Places: Dubliners

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1914

Type of work: Short fiction

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places Discussed*Dublin

*Dublin. DublinersIreland’s capital city, which had a population of some three hundred thousand people in the early twentieth century. Joyce, who grew up in Dublin, once told a publisher that no writer had yet presented the city to the world, a situation that he hoped this book would rectify. Dubliners does indeed give a strikingly detailed picture of the city, with attention to its topography and the texture of its daily life.

In many stories, characters traverse Dublin on foot, and Joyce carefully records their movements, naming actual streets, bridges, public squares, churches, monuments, shops, and pubs along the way. In “Two Gallants,” for example, he creates a kind of verbal “map” of central Dublin, tracing the long, circuitous route that the aging Lenehan follows–first with his friend Corley and then alone–during a warm gray August evening. Lenehan’s wanderings give texture to the story, helping create a sense of Dublin as an actual place. He and Corley hear a harpist playing mournful music for a small group of listeners on Kildare Street. Later, Lenehan visits a shabby shop where he eats a solitary meal of grocers’ peas and ginger beer. Near the end of his wanderings, he watches the late-night crowds dispersing on Grafton Street, one of Dublin’s most fashionable shopping areas. Such details not only give the story a strong sense of place, they also allow Joyce to suggest the frustration and futility of Lenehan’s life as a “paralyzed” Dubliner; his route is essentially circular, his journey lonely and pointless. After eating his meager supper, he feels his own poverty of purse and spirit.

Joyce himself was an avid stroller and often spent hours with his friends roaming the streets of Dublin. His walking knowledge of the city is evident not only in Dubliners but in all his fiction, especially Ulysses (1922), a novel built around the wanderings of Leopold Bloom on a summer day in Dublin.

*North Richmond Street

*North Richmond Street. Principal setting of “Araby,” one of the three stories about childhood that open Dubliners. The Joyce family lived at number 17 on this street during the mid-1890’s, and Joyce incorporates many experiences from that time into his fiction. The unnamed boy narrator of “Araby” describes North Richmond as a quiet street, whose houses gaze at one another with brown “imperturbable faces.”

Joyce also evokes scenes of childhood play in the surrounding area–the dark and muddy lanes behind houses and the dripping gardens where odors arose from the garbage dumps. On Saturday evenings, with his aunt, the boy goes marketing in the “flaring streets,” jostled by drunken men and “bargaining women.” Such passages capture the rough, run-down character of north central Dublin in the 1890’s, a poor part of the city with crowded streets and dilapidated buildings. In “Araby” and in the other childhood stories–“The Sisters” and “An Encounter”–these gloomy surroundings weigh heavily on the sensitive young narrator. While he is not yet “paralyzed” by his environment, he feels a growing disillusionment with Dublin and its citizens.

Committee room

Committee room. Wicklow Street center of political campaign operations for Richard Tierney in “Ivy Day in the Committee Room.” A few campaign workers and other men gather here, mainly to escape bad weather and to wait for the bottled stout that Tierney has promised to send. The room is dark, cold, and gloomy, warmed only by a small coal fire that needs constant tending. When one of the men finally lights two candles, the “denuded room” comes into view, its walls bare, apart from a copy of an election address. Joyce uses the bleak room to mirror the dreary lives of his characters, most of whom are poor, unemployed, and cynical about Tierney and municipal politics generally. Those who support the Irish nationalist cause seem ineffectual, more interested in drinking stout and talking sentimentally about their dead political idol, Charles Stewart Parnell (a real person), than in working to end British colonial rule in their country. The fading fire in the Committee Room seems to suggest the dim prospects for political renewal in Dublin.

Morkin house

Morkin house. Home of Kate and Julia Morkin; a dark and gaunt house on Usher Island, a quay running along the south side of the River Liffey, that is the main setting of “The Dead.” Joyce modeled this house on the residence of his great aunts at 15 Usher Island. In “The Dead,” the final story of Dubliners, Joyce somewhat softens the harsh picture of Dublin given in earlier stories. He makes the house of the Morkin sisters a symbol of what he came to regard as a notable Irish virtue: hospitality. The sisters open their house for a lavish Christmas party, with music, dancing, drink, and an ample supper. Nevertheless, for Gabriel Conroy, the story’s protagonist, the house becomes a stifling place. Nervous about the speech he must give and flustered by his unpleasant encounter with Miss Ivors, Gabriel twice imagines being away from the house, outdoors in the snowy night, enjoying the outdoor coolness and being able to walk alone. Like many of Joyce’s Dubliners, he feels trapped and longs for escape. At the end of the story, after learning of his wife’s girlhood love, Michael Furey, Gabriel recognizes his own self-deception and self-centeredness. Joyce hints that Gabriel might now be poised to live with great compassion and self-awareness, recognizing his connection with all the living and the dead.


*Galway. City in western Ireland’s Connacht province and girlhood home of Gretta Conroy in “The Dead.” While the actual setting of “The Dead” never moves outside Dublin, the west of Ireland–Galway in particular–plays a crucial role in the narrative. Gretta’s husband, Gabriel, experiences a crisis of identity at the end of the story that is precipitated by Gretta’s disclosure of events from her girlhood in Galway. This revelation sharply focuses an east-west tension in the story, with Dublin (in the east) representing Gabriel’s once-secure sense of self and Galway (in the west) drawing him toward a new identity, one less certain and stable. Thus, in the final story of Dubliners, Joyce suggests an alternative to Dublin, a place Gabriel might go, if only in imagination, to restore his sense of self.

BibliographyEllmann, Richard. James Joyce. Rev. ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 1982. A brilliantly researched biography that traces the stories to their biographical roots.Hart, Clive, ed. James Joyce’s “Dubliners.” New York: Viking Press, 1969. A collection of essays by outstanding scholars, full of useful facts and insights.Kenner, Hugh. Dublin’s Joyce. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1956. Wide-ranging and inventive readings of Joyce’s works and sources.Peake, C. H. James Joyce: The Citizen and the Artist. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1977. Comprehensive readings of Joyce as a writer who elucidates his time.Wachtel, Albert. The Cracked Lookingglass: James Joyce and the Nightmare of History. London: Associated University Presses, 1992. Analyses of the texts as “fictional histories” in which cause and chance prove equally illuminating.
Categories: Places