by James Joyce

A Review by Scott finished March 7, 2010

This review will contain spoilers!

In many sentences:

I read Dubliners after finishing How to Read Literature Like a Professor because I thought it would present the perfect opportunity to test out the tools that How to presents. I knew that Joyce was the kind of author prone to filling his pages with depth, and the I felt the nature of short stories (their shortness, that is) would allow me to wrap my head around the overall plot and themes while at the same time making the concerted effort to delve more deeply into the text. On the whole, I think it was a successful experiment, though not for all the reasons I originally intended.

To start, I realized that reading for depth, allusions, resonance, multiple meanings, etc only works for me in so far as I don't impede with the actually pleasure of reading. The first few stories were not nearly as enjoyable as they could have been because I was so entirely focused upon reading for deeper meanings. By the end, however, I think I was better able to balance the pleasure aspect with trying to pick up on the more subtle, nuanced meanings present in the text.

Before I get into the per story breakdown, however, I would like to say some things about the text as a whole. This is the first thing I've ever read by Joyce, and it is obvious why he is considered such a great writer. His ability to capture so much within just a few pages of a story is phenomenal. Several of the stories were easily as powerful as a full-length novel, and without resorting to the "gotcha" that is often present in short stories. I also enjoyed how major themes (death of the city, the conflict between the old ways and new ways) were present throughout the collection, but from different viewpoints. So, for example, in one story the old ways might be glorified, but in the next, they are shunned for the advances of the modern age.

Now for specifics: In "The Sisters" I wonder if there was an inappropriate, possibly even sexual relationship between the altar boy and the dead priest. Nothing is explicit, but the implications seem to be present (Flynn's madness seems to go back to something he did and the broken chalice he was buried with).

What caught my attention in "An Encounter" was the idea that the narrator was on a quest to find a hen house, only to discover his hidden resentment for his friend Mahoney and his luck with girls. I also enjoyed how the sun was out all day up until the point that the strange vagrant showed up and then it went behind a cloud, possibly signifying that disturbing quality of the impending encounter.

In "Araby" the narrator, a young boy, is on a quest to find a gift for a girl. Once there, however, he can "hardly remember" why he is at the bazaar and because he has arrived too late, he finds nothing. In this quest he learns the vanity of his actions: "Gazing up into darkness I saw myself as a creature driven and derided by vanity; and my eyes burned with anguish and anger" (28). Sight/seeing is another major component of this tale, but it would require further reading and reflection to really pin it down.

"Eveline" is frozen by fear and is unable to join her lover Frank on his transatlantic journey. She is paralyzed by the same way the city of Dublin (and most of its residents) are paralyzed and unable to move beyond the past. I felt like the Eveline's wistfulness for her current/past life at the beginning of the tale foreshadowed this decision.

I felt that "After the Race" was an interesting depiction of a young man wanting to fit in, & making many poor decisions in that process. However, for some reason, I expected more "doom" at the end of the story than actually happened.

At the end of "Two Gallants" there is a rain storm. I wonder, might this be a cleansing rain that symbolizes the new beginning for these two men thanks to the stolen coin? I also found it interesting that "After the Race" ends with the loss of money, but this with the gain of money.

I was really impressed with Joyce's ability to capture the love, passion, fear of being caught and finally of deciding to get married all within so few pages. The characters were wonderfully realized and it took only nine pages!

"Little Cloud" captured Little Chandler's desire to write, create, and extend beyond his life and the trappings of Dublin. This is a desire I can often relate to, so I really appreciated its presence here. However, it was extremely sad to think of having a wife who would be so quick to think he had done something to harm the child. I can't even imagine not having a supportive husband/wife relationship when it comes to raising a child. Again, it was extremely impressive how he is able to capture so much (such as the frustration of a new dad) in so few pages.

"Counterparts" is a depressing look at an angry drunk whose only outlet is to beat his young son. This was particularly interesting in contrast with "Little Cloud" in that both men have similar emotions, but Chandler wants to have the outlet of poetry (and merely yells at his child) while Farrington finds refuge in alcohol and goes so far as to beat his son.

"A Mother" was great in its ability to capture the frantic, loving, caring nature of Mrs. Kearney through the style and tone and not just the dialogue of the characters.

There is a lot happening in "The Dead", some of which can be found in How to Read Literature. What stuck out to me was that Ireland was a dead & dying country, and just the same as how the snow covers both the living and the dead so it also covers Ireland. Gabriel, the educated and the most un-Irish of the entire group is the one who is overcome by passion and lust when he leaves the party (which I take to represent the old and dying ways considering the speech about the same that Gabriel gives). Unfortunately, his wife is overcome by grief for a long dead lover (she is still clinging to the past). Gabriel looks to the future and life beyond Ireland while the others do not and so die with it.

Obviously, I really enjoyed this collection of short stories. It is not exactly the most uplifting work, but it's insightful and interesting. I also imagine it is full of far more depth than my cursory look has noticed. I recommend it if you enjoy short stories, or periodic fiction. However, it's not so great as to recommend to any and all readers. I will so that I look forward to reading other books by Joyce, even if what I do know of his works is a little intimidating.

Favorite Quote

"He watched the scene and thought of life; and (as always happened when he thought of life) he became sad. A gentle melancholy took possession of him. He felt how useless it was to struggle against fortune, this being the burden of wisdom which the ages had bequeathed to him."

James Joyce in Dubliners

First Line

"There was no hope for him this time: it was the third stroke."

James Joyce the First Line of Dubliners

Last Line

"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."

James Joyce the Last Line of in Dubliners

Originally Published June 1, 1914

Paperback edition:

225 pages - June 1, 1993

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