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Free Book Summary-Dubliners by James Joyce-Study Guide/Synopsis
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Like Gabriel in ‘The Dead’, Duffy is an intellectual. He has the awareness and sensitivity to be objective about his situation. Thus he deliberately lives outside Dublin which he hates. Unfortunately this sensitivity to the corrupting influences of the city and its repressive influences has, in his case, become a fear of all human relationships, all physical or emotional bonds, as a threat to his peace and autonomy. Thus alienation of the individual becomes a strong theme in this story. Duffy has enough vitality and emotion in him to feel the need for human companionship, yet even in their contact, it is Mrs. Sinico who takes the initiative. Once contact is established, his ego takes over, and all the suppressed needs-to be heard, to have companionship and friendship clamor for release, and his sensitivity takes a back seat. Yet his habitual caution remains alive to the need to be open about their meeting and at the first sign of her sexual involvement, Duffy runs away. He leaves all his feelings about her unresolved, suppressing them until the news of her death shatters his artificial calm. Even the deep disturbance arising from her death is finally suppressed until he begins to doubt the reality of his memory.

The constant repetition in the inquest report of "no blame" attaching to anyone only leaves Duffy to conclude that he is to blame. He tries to justify himself by seeing her as unfit to live, an alcoholic who has died an ignominious death-but it all comes back to him, until he ruthlessly suppresses his feelings again. Thus the news of her death, though an epiphany in its consequence of making him briefly aware of himself is finally futile. It does not make him change his way of living in any way.

Stanislaus Joyce, the author’s brother, has said in a memoir that Duffy was supposed, to be based on him on material taken from his diary, as his brother thought he would develop in the same way in middle age. Stanislaus Joyce also saw Duffy "as the type of the male celibate, as Maria in "Clay" is of the female celibate."

The irony of Duffy’s fate is that in cutting himself off from the corrupting influence, of Dublin, he cuts himself off from life. Thus the "painful case" of the title refers to him as much as to Emily Sinico.



James Duffy

Duffy is one of the more sympathetic characters in "Dubliners", as he is seen from the "inside" to a great extent. As mentioned earlier, Joyce’s brother Stanislaus said Duffy’s character was modeled on himself or on what Joyce felt he would become in middle age, and that Duffy represented, for Joyce, "the type of the male celibate." Thus, Duffy’s character is an exploration of the dead end, to which event he--conscious recluse from urban corruption--is condemned. Duffy’s rigidly regimented life is viewed, ironically. Yet his drastic break from Emily Sinico is seen clinically but not severely. The author presents him as a self-conscious person desperately trying to retain control over his own life, not as consciously cruel. His selfishness and fear of involvement lead him to cruelty-"as he attached the fervent nature of his companion more and more closely to him, he heard the strange impersonal voice which he recognized as his own insisting on the soul’s incurable loneliness. We cannot give ourselves, it said: we are our own." It is this inability to sustain human relationships which results in his ending up as painful a case as Mrs. Sinico.

Emily Sinico

Mrs. Sinico is seen sympathetically, yet one-dimensionally. She is an attractive woman, yet somewhat worn. Her face "which must have been handsome, had remained intelligent." The expression in her eyes reveals a "half-disclosed nature"-by turns defiant and sensitive. She initiates the contact with Duffy, and has no inhibitions about meeting him secretly. She provides the "warm soil" in which his ego flourishes. Her interest is obviously more emotional and sexual than intellectual companionship-yet this is obvious only to the reader, not to Duffy when he leaves her, she is shattered but dignified. Finally, her loneliness and frustration drive her to drink and her death- whether accident or suicide-remains mysterious.


The precisely detailed description of Duffy’s rooms, his appearance and habits, bring him to life for us. Then we are taken through his first meeting with Mrs. Sinico and the full course of their relationship with its suppressed sexual undertones. He breaks away abruptly. Life resumes its dull discipline until the day he reads the news item on her death. This acts as a catalyst, stirring up unresolved feelings. Finally, in the darkness of the Park, he has an epiphanic realization about himself, his behavior with Emily Sinico and his fate.


The theme is at one level-the incapacity of a repressed individual to form healthy relationships with others, his inability to even realize the needs of others around him. At another, it is the impossibility of escape from the alienation and deadening effects of the city, however intellectually aware the person may be.



Joyce makes use of light and darkness in an uncommon way. Duffy’s rooms are furnished and painted white-white walls, devoid of pictures, white-painted shelves, white bed-clothes- suggesting bareness and clarity. He meets the Sinico’s one evening at the opera, and darkness is always associated with Emily-"they met always in the evening and chose the most quiet quarters for their walks together." Again, in her house, "she allowed the dark to fall upon them, refraining from lighting the lamp." Fittingly her death occurs one evening. Finally, his awareness of his own condition comes to him in the night, as he walks restlessly in the Park, where lovers lie secretly in the bushes. This darkness suggests his emotional and sexual needs, which he constantly represses. Mrs. Sinico seen more from his angle than her own independent one, also represents the earthly, physical aspect of human life-she is directly compared to fertile earth-"warm soil"- which enriches his growth. Even the lovers in the Park prefer the dark, which he hastily leaves.

The train, which he sees in the distance, reminds Duffy of her death, and seems to be "reiterating the syllables of her name." The same train is likened to "a worm with a fiery head winding through the darkness." Worms are traditionally symbols of death and rotting in the grave. Thus, Duffy is reminded, not only of Emily’s death, but of his own inevitable end, and of being "outcast from life’s feast."

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