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

A MOTHER

SETTING

A lower-middle class environment in Dublin at the time when the Irish Revival Movement was just becoming popular a few years before Joyceís publication of Dubliners. It depicts the determined attempt of Mrs. Kearney to use the Revival to advance her familyís status and her own.

LIST OF CHARACTERS

Mrs. Kearney

Frustrated in her own ambitions, she seeks to fulfill them through her daughter, and the Irish Revival.

Holohan and Fitzpatrick

They are caricatures of the small men, who attempt to commercialize the cultural movement, yet snobbishly look down on Mrs. Kearney.

Kathleen

Mrs. Kearneyís simple, straightforward daughter. Swept along by her motherís manipulations, she is still a contrast to her.

Mr. Kearney

Obviously the weaker of the couple he supports his wifeís plans, but is more genuine than her.

CONFLICT

Protagonist

Mrs. Kearney, a snobbish woman, frustrated in her youthful attempts at making a "good" marriage, tries to achieve her ambitions through her daughter, using the Revival.

Antagonists

Holohan and Fitzpatrick, office-bearers of a cultural group, the "Eire Abu" Society. They represent another set of adventures using culture to earn money, but frowning on a social climber like Mrs. Kearney.

Climax

Mrs. Kearney over-confident and obsessed, fails to pressurize Holohan and Fitzpatrick to concede her demands.

Outcome

Mrs. Kearney, with her daughter and husband, is forced to walk out of a concert, having been shunned by everyone there.

MOOD

The mood is one of satire and skepticism throughout. Joyce views both opposing camps with the deepest cynicism and exposes their petty personal interests against their claims of furthering Irish culture.

Summary

The mother in question is "Miss Devlin (who) had become Mrs. Kearney out of spite." Educated in a high-class convent, trained in French and music, she believes herself superior to others of her circle, and expects to get an eligible catch for a husband. When this fails, she marries Mr. Kearney, a boot maker, to silence her gossiping "friends." However she soon realizes that "such a man would wear better than a romantic person" and is a faithful wife to him. They have two daughters, and she then channels all her frustrated ambition through Kathleen, the elder girl. Kathleen is also sent to a good convent and made to learn music and French. When the Irish Cultural Revival becomes popular, Mrs. Kearney cashes in on it and has the girls learn the Irish language and mingle with "Nationalist" circles. Kathleen acquires the reputation of being "clever at music and a very nice girl" and moreover she was a believer in the language movement. After all this careful preparation on the mother's part, Kathleen is approached by one Mr. Holohan "assistant secretary of the Eire Abu Society", one of the groups spawned by the Revival. She is to be an accompanist at four grand concerts to be organized by his society in Dublin.


This is the opportunity to launch Kathleen, for which her mother had prepared her and she is excited. She impresses Mr. Holohan with her silver biscuit barrel and decanter of wine. She "helps" him to organize his work as "she knew what artistes should go into capitals and what artistes should go into small type." Mr. Holohan who "walks about with his hands and pockets full of dirty pieces of paper" is no match for her shrewdness. He finds it convenient for her to do his work. Everything goes smoothly and it is agreed that Kathleen should receive eight guineas as her accompanistís fee. Mrs. Kearney buys some expensive cloth to trim Kathleenís dress with. She is all set to launch her daughter in Dublinís cultural circles.

On the day of the first concert, Mrs. Kearney is disappointed. The hall is almost empty. The ushers "stood idle in the vestibule; none of them wore evening dress." She meets Mr. Fitzpatrick, the secretary of the society, "a little man, with a white vacant face" who was chewing one end of his program "into a moist pulp." She feels he is the kind "to hear disappointments lightly." The concert is completely mediocre in every way.

The next concert is slightly better attended, but the audience is far from cultured, and behaves "indecorously." The committee then decides to cancel the third concert and concentrate on making the Saturday one a success. Mrs. Kearney is on her guard, and insists that Kathleenís contract was for four concerts and for a payment of eight guineas. The two organizers are evasive. On the great day, her husband knowing her anxiety accompanies her and Kathleen. At the hall, none of the organizers are to be seen. She meets only an earnest, elderly woman "with a face screwed into an expression of trustfulness and enthusiasm" who says sadly "we did our best, the dear knows."

The performers are all getting acquainted. An emaciated woman in a faded blue dress walks about alone. Holohan says pompously that she is Madam Glynn, "the soprano from London." Mrs. Kearney talks pleasantly to the artists, but watches restlessly for an opportunity to corner Holohan. When she gets it, she demands to know when Kathleen is to be paid. Holohan avoids replying and directs her to meet Fitzpatrick. He then turns away to flatter a visiting reporter. The reporter claims that he canít attend as he has another event to cover.

Mrs. Kearney decides on a last-ditch stand. She asserts that Kathleen wont go on stage till she gets her eight guineas. There is an air of great strain in the green room. The audience is clapping and stamping. Holohan desperately summons Fitzpatrick, who hands over four bank-notes to Mrs. Kearney. She argues over the amount, which is said to be half the total. Kathleen hastily collects the singer and goes on stage, in the middle of the argument. This half of the concert is successful, except for Madam Glynnís item sung in "a bodiless, gasping voice."

Meanwhile, in the green room, battle lines are being drawn. Mrs. Kearney and her family are in a minority with just two reluctant friends. She declares that she would see to it that her daughter gets her rights. The reporter still hanging around condemns her. Holohan emboldened by this reproaches Mrs. Kearney-"You might have some sense of decency." Driven to rage, Mrs. Kearney mimics his evasions. "I thought you were a lady", says Holohan. After this Mrs. Kearney is boycotted by everyone. A substitute is found for Kathleen. Left with no option, Mrs. Kearney leaves with her family. Facing Holohan, she says, "Iím not done with you yet." He replies "But Iím done with you." The reporter approves "You did the proper thing, Holohan."

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