James Joyce published only four books in his lifetime — ‘Dubliners,’ ‘A Portrait of the Artist As A Young Man,’ ‘Ulysses,’ and ‘Finnegans Wake.’ The rest of his oeuvre comprised short stories and poems. James Joyce believed in spending a lot of time fleshing out the details of his story as he did with ‘Ulysses.’
Most of his short stories were compiled into his first book, ‘Dubliners.’
The Sisters by James Joyce (Summary and Analysis)
The young kid who serves as the child narrator discovers that Father Flynn, a retired priest who stays with his aunt and uncle, is passing away after having a stroke. After hearing this news, the youngster walks past Father Flynn’s house every night in search of the reflection of candles in the window, which would signal that he is no longer alive. He never enters the house, instead choosing to stand outside and reflect on the priest’s immobility. The youngster visits his aunt and uncle one night for dinner and finds his uncle and an acquaintance of the family, Old Cotter, sitting by the fire. Old Cotter has arrived at the residence to inform everyone of Father Flynn’s passing. The child stays silent since he is aware that everyone is waiting for his response.
At this moment, the narrator starts eating and stops listening to Mr. Cotter’s speech. The narrator has dreamy visions of Father Flynn’s “grey visage” trying to whisper a confession to him at night. The narrator passes Father Flynn’s house the following morning and notices the death notice posted on the door. He recalls the occasions when his aunt would deliver him to Father Flynn’s residence with a box of snuff that Father Flynn would smear on his clerical clothes and all the lessons Father Flynn had imparted to him, including Latin, European history, and church rituals and traditions. Then he reflects on Mr. Cotter’s remarks from the night before and the dream he can’t quite place.
The narrator visits Father Flynn and his two sisters in the evening with his aunt to pay his respects. Nannie takes them upstairs, where they kneel and pray by the body. The narrator turns to face the body, which is not grinning but is “loosely retaining a chalice” and wearing his priestly vestments. To sit with Nannie and the other sister, Eliza, and enjoy a modest glass of sherry, the narrator and his aunt descend the stairs. Additionally, the sisters offer the narrator some crackers, but he declines them.
Both the priest’s paralysis and the idea of death, in general, frighten and captivate the little narrator. The narrator’s age also suggests that this is the first time in his life he has been aware of someone dying. He lives with his aunt and uncle, so there is a possibility that his parents are deceased. In a state of his immobility, he watches for Father Flynn to pass away.
Eveline by James Joyce (Summary and Analysis)
Eveline Hill remembers happily playing with other kids in a field that is now constructed with new homes as she sits at a window in her house and stares out onto the street. Her thoughts shift to her occasionally violent father, with whom she shares a home, and the idea of escaping her difficult life of balancing working two jobs—as a store worker and a nanny—to support her and her father. Eveline must choose between staying at home and doing her mother’s duties or leaving Dublin with her sailor lover, Frank.
Eveline has two letters—one addressed to her father and the other to her brother Harry—on her lap as she mulls over her decision to start a new life. She starts to prefer the happier memories of her early family when her mother was still alive, and her brother was still a resident at home, and she remembers that she did commit her mother to dedicate herself to keeping the house in order.
She argues that although cleaning and cooking at home are difficult, it may not be the worst alternative because, after all, her father is not always cruel. She is then brought back to her mother’s passing by the sound of a street organ, which causes her to refocus. She laments the boring, depressing life her mother led and fervently supports her choice to flee with Frank to avoid it.
Eveline waits in line at the Dublin port to board the ship with Frank. She cries out to God for guidance while appearing disconnected and concerned about the pictures all around her. Her original intention seems to have never been expressed. Eveline fights Frank when the boat whistle blows and he tries to drag her along with him. Frank is sucked into the crowd advancing toward the ship as she holds onto the barrier. He yells, “Come!” over and over, but Eveline stands still and emotionless on the ground.
The difficulties of clinging to the past when facing the future are illustrated through Eveline’s story. Hers is the earliest depiction of a woman in ‘Dubliners’, and it captures the tension that many women experienced in the city at the turn of the 20th century between a domestic life entrenched in the past and the prospect of a new married life abroad.
The Dead by James Joyce (Summary and Analysis)
Gabriel Conroy accuses his wife, Gretta, of taking too long to get ready when he is late for his aunt’s annual Christmas celebration. He asks the housekeeper Lily about school and predicts that she would soon wed her “young man” as she takes his coat. Gabriel feels embarrassed for bringing up the matter because Lily claims that guys are only interested in talking and getting what they can. She objects when he offers her a coin, but he insists because it’s Christmas.
He hesitates to enter the party because he is anxious about the speech he will deliver and fears that he will once again make inappropriate references to poetry.
Gabriel makes his remarks when the meal is over. He discusses Irish hospitality as the distinguishing quality of their culture and promotes the preservation and recognition of earlier artists as new generations advance. He compliments Mary Jane’s and his aunts’ musical abilities. Applause and a chorus of “For They Are Jolly Gay Fellows” follow the speech. As Aunt Julia and Aunt Kate bid their guests farewell and one of them sings “The Lass of Aughrim,” the celebration slowly draws to an end.
Gabriel considers Michael Furey after Gretta drifts off to sleep. When he contrasts his role in Gretta’s life with Michael’s, he feels inadequate. He acknowledges that he has never felt the same way about a woman as Michael did with Gretta. He reflects on Michael’s passing and the way everyone is fading away and becoming shades. As the earth is covered in snow, he considers how the world is constantly evaporating and transforming the living into the dead.
The effort of translating Gabriel’s impersonal appreciation for the memories of the deceased into the realm of the intimate causes him some anxiety about his mortality. Gabriel starts to consider the possibility of making a significant contribution rather than silently fading away. His mother did a great thing by preparing her sons for a successful life before she passed away.
Despite Gabriel’s mental anguish, the story’s final scene of snow falling offers a serene consolation. Everything beneath the snow is gone, leaving just hazy forms. Death leaves only a recollection once life’s deeds have been completed, yet the shapes and memories remain, serving as a solid foundation for reality in a complex universe.
What were other short stories by James Joyce?
The majority of James Joyce’s short stories were compiled into a book called ‘Dubliners’. Here are some other notable short stories:-
‘After the Race’
‘The Boarding House’
‘A Little Cloud’
‘A Painful Case’
‘Ivy Day in the Committee Room’
What was a notable quote from one of James Joyce’s short stories?
This quote was culled from the final chapter of ‘Dubliners’ titled ‘The Dead’. “Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried”
What was James Joyce’s best short story?
‘The Dead’. It is the last short story in Joyce’s ‘Dubliners’ and probably its most thematically relevant. The story collection is tied together structurally by ‘The Dead’, which demonstrates how these issues with social expectations, interpersonal relationships, the desire for adventure and escape, love of one’s country, and the meaning of life and death are universal issues that define not only the Dublin or Irish experiences but also the human experience.