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Free Book Summary-Dubliners by James Joyce-Study Guide/Synopsis
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DUBLINERS - FREE ONLINE STUDY GUIDE

THE SISTERS

SETTING

The story is set in contemporary Dublin, though within the limited parameters of a young boy’s world. It moves only from his own lower middle-class home to the house of a dead priest, his teacher, in Great Britain Street.

LIST OF CHARACTERS

The boy - Narrator, probably in his early teens.

The priest Father Flynn - He is elderly and has been paralyzed before his death. He has been the boy’s religious adviser and has an affectionate bond with him.

The priest’s elderly unmarried sisters, Nannie and Eliza - They have nursed the priest in his illness.

The boy’s aunt and uncle - He lives in their house, and they are benign but shadowy figures in the story.

CONFLICT

Protagonist

The Protagonist is a young boy whose name is never mentioned. Through the story we see a small but important stage in his growth when he throws off the influence of a dead priest who had taught him religion and its observances. The protagonist is sensitive, sharply observant and truthful in his report of the events. His account is a first person narrative.

Antagonist

The dominance of the Church on the boy and those around him, together with the priest, who acted as the agent of that dominance, are the antagonists. With the death of the priest, and the boy’s own realization of the priests frustration in his work, that hold is released.

Climax

The protagonist’s sight of the priest’s dead body dispels all his earlier fears and awe of death, and of what he had been taught about religion.


Outcome

At the end, the boy feels liberated from the influence of ritual and religion. He also completes one stage in growing up, with the new awareness of the conflict and suffering of the priest, until then an awe-inspiring figure in his life.

MOOD

The story begins on a note of fear and curiosity about the inevitable death of the priest. It ends on a more cheerful note of release and awareness in the boy’s mind.

Summary

The narrator of this story is a young boy. The story opens on a note of mystery and fear. The boy tells of someone who has had a third stroke and has little hope of survival. The boy is fearful at the idea that the person may die, and is transfixed by the word ‘paralysis’, which seems like the name of some maleficent and sinful being. Yet he is fascinated by the desire to see its ‘deadly work.’

The narrator lives with his uncle and aunt in Dublin. He comes down to supper to find a tiresome neighbor, ‘old Cotter’ and his uncle discussing the death of the paralyzed person, Father Flynn. Cotter speaks of the dead priest as ‘queer’ and ‘uncanny’ annoying the boy, who had been Flynn’s student and friend.

The boy’s uncle explains to Cotter that ‘the youngster and he (Flynn) were great friends.’ Cotter then scrutinizes the boy very closely ‘with his little, beady, black eyes.’ He comments sourly that the company of such a man was bad for children. The boy is both angry and curious about Cotter’s suggestive ‘unfinished sentences.’ He crams food into his mouth to stifle an angry comment.

That night, the narrator broods over what Cotter has said. Half asleep, he imagines he can see ‘the heavy gray face of the paralytic.’ It seems to want to confess something. He tries to shut it out but it keeps following him.

Next day, he lingers outside Father Flynn’s house and sees a black crape bouquet on the door. A card pinned to it announces the priest’s death. Now, the boy is convinced of the reality of the death and is unsure as what to do next. He wishes to go in and see the dead priest, but hasn’t the courage. He wanders away and discovers that ‘neither I nor the day seemed in a mournful mood and I felt even annoyed at discovering in myself a sensation of freedom as if I had been freed from something by his death.’ This shocks him and he thinks of all he had learnt from the priest - to pronounce Latin properly, to understand the different ceremonies of the Mass and the different vestments worn by the priests to recognize which sins were mortal, which venial, and which only imperfections. Flynn had explained the mysteries of the church and the secrecy of the confessional so gravely that the boy had wondered how any priest could dare to undertake such duties. Harking back to his dream, the boy tries to remember how it had ended but can’t.

That evening his aunt takes him to pay Father Flynn’s sister a condolence visit. Nannie one of the old sisters receives them and takes them in to see the body. The boy is distracted by her muttered prayers, her clothes and movements. He had fancied that the priest would lie smiling in his coffin, but actually finds him looking ‘truculent, grey and massive, with black cavernous nostrils.’ They all cross themselves and leave the room. Nannie and Eliza, the sisters, offer them wine and crackers. The boy refuses the biscuits, as he is afraid of making a noise there!

A conversation follows with Nannie saying her brother had died peacefully and been "quite resigned" to it. She says he had a ‘beautiful death’ and made a ‘beautiful corpse!’ She praises the efforts of Father O’Rourke who had cared for him and then made all the funeral arrangements. The narrator’s aunt agrees with her. Eliza, the priest’s other sister says he was never any trouble to them-"you wouldn’t hear him in the house any more than now." Then she adds that at times she had "found something queer coming over him latterly."

The priest’s sisters and the boy’s aunt talk sadly of how his priestly duties had been too much for him and he had been a disappointed man. There is a mysterious reference to ‘a chalice he broke’ and how ‘it was the boy’s fault.’ That incident is said to be the cause of Father Flynn’s ‘queer spells’, one of which ended with him ‘in the dark in his confession-box, wide awake and laughing-like softly to himself.’

The boy listening quietly to thus, thinks of the old priest ‘solemn and truculent in death, an idle chalice on his breast.’

 

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