First of all, I´d like to point out that it´s been very difficult for me to find the

right title for this paper. Joyce´s Dubliners is so dense and full of subjects to take

into account that doing an essay on it is not only hard work but also a selective

task: we can´t approach and talk about every important aspect in this text,we must

choose the most significant ones.

Reading the novel, the first and most obvious characteristic that is found is

REALISM. We can appreciate it throughout the book by observing the author´s

treatment towards places, culture, religion, people, language…etc…

It seems that the novel is a kind of geographical, religious and cultural

persuasive portrait of Dublin city, the capital of Ireland.

Regarding geography, we can say it is obvious that the author knows the city as

well as the palm of his hand. He sends his characters through streets and avenues

with such accuracy that we, (supposing Dublin city is known to us) can imagine

where they are and we can understand the route they´re taking. If we check with a

map of the city we can see he doesn´t miss any corner. Monuments and important

historical buildings are mentioned as characters pass them by.

We are given a realistic view of everything as it is in the real world.

Let´s give some example

  • -"We walked along the North Strand Road till we came to the Vitriol Works and then turned to the right along the Wharf Road." An Encounter.
  • "The cars came scudding in towards Dublin, running evenly like pellets in             the groove of the Naas Road." After the race.
  • -"They drove down Dame Street…Near the BankSegouin drew up…The car steered out slowly for Grafton Street while…"

Many famous places are mentioned, as for example: Stephen’s Green, Grafton

Street, Temple Bar, O’Connell Street, the fashionable shop Brown Thomas, the

G.P.O or General Post Office…etc…

We can also notice several different train stations mentioned: Westland Row Station,

Kingsbridge Station, Sydney Parade Station…etc..

Concerning religion, Joyce gives us several glimpses of the spiritual

atmosphere of Dublin in that period. We can notice the existence of two different

religions in the same city. We can find both Catholics and Protestants, different


Catholicism was associated with Nationalism, and Protestantism to

Unionism (union to the British Empire). Religion is widely treated in the novel.


  • -"His parents went to eight-o’clock mass everymorning in Gardiner Street".This was a catholicJesuit Church. An Encounter.
  • "..screaming after us :Swaddlers!Swaddlers! thinking we were Protestants.."
  • "I sent him to the Christian Brothers and I done what I could for him.." .
  • "..she spoke of the University question.."Catholics couldn’t go to Trinity College as it was Anglican in ethos. The Dead.
  • " a big Catholic College and had afterwards sent him to Dublin University to study law ."
  • "The belfry of George’s Church sent…" This was a Protestant church. P.58
  • "She used to have such a bad opinion of Protestants but now she thought they were very nice people".Clay.
  • "On special Sundays when Mr Kearney went with his family to the pro-cathedral a little crowd…" This was the Catholic Church of Ireland.

Culture is also a strongly represented feature in Dubliners. It’s a topic easily

found in the novel.

The world of literature is present by means of mentions of poets and authors,

literary movements; and by the existence of newspapers.


-Authors: Thomas Moore, Sir Walter Scott, Lord Lytton, Byron, Wordsworth,

Robert Browning..etc..

-Movements: The Celtic School, and the much more important Irish Literary


-Newspapers: Freeman’s General and the Daily Express.

The novel represents certain aspects of the life of the capital. What I find very

interesting is the way Joyce suggests with facts and images the irish customs and



  • Horse Racing: "His name was vaguely associated with racing tissues".
  • Tea: "…she decided to go out herself for a quarter of a pound of tea and.." "..and the dummy filled up with hot tea,already mixed with milk and sugar.."
  • Pubs: " ..they went round to Mulligan’s.They went into the parlour at the back and O’Halloran ordered small hot specials all round".
  • "They’re often in Kavanagh’s together.."
  • "Not far from the porch of the club a harpist stood in the roadway,playing to a little ring of listeners". ( The harp is the symbol of Ireland ).

Very typical irish family names appear along the different stories. Some of them

are : Devine (although coming from French), Dunns, Doyle, Malone, Gallaher, O’Hara,
O’Halloran, O’Connor,Kavanagh, Fogarty…etc…

Language plays a decisive role in Dubliners. Individuals are characterised

depending on the way they speak. Language varys with the different levels of

society. We can find slang, grammar mistakes, typical expressions..etc…



  • -".. I planned a day’s miching*".=Playing truant. An Encounter.
  • -" have some gass* with the birds" .=Fun. An Encounter.
  • -"..-a bob* and a tanner*".=Coins
  • "Swaddlers!Swaddlers!*".=Protestants.
  • -"..that he had three totties*".=Girlfriends.
  • -"He was tired of knocking about,of pulling the devil by the tail*,of shifts and intrigues".=living on the brink of financial catastrophe. Two Gallants.
Typical expressions:
  • "..was nearly always down somewhere in the country". Eveline.
  • It’s a common Dublin mode of reference to the rest of Ireland which bespeaks the city’s essential indifference to life outside the capital.
  • -"Fine night,sir!" After the race.
  • -"I feel a ton better since I landed again in dear dirty Dublin.." A Little Cloud.
  • -"..and said good-night,you know*.."
  • "But she thinks I’m a bit of class,you know". Two Gallants..

-Grammar mistakes:

  • -" She was a little vulgar;sometimes she said I seen and If I had’ve known". The Boarding House.

In my view , one of the merits of Dubliners is to seem a perfect mirror of the

economical, social and political situation at that time in Ireland, the author´s

country of birth.

Poverty remains reflected in some occasions:

-"Two poor women and a telegram boy.."

The Sisters.

-"A horde of grimy children populated the street".

A Little Cloud.

-"This vision made him feel keenly his own

poverty of purse and spirit.He was tired of

knocking about,of pulling the devil by the tail".

Two Gallants .

But also the economical prosperity of the city is presented by the author:

-"We pleased ourselves with the spectacle of

Dublin’s commerce-the barges signalled from

far away by their curls of woolly smoke,the

brown fishing fleet beyond Ringsend,the big

white sailing-vessel which was being

discharged on the opposite quay".

An Encounter.


Along the nineteenth century, the phenomenon of emigration appeared in

Ireland. Many irish people left their homes and went away searching for fortune.

Destinations were mainly England , Australia and the United States of America,

places were emigrants settled.

We get knowledge of this phenomenon in the novel:

-"Whenever he showed the photograph to a

visitor her father used to pass it with a casual

word:-He is in Melbourne now".


In Eveline, we find the story of this girl who was going to run away with her boyfriend to South America.

-"She had consented to go away,to leave her


-"But in her new home,in a distant unknown

country,it would not be like that".

-"She stood among the swaying crowd in the

station at the North Wall…The boat blew a

long mournful whistle into the mist.If she

went,to-morrow she would be on the sea with

Frank,steaming towards Buenos Ayres.Their

passage had been booked".

We can appreciate feelings that might had led to emigration:

-"Dublin is such a small city:everyone knows

everyone else’s business".

The Boarding House..

-"There was no doubt about it:if you wanted to

succeed you had to go away.You could do

nothing in Dublin". A Little Cloud.

Political situation in Ireland was very complicated at the time the novel is

written. Along the book , we get sundry references to different ideologies and

points of view. The Act of Union of 1800 had abolished the Irish Parliament and

made Ireland part of the United Kingdom. English domination means an

oppression for most people, although for others it’s a great fact to be united to the

"British Empire".

James Joyce doesn’t doubt in showing us his political ideas through some of

his characters and stories.

Let’s give some examples of the presence of politics along the different stories:

  • -"That night the city wore the mask of a capital".
 After the race.
As we can see, the city is wearig a mask.This

is because although Dublin is the capital of

Ireland, it didn’t exercise legislative authority

over the country. The Act of Union had

established that power in London.

-"Gallaher was only patronising him by his

friendliness just as he was patronising Ireland

by his visit". A Little Cloud.

-"…a furious voice called out in a piercing

North of Ireland accent". Counterparts..

-"What we want in this country ,as I said to

old Ward,is capital.The King’s coming here

will mean an influx of money into this country.

The citizens of Dublin will benefit

by it…Look at all the money there is in the

country if we only worked the old industries,

shipbuilding yards and the mills,the factories.

It’s capital we want"

-"This is Parnell’s anniversary,said Mr

O’Connor,and don’t let us stir up any bad

blood.We all respect him now that he’s dead

and gone-even the Conservatives,headded,

turning to Mr Crofton".

-"He was the only man that could keep that

bag of cats in order".

-"..we’re just talking about the Chief".

The poem in this story, Ivy Day in the Committee Room, is a clear sign of Joyce’s

admiration towards Charles Stewart Parnell.

-"The Irish heart where’er it be

Is bowed with woe -for he is gone".

-"..his spirit may raise..

The Day That brings us Freedom’s reign.

..One grief-the memory of Parnell".

-"When he had finished his recitation there

was a silence and then a burst of clapping:

even Mr Lyons Clapped".

-" hide his emotion".

We find a touch of humour when they ask Mr Crofton his opinion about the poem.

He answers that it was a very fine piece of writing. This character, Mr Crofton,

clearly represents the posture of a quite convinced unionist. His argument is that

union with Great Britain is good for Irish economy. He can also be considered

a tory, he defends the king.

Parnell was once the undisputed leader among the Irish people.His death was

very lamented by the Irish.

Talking about the way the book is written,we must say that realism

characterises Joyce’s descriptions concerning places, people’s actions and

language, idioms..etc…

The novel is "a world of details". We get many detailed descriptions of:


-"When he smiled he used to uncover his big

discoloured teeth and let his tongue lie upon

his lower lip.."

"His face was very truculent,grey and

massive,with black cavernous nostrils and

circled by a scanty white fur."

  • The Sisters.P.5,6.
  • -"The great silver buckle of her belt seemed to

    depress the centre of her body,catching the

    light stuff of her white blouse like a clip".

    Two Gallants.

    -"Mr O’Connor,a grey-haired young man,

    whose face was disfigured by many blotches

    and pimples.." Ivy Day in the Committee Room.



    -"All the branches of the tall trees which lined

    the mall where gay with little light green

    leaves and the sunlight slanted through them

    on to the water". An Encounter.

    -"The glow of a late autumn sunset covered

    the grass plots and walks" A Little Cloud.


    -"The grey warm evening of August had

    descended upon the city and a mild warm

    air,a memory of summer,circulated in the

    streets.The streets,shuttered for the repose

    of Sunday,swarmed with a gaily coloured

    crowd.Like illumined pearls the lamps

    shone from the summits of their tall poles

    upon the living texture below which,

    chanching shape and hue unceasingly,sent

    up into the grey warm evening air an

    unchanching unceasing murmur".

    Two Gallants.

    -"When the dome was thinly covered his face

    lapsed into darkness but,as he set himself to

    fan the fire again,his crouching shadow

    ascended the opposite wall and his face

    re-emerged into light". Ivy Day in the Committee Room

    More than images, what Joyce creates in these two examples, are perfect

    atmospheres.Therefore, we, the readership, can imagine the situation in which the

    action is going to take place.


    -"Eliza sighed again and bowed her head

    in assent.My aunt fingered the stem of

    her wine-glass before sipping a little".

    The Sisters.

    -"Little Chandler smiled,looked confusedly

    at his glass and bit his lower lip with

    three childishly white front teeth".

    A Little Cloud.

    One of the most interesting features of Dubliners is the way Joyce "allows his

    characters to speak". It seems is not him who’s writing at some stage. Language

    flows from the individual’s mouths. He lets them think freely, and sometimes they

    do it in "loud voice". In this way, we enter characters’ conciousness , we get more

    aware of what they’re thinking, their fears, wishes..etc..

    Let’s see some examples:

    -"Everything changes.Now she was going to

    go away like the others,to leave her home.


    -" leave her home.Was that wise?"

    -"Then she would be married-she,Eveline".

    -"She stood up in a sudden impulse of terror.

    Escape!She must escape!Frank would

    save her.He would give her life,perhaps

    love,too.But she wanted to live.Why

    should she be unhappy?"Eveline.

    -"It must have been a good speech.

    Farley clapped him on the back and

    laughed loudly.What jovial fellows!

    What good company they were!

    Cards!Cards!The table was cleared".

    After the race.

    -"..and kissed him and said he was very

    good to think of her./ Hm!…."

    A Little Cloud.

    -"All the indignities of his life enraged

    him…Could he ask the cashier privately

    for an advance?No,the cashier was no

    good,no damn good:he wouldn’t give an

    advance…He knew where…."


    -"What a nice evening they would have,

    all the children singing!Only she hoped

    that Joe wouldn’t come in drunk.He was

    so different when he took any drink.."


    This is what is called the "stream of consciousness", a phenomenon that will

    appear in a wider and a extremely way in one of Joyce’s later novels,Ulysses.

    Finally, I’d like to remark Joyce’s language mastery and command; his

    extraordinary skill to represent different sorts of speeches and registers, no matter

    of what kind, which I think remains summed up in the speech of a character:

    -"Hallo,Tommy, old hero, here you are! What is it to be? What will you have? I’m

    taking whisky: better stuff than we get across the water. Soda? Lithia? No mineral?I'm
    the same. Spoils the flavour…Here, garçon, bring us two halves of malt whisky, like a
    good fellow. …Well, and how have you been pulling along since I saw you last? Dear God, how old we’re getting! Do you see any signs of aging in me-eh, what?A little grey and thin on the top-what? A Little Cloud.

    © Copyright 1999/2000 María Rodríguez Moran