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Free Book Summary-Dubliners by James Joyce-Study Guide/Synopsis
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James Augustus Aloysuis Joyce was born on February 2, 1882 in the Dublin suburb of Rathgar. Born into a poor family, he was the elder surviving son of ten children. He was educated at the Jesuit schools of Clongowes Wood College, Belvedere College and University College, Dublin. The young James was expected to join the Catholic priesthood, but he rejected this idea along with Catholicism itself. He was born at a time when militant Irish nationalism was entering a fierce phase, and this had a certain influence on him. He felt stifled by what he considered a restricted colonial culture in Ireland and he left Ireland for Paris in 1904. In spite of living abroad for most of his remaining life, the setting for all his works is his hometown of Dublin and his own and other family relationships. Yet Joyce’s nature writing extended to the entire history of European culture.

Dubliners’ written when he was a student of just twenty-two was published after a long delay of ten years as the publishers felt it was too sexually explicit and controversial. It was published only in 1914. 1916 saw the publication of a more famous novel "A Portrait of the Artist as a young man.’ This is largely autobiographical and traces his own adolescent development, the conflict between his attraction towards religion and his dislike of its repressive aspects and his final choice of an artistic vocation. In ‘Portrait’, Joyce experimented with a narrative style, which grows with the hero from infancy to young adulthood.

Ulysses’ takes up Stephen’s life where ‘Portrait’ left off. Published in 1922, it deals with the events of one day-16 June 1904-Stephen Dedalus, the protagonist, returns to Dublin from Paris for his mother’s funeral. The central action of the novel is Stephen’s search for his father. Meanwhile we see the father Leopold Bloom, his personality a complete contrast to his son’s. Joyce used the analogy of Homer’s epic The Odyssey for his greatest work, Ulysses. Thus Ulysses has at one level an earthy, humorous evocation of contemporary Dublin and at another the grand classical design of the search and reunion of Odysseus and his son Telemachus of ancient mythology. This gives the novel a richly universal ethos, which has made it a modern classic. No less is the effect of Joyce’s bold experiments in the stream-of-consciousness style of which he was a pioneer. This style gives him and us the freedom to enter into the minds of the characters, their past and present, and experience their ‘warm breathing life.’ After ‘Ulysses’ Joyce continued his stylistic experiments in ‘Finnegan’s Wake’, another notable work.

Joyce and his wife, Nora Barnacle, had two children, a son and a daughter. Joyce’s later years were troubled by his daughter’s mental illness and his own eye condition-glaucoma. But he received growing recognition and financial support from the Royal Literary Fund. James Joyce died in Zurich on 13 th January 1941, at the age of 59.


Dubliners’ was written when Joyce was just twenty-two years old. Yet it was published ten years later in 1914. In spite of his youth, Joyce had a clear sense of purpose, which carried ‘a diagnostic judgement of a remarkably comprehensive kind.’ He had declared in a letter, ‘My intention was to write a chapter of the moral history of my country and I chose Dublin for the scene because that city seemed to me the center of paralysis. I have tried to present it to the indifferent public under four of its aspects: childhood, adolescence, maturity and public life. The stories are in this order. I have written it for the most past in a style of scrupulous meanness.’

The original collection had twelve stories arranged according to this plan. 1) Thus, The Sisters, An Encounter and Araby form a group observing the widening response of and increasing disillusionment of a young adolescent with the world around him. 2) Eveline, After the Race and The Boarding House reveal three young adults of varied backgrounds, lacking any sense of purpose or self-confidence, and unable to take independent decisions vital to their future lives. 3) Then come Counterparts, Clay and A Painful Case, all dealing with mature people with more advanced psychological problems failing to grapple with their lives. This is less so with Maria in Clay, who struggles to maintain a sense of self-value and cheerfulness. 4) The final group consisted of ‘Ivy Day in the Committee Room, A Mother, and Grace-each one studying the breakdown of values in the fields of politics, art, and religion, respectively.

In the ten years during which Joyce had an arduous struggle with the authorities he wrote Two Gallants, A little Cloud, and The Dead. Of these, the first two fit the bleak mood and critical spirit of the rest of ‘Dubliners.’ Only The Dead is considered by critics to have reduced the effect of the ‘tightly oppressive design’ of the rest of the volume. The mood of The Dead is more sympathetic and more hopeful and in this sense it points the way to the more optimistic and vigorous view of life in Portrait and Ulysses.


Ireland had been England’s first colony, conquered officially in 1171, by Henry II. Yet, England could only bring it under the effective control in 1600, when the Irish chose to remain Catholic and refused to accept the Protestant Reformation, which had been enthusiastically received by an increasingly powerful England. There followed three centuries of hostilities and ruthless suppression of the Irish Catholics by the English monarch through Protestant overlords. Around the 1880’s an active movement for Home Rule arose. There was a fierce revolt at Easter 1916, which was sternly crushed. But another stronger movement in 1919-21 effectively gained independence within the Commonwealth. The Irish Free State, also called Eire, was established in 1922.

Inspired by the struggle for freedom the Irish Literary Revival began in the 1880’s led by W.B. Yeats, J.M. Synge and Lady Gregory, this literary movement aimed at freeing Irish culture from the English shadow over it. They took inspiration from their heroic past as a land of rebels and saints, and from the Gaelic tradition and language, which had close connections with the culture of mainland Europe while some writers deliberately idealized and sentimentalized their national life, James Joyce rejected this trend. Nowhere is this more obvious than in his first book-Dubliners, where he examines with clinical and bleak precision, the state of culture, values and life in Dublin, to some extent a microcosm of the nation. Though influenced by the desire to be free of English dominance, Joyce also rejected the native influence of the Catholic Church. He felt Ireland should rebel, but was not impressed with the narrow vision and fanaticism of those heading the struggle. Though this does not appear directly in Dubliners, the pessimism in the book is partly a consequence of this skepticism. However Ulysses published in 1922 the year the Irish Free State was abolished displays an active and forward-looking vision of life. Thus Dubliners may be seen as a product of his youthful disillusion and of the social- political milieu of the time.

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