free booknotes online

Help / FAQ

<- Previous Page | First Page | Next Page ->
Free Book Summary-Dubliners by James Joyce-Study Guide/Synopsis
Table of Contents | Message Board | Downloadable/Printable Version




The story imaginatively titled "Grace" opens on a Kafkaesque scene; the anonymous man lying in "the filth and ooze" of the lavatory floor in the bar. He is picked up and dumped on the bar floor. No one checks his state of health. The only query asked is-who is he? -showing the loss of identity of an alcoholic wreck. Gradually, Tomís identity emerges. His friend Power has a protective but dominating attitude to him, and it is no coincidence that he is an officer of the British administration. Underlining this, Joyce points out that "The arc of his social rise intersected the arc of his friendís decline." Kernan is not a drifter. He is the kind of commercial traveler "who believed in the dignity of his calling." He has been crowded by "modern business methods into "a little office", but he still "would walk to the end of Thomas Street and back again to book even a small order."

Thus, Kernan is not the violent, dehumanized drunk of "Counterparts." He is gentle and passive, and is a victim of colonial economic practices. Even his wife who has struggled through his bouts of drunkenness to raise five children is tolerant of his lapses and confident of his good intentions. Yet he hasnít the will to do anything to change his life. Others do it for him. Those others are chiefly Powers and Cunningham, both officers at "the Castle" seat off British rule. It is they who persuade Kernan to seek the remedy for his disease in the church.

Finally, the church and the priest are shown with a sharp irony. The congregation consists of most of the corrupt elements in society-the politicians, moneylenders, commission-agents, all docilely expecting absolution for their sins, so they may go out and perform them all over again! There is a tacit understanding between them and the priests who has "modernized" his sermon to suit commercial needs. He uses metaphors of commerce to convince them they are morally safe if their "accounts" tally. Thus, the very religion to which the helpless may turn for relief from worldly pressures has sanctioned and blessed those very practices, which give rise to the pressures.



Tom Kernan

Tom is an amiable, hard-working commercial traveler and taster of tea. He is tied to the colonial economy, as his companyís head-quarters are in London, but his sort of work is becoming redundant. He has to drown his sorrows in drink. He has thus become a passive object, whom others can literally pick up and dump as in the bar; or manipulate-as with Power and Cunningham. He owes a stable home to his wife, who is tolerant and a realist. His bitten off tongue-piece signifies his reduced capacity in all aspects, particularly as his profession and his drinking both depend on it.


A young confident man is fastidious about being taken advantage of, but generous to those less fortunate friends. His position as a low-level functionary of the British Colonial power brings him instant recognition-from the constable at the bar, and a sense of authority-in the way he orders Kernan to open his mouth takes over his destiny and his reformation. He is well intentioned at the personal level, but Joyce, draws through him and Cunningham, a definite nexus between economic ties with Britain and spiritual dependency on a bankrupt church.


The opening scene is grotesque and effective in a Kafkaesque style with the publicís focusing only on the manís identity, adding to its grotesque nature. Then Power moves in and we are shown the inverse relationship of their two professional destinies. This is followed by a gentler handling of Tom's home. Finally there is the satirical scene of the church with its pompous priest, who is peddling a spiritually bankrupt religion.


One theme is alienation and loss of identity, especially of Tom, a drunkard. This alienation drives men to seek refuge in religion, which again has so compromised with business, that it can only offer false comfort.



The imagery of the central theme of "paralysis" is here symbolized by the fallen, unconscious body of Tom in the sordid, ugly situation of the bar. In Joyceís Dublinerís drunkenness has also been used as a reflection of the colonial economic situation. The bitten-off tongue represents the voicelessness of the colonized and the constant questioning about his name symbolizes his loss of identity.

Alcohol and peopleís dependence on it is a parallel to their docile spiritual dependence on the church to save them from their vices. Kernan moves from one kind of dependence to the other showing Joyceís view of the Irish people as totally lacking in self-will or dynamism in a colonial situation.

Table of Contents | Message Board | Downloadable/Printable Version

<- Previous Page | First Page | Next Page ->
Dubliners by James Joyce-Free Online Book Notes Study Guide/Synopsis


All Contents Copyright ©
All rights reserved. Further Distribution Is Strictly Prohibited.

About Us
 | Advertising | Contact Us | Privacy Policy | Home Page
This page was last updated: 5/9/2017 9:52:41 AM