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Free Book Summary-Dubliners by James Joyce-Study Guide/Synopsis
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The opening sequence takes place in the grimy lavatory of a bar, then moves to the bar itself. From there Joyce takes us to the poor home of an alcoholic, Tom Kernan. The final scene is in the local Church.


Tom Kernan

Initially the dehumanized drunk, Tom gradually emerges as a genuine and honest human being.


Tomís acquaintance who is dynamic and rising in relation to Tom having aligned himself with the powerful.

Tomís wife

A realist, who bears the domestic burden but is understanding about the pressures faced by her husband.


A policeman of the colonial state, he has taken the responsibility of reforming alcoholics.

Father Purdon

Seen as a caricature by Joyce of the opportunistic churchman speaking the language of commerce.



The protagonist, Tom Kernan is a middle-aged tea salesman, who has drifted into alcoholism.


While Tomís friends are shown to represent various negative tendencies, the antagonistic forces are colonial rule, which is driving Tom out of business, and the Church, offering a false hope of salvation.


After much persuasion, Tom is made to attend a retreat organized by an evangelist, Father Purdon. The scene in church with the Father advising them in commercial terms to "settle their accounts" is the climax.


The story is left open ended but Joyce casts doubt on whether a church so in tune with business can deliver people from the very pressures created by the same world of business.


Initially almost Kafkaesque, the mood is bitterly satirical exposing the complete loss of identity of a man, especially a drunkard, in the modern world. The mood lightens when we move to Tomís home and look into his personal tensions only to become harshly satirical again in the church scene.

Cunningham talks about Father Purdon who has arranged the retreat; "Fine Jolly fellow! Heís a man of the world like ourselves." A newcomer, Fogarty who is a local grocer, comes to visit the invalid, bringing the gift of half-pint of special whisky. They all sample it with approval. An involved and hair- splitting discussion on Popes of the past follows. They assert that not even the most "out and out ruffian, not one of them ever preached ex cathedra a word of false doctrine." Historic disputes in the church are brought up dramatically, and discussed. Finally they part. Having persuaded Kernan to join them, they decide: "Weíre all going to make a retreat together and confess out sins-and God knows we want it badly." Mrs. Kernan hides her satisfaction saying, "I pity the poor priest that has to listen to your tale." Kernan tries to assert his independence by insisting he will not stand with a lighted candle while renewing his baptismal vows. They laugh heartily and leave.

The last scene is in the Jesuit Church in Gardener Street. The men are all well dressed and orderly. They sit, docilely "gazing at the distant speck of red light suspended before the high altar." Even the frivolous ones begin "to respond to the religious stimulus." Joyce describes some of the congregation-Harford the money lender; Fanning-the mayor maker of the city; old Michael Grimes, owner of three pawn-brokerís shops; Kernan is more comfortable seeing a number of his cronies.

The priest "two thirds of his bulk, crowned by a massive red face" is visible in the pulpit. He kneels and prays. Then he declares the dayís text: "For the children of the world are wiser in their generation than the children of light. Wherefore make unto yourselves friends out of the mammon of iniquity so that when you die they may receive you into everlasting dwellings." He claims that Jesus Christ understood those "whose lot it was to live in the world" but did not want to live "in the manner of worldlings." He speaks as "a man of the world" and their "spiritual accountant" and asks them "to be straight and manly with God" to check their "accounts" so that they may say "I find all well" or "I will rectify my accounts."

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