Study Guide

Dubliners Suffering

By James Joyce


Poor James was so nervous […]

After that he began to mope by himself, talking to no one and wandering about by himself. (The Sisters.68,70)

Mrs Sinico in "A Painful Case" mopes and wanders, too. Dublin's a little bit like a zombie movie this way. We like to imagine all kinds of lonely folks, roaming the sidewalks, hoping to ease just a bit of their pain.

My voice had an accent of forced bravery in it and I was ashamed of my paltry stratagem. (An Encounter.40)

Kiddos in Dublin suffer more than you might think. The narrator of "The Sisters" is dealing with some awkward, confusing grief. And here, the narrator of "An Encounter" is in some real, serious danger. It would be easy to write off these kids and pay attention to the juicier suffering of their adult counterparts, what with all the boozing and bumming they do, but we shouldn't, because they set the tone for the whole collection.

The implacable faces of his employer and of the madam stared upon his discomfiture. (The Boarding House.23)

Imagine a boss who always says, "it's wrong, do it over." Mr Doran knows he can't win this fight, and given the fact that he's a Dubliner, it's not much of a surprise that he turns to drink to drown his suffering. In Joyce's Dublin, that's just what you do.

He began to feel ill at ease. He asked himself […] Why had he withheld life from her? Why had he sentenced her to death? He felt his moral nature falling to pieces. (A Painful Case.32)

Worse than suffering yourself: suffering because you made someone else suffer. Here Duffy sets himself apart in Dubliners as a person who's willing to take some responsibility for his wrongdoing. Except, what exactly did he do wrong? Why is he blaming himself for Mrs Sinico's suffering, if all he did was reject her advance? Is that really a reason to think your moral nature is falling to pieces?

After that Mrs Kearney's conduct was condemned on all hands: everyone approved of what the Committee had done. She stood at the door, haggard with rage, arguing with her husband and daughter, gesticulating with them. (A Mother.74)

Worse than suffering when you don't deserve it? Suffering when you do. But what's really terrible about this whole situation is that Mrs Kearney singlehandedly ruins her daughter's chances at a bright, musical future. Sure, she suffered some insults. But her reaction caused her daughter to suffer something much worse: failure.

She stopped, choking with sobs, and, overcome by emotion, flung herself face downward on the bed, sobbing in the quilt. (The Dead.453)

Check it out. All of the commas in this sentence mimic the short, heaving breaths and movements of her sobbing. This is just one of many examples of Joyce using a little thing we like to call syntax to help bring out the emotions of the scene.

As the light failed and his memory began to wander he thought her hand touched his. The shock which had first attacked his stomach was now attacking his nerves. He put on his overcoat and hat quickly and went out. (A Painful Case.30)

In some ways, Mr Duffy is just about the saddest Dubliner of them all. Just this little tiny moment (which, we'd like to point out, could have actually been quite sweet and romantic) sends everything spiraling into a horrible cycle of awfulness, which ends with a girl dead on some train tracks. Yeah, we think he needs some touch therapy, stat.