A famous old film noir about New York ends with the line, "There are eight million stories in the naked city. This has been one of them." Well, there were about 400,000 stories in Dublin in 1900, and these are fifteen of them. Joyce set up the collection to move from stories about childhood onto stories about adolescence and finally stories about mature life and public life, all within the confines of Ireland's big city.
The Kids Aren't Alright
The first three stories are all about the life of the kiddo. In the first, a boy finds out that his friend and mentor, an old Catholic priest, had gone crazy before he died. In the second, a boy has a strange conversation with a potential child-molester while skipping school with a friend. And in the third, a boy turns on himself after failing to buy his crush a gift from a traveling market.
Then it's on to adolescence, when things really start to go downhill. For number four, a girl decides to stay in Dublin rather than leave on a ship for Argentina with her lover. A young man enjoys partying with his high-rolling international friends until he loses a whole lot of dough playing poker with them in the fifth story.
In numero six, two guys meet up to talk before one of them tries to seduce a young woman. The last story in the section features a boarding house owner who handles her daughter's affair with one of the boarders by trying to convince him to marry her.
Adolescence over? Good, it's time to meet some of our more mature characters. The eighth story gives us a usually well-behaved middle-class family man on a bad night of drinking with his wilder and more cosmopolitan friend. In slight contrast, nine tells of a heavy-drinking office worker who pawns his watch to scrounge up some scratch for even more boozing.
In the tenth story a poor and single middle-aged woman pays a Halloween visit to the boys she used to nanny. Then, we finish out the set with an introverted and sexually unavailable man finding out the consequences of his rejection of the one person he allowed to get close to him. That's story number eleven, and it's a doozy.
Finally, Joyce tells us some stories of public life in Dublin. In the twelfth story, local campaign workers and their circle of friends discuss Irish politics and the legacy of Charles Parnell on the holiday celebrating his memory. Dubliners's lucky number thirteen features an overbearing mother who arranges for her daughter to play piano concerts for money and then causes a major scene when the show doesn't go as planned.
In "Grace," the fourteenth, a man's four friends stage an intervention after he injures himself one boozy night. The fifteenth and final story follows a man stunned by his wife's memories of an adolescent romance after his aunts' annual holiday party, and it's quite possibly one of the most famous short stories of all time.