Study Guide

Dubliners Drugs and Alcohol

By James Joyce

Drugs and Alcohol

As if all of the abstract, existential, emotional problems weren't enough, half of the characters in Dubliners are out and out alcoholics. Sometimes Joyce focuses on the short-term consequences of a night of excessive drinking (abuse of others and injury to yourself), while other times it's the effect of a longer-lasting addiction that draws his interest (basically, these folks are headed for an early grave). Given that drinking brings nothing good to these characters, it's a wonder they do it in the first place. But hey, they've got to drown their sorrows somehow, and booze in Dublin is cheap.

Questions About Drugs and Alcohol

  1. Joyce doesn't use the words "alcoholic" or "alcoholism" because those terms weren't really a thing back then. Do you think he regarded his characters' excessive drinking as a disease, the way we do now? 
  2. While we learn a lot about Farrington's desire for alcohol and the consequences of his drinking in "Counterparts," we don't actually learn much about Mr Kernan's habits in "Grace." Why do you think these two stories are told in these different ways? 
  3. Here's the million dollar question: why do these characters drink in the first place?

Chew on This

After the three stories of childhood, not a single story in Dubliners fails to mention alcohol and drinking. That's twelve out of fifteen stories—sheesh. In nine out of the twelve, the reference is specifically to excessive drinking, drunkenness, or a person with a drinking problem. That just goes to show that alcohol is the go-to coping mechanism for these down and out characters.

Nothing terrible happens as a result of Freddy Malins' drinking in "The Dead," even though he's definitely drunk. In Dubliners, drinking is only a problem when it hurts others.