"Too excited," in fact, "to be genuinely happy." Jimmy Doyle's only twenty-six years old (take our word for it, this is young), and he's having the time of his life. We'll talk about why he's so excited in a minute, but first let's figure out what his life's been like up until now and why this moment means so much.
It's not like J-man's had a tough life so far. His old man owns so many butcher shops in Dublin that people call him a "merchant prince," which means that little Jimmy "had money and was popular" from an early age (After the Race.3). Not too shabby so far. He went to England for college, which you could only do with a fat wallet, and then came back to Dublin to study law, all fancy-like. But this excitable boy "did not study very earnestly," which doesn't surprise us too much.
When it came time for study abroad, and Jimmy went over to Cambridge, he had no intention of studying. Instead, he basically maxed out the fatherly credit card and had to be brought home. But not without meeting someone very important to today's day in the life of Jimmy Doyle. That's Charles Ségouin, a rich French guy who wants Doyle to invest in his newest business venture. And it's Ségouin who brings Doyle into a fast car and to the point of ecstatic energy where we find him today.
Joyce tells us that the race day excites Jimmy because it provides him "Rapid motion through space […] notoriety […] the possession of money." It's that middle one that seems especially important, because Jimmy really enjoys being gawked at and recognized for having popular friends. Unfortunately, keeping up with this crowd makes things more difficult for him in the end, and the story shows us that what excites Jimmy might just be his tragic flaw—that is, he's totally vain.
And what a party it is. We're going to see some pretty amazing feats of celebration and Dubliners gone wild in these stories, but our four racers move around town as fast after the race as they do during it. Jimmy Doyle's eyes see a fancy Dublin that includes his own parents' house, his friend Ségouin's hotel, and Ségouin's friend's yacht. Take a look at the story's language for describing this wealth. The dinner was "exquisite," which isn't something you hear from the driver's side window at the drive-thru (After the Race.19). The car he sits in isn't fancy, it's "lordly" (After the Race.13).
More even than the posh surroundings, the company adds its own glow. Jimmy's "imagination was kindling" just by hearing a Frenchman talk to an Englishman, and it awakens a "buried zeal" for politics in Jimmy. Just sitting with these guys around a table makes him feel alive in a new way. That's great, right? Except that sometimes feeling alive in a new way doesn't jibe with making healthy financial decisions. It's like Jimmy just won the Monopoly lottery, but decided to spend real money to celebrate it.
Just like so many of the stories we've read so far, a hopefulness or contentment gives way really fast to despair, vanity, anguish, anger and shame. It's not until the last three paragraphs of "After the Race" that things take a turn for the terrible.
And if we'd stopped and thought about it, maybe we could have predicted that Jimmy Doyle's inexperience with fashionable friends would end badly, but Joyce doesn't foreshadow that event. Instead, it's easy for us to be excited along with Jimmy. The story has the same "rapid motion" as the race, and descriptions of money and good friends probably put all of us in a good mood.
Too bad we couldn't play his cards in poker, though. That's really Doyle's downfall. Just as the night keeps going from one thing to the next, and Jimmy's always been "along for the ride," he sits down to cards and gets caught up in the moment. There's more rapid motion, and plenty of notoriety, but by the end of the game Jimmy has seen that third really important thing you need for happiness—the possession of money—slip right through his fingers. He and the other American, who owns the yacht, "were the heaviest losers" (After the Race.20). And he only has himself to blame.
So what is it about Jimmy's character that leaves him, at the end of the story, with "elbows on the table and […] head between his hands"? Unfortunately, it's the very things that made him excited—the friends, the race, the party, the money—that got him into this mess. From the start of the story, the odds were against him. It's unfair, it's inevitable, and it's how things work for the main characters of Dubliners.
Together, these three make up "the party" of automobile racers and after-partyers with whom Jimmy Doyle tags along. This one car represents more nationalities than the rest of Dubliners combined, since Charles is a wealthy Frenchman, André's a Canadian electrician, and Villona is from Hungary. And unlike at the U.N., everyone gets along in this car, mainly because everyone has a reason to be happy. While an exciting business venture really gets Charles and André pumped, all it takes for Villona is a decent lunch.
Charles is in charge because he owns the racecar, knows some of the famous racers, and brings everyone over to his hotel for dinner. But it's lucky that his cousin André's around because he hooks up the group with a friend's sweet yacht for more food, drinks, and cards. Doyle's been friends with Villona for a little longer, and the fact that his dad acts "unusually friendly with Villona" tonight means that he's probably not usually very well respected.
Think of it this way: if Charles gets Jimmy into this mess, André keeps him in the middle of it, and Villona, who gets to speak the final words of the story, pronounces the verdict on the whole affair. Jimmy is just about to pass out into a nice post-poker stupor when Villona surprises him by saying that it's "Daybreak, gentlemen!" After all the amazing experiences of the night before, it takes his dumpy old friend to remind him that real life isn't going to be like that. Basically, it's all over when the fat Hungarian sings.