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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

Notes

The Irish Revival was a cultural movement beginning in the late 1880ís, which reflected the political movement for freedom from British rule. Led by W.B. Yeats, J.M. Synge and Lady Gregory, it focused on a new sense of nationhood, and looked to Irelandís heroic past, as the land of saints and a noble and suffering peasantry. Joyce, though influenced by this revival, cast a realistic eye on the degraded present in which he was inspired by Henrik Ibsen. At the beginning of the twentieth century, the Revival Movement was in decay, and has become an arena for petty people with their small outlook and personal axes to grind.

In "A Mother" the focus in on Mrs. Kearney, a parody of the traditional ideal of motherhood. She is a social climber who, being frustrated in her own goals, channels her ambitions through her daughterís activities. Thus Kathleen, herself a natural and unpretentious girl, is virtually turned into a puppet.

The Irish Revival is made ridiculous by such people aping the traditional customs of greeting and farewell, speaking the Irish language with self-conscious artifice, and seeing this new trend as a meanís for personal advancement. Thus Mrs. Kearney is satirized by the bitterly sharp vision Joyce turns on her.

The Eire Abu Society too is a focus of Joyceís ridicule. The keenly observant sketches of Holohan and Fitzpatrick, of the elderly woman, Miss Burne bring to life the people Joyce must have actually seen. Every one of the performers, too, comes to life. His view of them is no less filled with disgust. They are all mediocre and unenthusiastic individuals using the movement to garner money and influence, without even enough sincerity to impart some life to it. There is a passing dig at their colonial need to have "a soprano from London", however bad a performer.

Thus contemporary degenerate trends in politics-in "Ivy Day"; religion-in "Grace" and art and culture-in "A Mother"; are highlighted by Joyce in his many faceted study of the "paralysis" of Dublin.


OVERALL ANALYSIS

CHARACTER ANALYSIS

Mrs. Kearney

In a sense, Mrs. Kearney is a typical figure. She is a girl from a 2modest middle class background, who has been trained for a more "refined" life. Inevitably, she dreams of becoming part of the upper classes. However, marriage is a must for her social acceptance, hence she in her frustration, marries "beneath her." Fortunately she is a realist, and makes the best of her marriage. Obviously, her husband is very supportive. Mrs. Kearney projects her frustrated ambitions onto her daughter, Kathleen. Her downfall comes about because she doesnít bargain for the collective opposition of the "elite" to her storming their ranks. Hence, their most "damning" charge against her is that of not being a "lady."

Holohan and Fitzpatrick

They are caricatures of the sort of people, in a way parallel to Mrs. Kearney, who use the Revival Movement to advance themselves. One is inefficient and disorganized, the other slack and crafty. In short, all the characters provide us with a gallery of self-serving opportunists, similar to those in "Ivy Day in the Committee Room", only here, they populate the world of art and culture and have brought the nationalist cultural movement to a new low.

PLOT STRUCTURE ANALYSIS

True to his favored style in this volume, Joyce begins with a sharply observed portrait of Mrs. Kearney-her youth, her frustrated ambitions and how she channels them. Then comes her entry into "cultural" circles and her careful cultivation of Holohan. Finally the concerts are described with an insight. Obviously born of personal experience-in which every aspect- from the self-seeking organizers, the muddled well-intentioned members, the eager performers to the sleazy reporters are all portrayed in realistic detail. The conclusion is a damning verdict on both Mrs. Kearney and the rest all riding on the cultural revival bandwagon for their own ends.

THEMES-THEME ANALYSIS

In different stories in Dubliners, Joyce examines the degradation in personal relations, religion and politics. Here he focuses on people, who try to use the cultural movement for their own ends.

OTHER ELEMENTS

SYMBOLISM / MOTIFS / IMAGERY / SYMBOLS

In referring to the young Miss Devlin, later to become Mrs. Kearney, Joyce uses the telling image of her "ivory manners" which suggests coldness and refinement, while connecting with her great dependence on the piano. The same skill is cultivated by her in Kathleen to propel her socially upwards, a task in which she fails. Her husband, on the other hand, is a shoemaker, and is described as one "who would wear better than a romantic person", again echoing his activity of being a shoemaker. Beyond this, few images are used in the story.

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