Study Guide

Dubliners Suffering

By James Joyce


Let's be honest, the one thing almost all stories in Dubliners have in common is some form of intense suffering, be it physical pain or mental anguish. You could argue that Dublin itself is responsible, or you might think that the characters have only themselves to blame. Whichever way you slice it, it's going to be hard not to find yourself saying, "Nooooo" when characters pawn their watches to hit the pubs, or start talking with strange men in fields, or break up with their best friends. A budding psychologist wouldn't have to look too far to find textbook cases of self-destructiveness as the root of all suffering in Dubliners.

Questions About Suffering

  1. Does one set of characters suffer a lot more than another? Is there something about childhood, adolescence, maturity, or public life in Dublin that makes it the most difficult to bear? 
  2. Is it a good thing that Mr Power leads a posse to help out Mr Kernan, or are they only increasing his long-term trouble?
  3. Envy, boredom, anger, and narrow-mindedness are some of the reasons these characters suffer. Are these conditions the fault of the sufferers, or the result of some external force?

Chew on This

The worst physical injury in Dubliners—Mr Kernan's bit tongue—doesn't even seem to hurt him, while the tiniest mental pain, like Gabriel's anxiety about his speech, gives rise to long paragraphs full of fear and loathing. It just goes to show—the body hurts, but the mind suffers.

Love, work, and family are the main sources of suffering in Dubliners. There's hardly anyone who doesn't have at least two of the three contributing to his or her hard times.