Study Guide

Dubliners Isolation

By James Joyce


Every time you read a story in Dubliners, pretend for a second that the title of that story is "Dubliner." You'll get a sense of each story as a case study of one (or sometimes two or three) person who inhabits the city. But you'll also get a sense of how each story really focuses on how strange and peculiar each situation really is. These Dubliners spend a lot of time in their own minds, trying to figure things out for themselves, even when they're in a room full of people. So many stories in Dubliners feature epiphanies—private revelations and discoveries—and these important realizations happen in their own minds, rather than through contact with other people. But does this mean that the characters are lonely and isolated, or just really really private?

Questions About Isolation

  1. We all have a lot going on in our own heads. If someone wrote down a lot of what was going on in there, would all of us sound as isolated as the characters in Dubliners
  2. Play matchmaker a little bit: should any of the lonely characters in one story meet the characters in another? 
  3. Is there anyone out there who could make Mr Duffy less of a loner?Is Maria, the main character of "Clay," actually isolated, or just sort of blissfully alone?
  4. Some of the characters who chat the most also seem pretty alienated. Why don't they feel the love?

Chew on This

The difference between good old-fashioned solitude and the Dubliners brand of isolation is that the second drives characters to anguish, poor decisions, and harm to themselves and others.

Strangely (or totally obviously), love is one of the great causes of isolation in Dubliners. It's true for the narrator of "Araby," for Mr Duffy, and for Gabriel Conroy.