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by James Joyce

Dubliners A Mother Summary

  • Mr Holohan should have taken care of the organization of a series of concerts, but Mrs Kearney did everything instead. And she's not happy about it. 
  • Oh, by the way, Mr Holohan has a limp and is the "assistant secretary of the Eire Abu Society" (A Mother.1) (Those unfamiliar words are in the Gaelic language, and they translate to, "Ireland to Victory.")
  • Just who is Mrs Kearney? Well, her maiden name was Miss Devlin, and she didn't have a lot of friends in school because she was pretty stubborn, but also really musically talented. 
  • Being a great piano player didn't win her a husband, though, which didn't really bother her a bit. The eligible men were all pretty boring anyway.
  • Once people started to talk because she was getting old and gaining weight, she needed to shut them up.
  • Along came a respectable bootmaker named Mr Kearney, so she married him. Problem solved.
  • Here's the deal with Mr Kearney: he's perfect marriage material, as long as your idea of handsome hubby is "sober, thrifty, and pious" (A Mother.3).
  • And what's so wrong with that? The guy's good with money, really attentive to his wife and kids, and even takes everyone on a modest vacation once a year.
  • "My good man is packing us off to Skerries for a few weeks" (A Mother.4).
  • So what if he mumbles a little bit and he's a lot older?
  • Oh, by the way, Mr Kearney has a good, Irish-sounding name, which gives him major bonus points. (Irish independence from Britain was all the rage, so it's like being named Washington or Lincoln or Revere. He's kind of a hero without doing anything heroic). 
  • Mrs Kearney pushes her daughters to be more Irish—she even hires a Gaelic teacher—and the eldest daughter, Kathleen, becomes popular around town because she's not only musical, she's "a believer in the language movement" (A Mother.6). (Gaelic was once the most-spoken language in Ireland, but when the British took over they pushed English on everyone. Learning Gaelic (sometimes called "Irish") was a sign of resistance to the British, kind of like saying, "we don't need your stupid language.") 
  • Now the first paragraph of the story finally starts to make sense! Mr Holohan asks Mrs Kearney if Kathleen will be the "accompanist at a series of four grand concerts which his Society was going to give" (A Mother.6). 
  • Mrs Kearney puts a lot of energy into making a very official contract, which states that her daughter will get eight guineas for being the accompanist. 
  • Then Mrs Kearney goes into overdrive with concert prep. 
  • She takes charge of all the details, including the typeface of the program, her daughter's dress, and tickets for her friends. "She forgot nothing and, thanks to her, everything that was to be done was done" (A Mother.11). She'd fit right in on Toddlers in Tiaras.
  • Whether it's a pageant or four grand concerts that drives them a little nuts, something just feels so wrong about this setup.
  • On Wednesday night before the concert, Mrs Kearney shows up and things are already off to a bad start. No one's even dressed up, the concert is about to start, and hardly anyone's even there. Major fail. Who's going to take the blame?
  • She meets Mr Fitzpatrick, the secretary of the Society. He's not too worried about anything. But the concert was supposed to start at 8:00 and it's already 8:30, and "the few people in the hall began to express their desire to be entertained" (A Mother.13). 
  • Mrs Kearney asks Mr Holohan why no one's there, and he says that four concerts is way too many. 
  • Mrs Kearney complains that the other artists on the program actually aren't any good, and Holohan pretty much agrees, but he says all the good artists will show up for the last concert, which is on Saturday night.
    because she put so much work into things, Mrs Kearney's more than a little annoyed.
  • Thursday's a little better, but not much. Mrs. Kearney finds out that the Friday show is going to be cancelled, and wants to make sure that Kathleen still gets paid. She talks to Mr Holohan first and then takes the matter to Mr Fitzpatrick, who avoids the question by saying he'll "bring the matter before the Committee." (A Mother.22)
  • Even though there's been a lot more advertising for the last concert, and she's "reassured," Mrs Kearney accepts her husband's offer to come to the final concert just to make sure everything goes smoothly. 
  • It's raining on Saturday. Alanis Morrisette would approve.
  • Mrs Kearney can't find Fitzpatrick or Holohan, only a woman named Miss Beirne, who can't really help her. 
  • The bass, Mr Duggan, and the second tenor, Mr Bell, have arrived, and Mrs Kearney sees them. They aren't top-notch performers: one was the understudy at an important opera and performed in it one time; the other's highest achievement was third place at a Dublin contest called the Feis Ceoil. 
  • Mrs Kearney and Mr Kearney talk about Kathleen (we don't know what they're talking about just yet), while Kathleen talks to her friend Miss Healy, and they make fun of the soprano, who isn't looking very good. 
  • Mrs Kearney introduces her daughter to the first tenor and first baritone, but leaves to talk to Mr Holohan about getting her daughter's money. 
  • Mr Holohan passes her off to Mr Fitzpatrick, but Mrs Kearney won't bend, and says, "Why isn't it your business?" She goes on, getting a little red in the face, "I have my contract, and I intend to see that it is carried out" (A Mother.44). 
  • A newspaperman standing in the dressing room flirts with Miss Healy even though he has to leave for another event, and promises to put the notice of the concert in the newspaper. 
  • Mr O'Madden Burke is there, and he's very well respected as a gentleman, even though he doesn't have much money.
  • Then things go a little wrong. Mrs Kearney is talking loudly to her husband and then to Kathleen. Everyone's ready to start the concert but nothing's happening: "evidently something was wrong" (A Mother.49). Evidently? Obviously.
  • Mr Holohan tries to reason with Mrs Kearney as all the musicians wait, but she keeps saying that Kathleen won't perform unless she gets her money. 
  • The audience is waiting, but Mrs Kearney won't change her mind. Mr Holohan rushes out. 
  • Mr Fitzpatrick pays Mrs Kearney four pounds, and says he'll pay her the other half at intermission, but she's mad that this isn't actually half: half of eight guineas is four pounds and four shillings. 
  • Kathleen decides to go onstage anyway, and, except for the old soprano's song, "the first part of the concert was very successful" (A Mother.60). 
  • Everyone's in the dressing room discussing what happened before the concert. Mr O'Madden Burke says that it's really bad for the daughter, and that "Kathleen Kearney's musical career was ended in Dublin" (A Mother.61). They try to decide what to do at intermission, and O'Madden Burke suggests that they not pay her. 
  • Three guesses how Mrs Kearney takes that.
  • In the other corner, Mrs Kearney, with a few supporters, complains that she's been mistreated, having done so much to prepare for the concert. 
  • Mrs Kearney goes on, claiming that Kathleen was mistreated because she was so young, and a girl. The second tenor agrees that it's not fair, and Miss Healy, Kathleen's friend, half-heartedly agrees, too. 
  • Mr Holohan and Mrs Kearney get into it. She "looked as if she would attack someone with her hands," and he says that she's not acting very ladylike (A Mother.69). 
  • "After that Mrs Kearney's conduct was condemned on all sides" (A Mother.74). She starts yelling and arguing with her husband and daughter, and orders him to call a cab. They leave, even though the concert has just started its second half. 
  • The last conversation between Mr Holohan and Kathleen is pretty intense:
  • "I'm not done with you yet," she said.
  • "But I'm done with you," said Mr Holohan (A Mother.77, 78).

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