the request of the other men, he visits the retreat but doesn’t believe in the religious dogma.

    Finally, “The Dead” presents Gabriel Conroy as constantly anxious about how other people at the party see him. He is shamed for his perceived lack of Irish identity and feels intellectually inferior. In the final section of Dubliners, Joyce criticizes the influence of religious and political ideology on Dublin’s social circles. Characters are trapped and unable to express their true feelings in case it offends the commonly held beliefs of the group. In this regard, Dubliners feature the struggle for individuality that would later be explored in Joyce’s other works, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916) and Ulysses (1922).

    Was James Joyce banned in Ireland?

    As well as experimenting with form and language, James Joyce also pushed the boundaries of acceptability and taste. His books often depict bodily functions, sexual acts, and profanity. He did face censorship and bans throughout the world, including the USA, where Ulysses was prohibited until 1933. Given his outspoken criticism of the Catholic Church and its overbearing influence in Ireland, Joyce's books did face some pushback in his native land. Priests declared Joyce’s works to be evil and warned their parishioners not to read his sinful books.

    However, contrary to popular belief, James Joyce was never officially banned in Ireland. The book was never submitted to Ireland’s strict censorship board for one reason - people assume it’d already been submitted! Therefore, copies of Ulysses were technically permitted for sale in Ireland, but customs officers refused to handle the sacrilegious and pornographic text.

    Alcohol and drunkenness

    Joyce highlights the role of alcohol in Irish social life but is highly critical of those who abuse alcohol. Many stories highlight alcohol's harmful side effects. Characters like Farrington (“Counterparts”), Duffy (“Grace”), and Chandler (“A Little Cloud”) use alcohol to cope with the pressure and frustration they feel about their work and family life. Pubs feature prominently throughout the stories as gathering points for male characters. During the day, the men daydream about going to the pub after work and spending more than they can afford to find some release.

    Dubliners, alcohol, StudySmarterIn many stories from Dubliners, alcohol plays a major role. Pixabay

    The political canvassers in “Ivy Day in the Committee Room” drink alcohol and become nostalgic for the past and their dead leader. Joyce presents the men as escaping into the past instead of dealing with the present or planning for the future.

    Abusive husbands and fathers are common throughout the collection. Eveline remembers her drunken father beating her as a child. Mrs. Mooney (“The Boarding House”) was forced to separate from her husband as he drank away their money. “A Little Cloud” and “Counterparts” end with fathers taking out their frustrations on their children after a day’s drinking.

    Joyce wrote the stories in Dubliners while he was moving around Europe with his wife and child in the years 1904-07. The complete collection was not published until 1914.

    Style of Dubliners

    Dubliners is considered to contain elements of both Modernist and Realist literature. Joyce set out to depict a realistic portal of life in Dublin. Sometimes unflattering but always honest, this collection presents snapshots of real people stuck in their everyday routines at the beginning of the 20th century. The stories in Dubliners are notable for their realistic portrayal of speech patterns as Joyce includes many examples of Dublin slang and local vernacular. Through long dialogue exchanges, the reader is shown the stifling restrictions of Dublin society and feels the paralysis and frustration felt by many of its citizens.

    Realism: Literary realism was a movement in the late 19th and early 20th century that sought to represent the everyday experiences of normal people as opposed to the epic tales of heroic characters that defined the Romantic period.

    The stories in Dubliners are not driven by plot or action. Rather, Joyce uses each story to explore the inner mind of his characters. This gives the stories a contemplative quality, and like many Modernist works, the stories do not have clear resolutions or happy endings. The meaning or moral of the stories is not always clear on the first reading and is often open to interpretation and debate.

    The first three stories are told in first-person narrative, with the rest of the collection presented in an omniscient perspective. Joyce remains focused on the viewpoint of each story's protagonist, using a point of view perspective to detail their reactions in real time. This style allows Joyce to focus on the viewpoint of one character. The tone often shifts from highly lyrical prose to blunt descriptions to represent the conflict between the character's secret desire for escape with the drudgery of their limited lives.

    Quotes from Dubliners

    “Mr. Duffy lived a short distance from his body.” - "A Painful Case".

    Duffy is just one of the many characters in Dubliners who live a disconnected life. Repressed and confined, many of the characters feel trapped in the dull routine of everyday life in Dublin and yearn for release and escape.

    “The light music of whisky falling into glasses made an agreeable interlude.” - "Grace".

    Alcohol plays a major part in many of the collection's stories. Many men use it as release, while others use it to dull the pain of the mundane existence. In "Grace", Tom Kernan does not find the same solace in religion as those around him. Instead, he finds escape in a glass of whiskey.

    "Every night as I gazed up at the window I said softly to myself the word paralysis." - "The Sisters".

    The collection's first story, "The Sisters," establishes one of the most important recurring themes: paralysis.

    In the story, the priest is physically paralyzed by his third stroke, but other characters are paralyzed by their past, by the dead, and by the limits of life in Dublin.

    "His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead." - "The Dead".

    The final line of the final story, "The Dead", displays Joyce's ability to blend everyday observations with bigger questions about life and the universe. The collection is full of characters who encounter profound thoughts and epiphanies during mundane everyday routines. Joyce wanted to show his reader that every mind was capable of higher thinking.

    Dubliners - Key takeaways

    • Dubliners is a collection of 15 short stories written by James Joyce.
    • The final story, "The Dead," is the collection's most famous piece and is often considered a novella.
    • The stories are not plot-driven. Joyce uses the stories to provide insight into the minds of everyday people.
    • The stories can be grouped into four stages of life: childhood, adolescence, maturity, and public life.
    • The collection is considered Joyce's most accessible work.
    Frequently Asked Questions about Dubliners

    Why did James Joyce write Dubliners?

    With Dubliners, James Joyce wanted to depict a realistic image of daily life and people's struggles in Dublin. 

    What is Dubliners by James Joyce about?

    The Dubliners is a collection of short stories that feature everyday people in Dublin at the turn of the 20th century. Through the stories, Joyce shows the frustrations and hopes of ordinary people in the city. 

    How old was James Joyce when he wrote Dubliners?

    Written between 1904-07, the stories in Dubliners were written when Joyce was aged 22-25. 

    How does Joyce describe Dublin?

    In Dubliners, Joyce describes Dublin as stuck in the past. Due to the social restrictions of religious and political beliefs, many people felt paralyzed. 

    Why was James Joyce banned in Ireland?

    Despite facing criticism from the Catholic Church and the establishment, James Joyce was never officially banned in Ireland. 

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    How many stories make up the entire collection of Dubliners? 

    James Joyce's original intention with Dubliners was to capture real life instead of overly romanticized portraits. 

    Which is the longest and most widely read story in the Dubliners collection? 


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