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Dubliners: Public Life

"Ivy Day in the Committee Room"

This story, in many ways, resembles a play. It is very dialogue-centric, and people's comings and goings are often indicated abruptly, with something like stage directions. How does it change the story to have so much dialogue? What are the characters "saying without saying"? Do we look beyond their words? Are there things they say on the surface, and then a more "real" content to their debate? What are the benefits and risks of having so much in dialogue?

"A Mother"

  • Why is this in the section called "public life"?
  • In the end, is there a character who is the “bad guyâ€? and one who is the “good guyâ€? here? What do you think of Mrs. Kearney? How is her character balanced (if it is) so she is not insufferable nor the victim?
  • The perspective shifts frequently here. How does he shift fluidly (for example, the first paragraph is about Mr. Holohan, the second about Mrs. Kearney)?
  • Does it trouble you, as a reader, that a sister is mentioned and then disappears? What do you think this achieves, if anything?
  • What are YOUR questions about it?


  • Why is it titled “Graceâ€?? (Note that we begin the story with a "Fall,â€? down the stairs of the pub.)
  • Why in these three sections? The Fall, Purgatory, and ...?
  • Why does it end as it does? What is the effect? How would you describe the ending? Does the story achieve a “wholenessâ€?? Why might you (or mightn't you) structure a story this way?
  • What is its most interesting aspect?
  • What are YOUR questions about it?


To be honest, even after today's discussion, I'm still pretty in the dark about "Ivy Day". If I had some historical knowledge of what they were talking about, I'm sure it would be clearer, but I think it's a story written and accessible for small, specific audience. That being said, I think it was much easier for Joyce to get his message across (whatever it is) by using dialogue. It would be much more difficult to get a political message across properly without relying on dialogue. If you're not privy to any prior information, the dialogue locks you out. If the story was told more showing than telling, it wouldn't make it so inclusive. If...that makes any sense what so ever.

This section is called public life since it makes the characters private lives public. We get to look in on people exposing themselves to world, so to speak. In the end, there's no real "good guy" or "bad guy", it's easy to sympathize with the two sides, both have good reasons. I honestly didn't even realize that a sister had been thrown in so, if it was important, than that's a downfall of just throwing a character in and leaving it at that, but if she wasn't, no harm no fowl.

Grace was a very clever title, in my opinion. The story is like a fall and then return to grace, both figuretivly and literally. The story ends very oddly, I think. It seems so abrupt and...different from what I expected. Not that I had anything specific in mind, it just was a surprise "surprise ending". The story has an interesting structure to it, but I'm not sure I would use it. I much prefer solid conclusions (even if the conclusions are left wide open, I still like an ending that concludes THAT part of the on going plot, if that makes any sense)and think that an ending such as the one in Grace is more trouble than what it's worth in confusion and a feeling of being left hanging.

In “Ivy Day�, the massive percentage of dialogue coupled with the number of characters and…having a threesome with the assumed political background makes this story very hard to follow. (That’s a “risk,� by the way.) A benefit of so much dialogue could be a real-time feel. When we hear people talking, we don’t mentally add in he/she-said’s or pause mid-conversation to appreciate the setting.

I see where both Mr. Holohan and Mrs. Kearney are coming from, but when I insert myself into Kathleen’s role I can’t help but vilify Mrs. Kearney a little more. I’m not troubled by the younger sister disappearing, I just feel sorry for her because she’ll probably have to put up with Mrs. Kearney’s overbearing stage-mom antics in the future.

I think of the title as kind of a “by grace you have been saved� thing. Tom’s life isn’t going so well, so his friends and wife conspire to make a church-goer out of him…at least for a day. (And because of the slick insertion of “grace� into the last sentence of the story, of course.) Fall, Purgatory, and Paradise? This is getting a little too philosophical for me. I would say the most interesting part was the business man’s sermon. It’s one of few times in the book someone actually seems to be reaching out to the downtrodden. It’s a hopeful way to end a story. (A nice change from the mostly bleak endings we’ve read from Joyce so far.)

When I read “Ivy Day� I was pretty lost (like most people I think). The story is mostly dialogue between five or six different characters. It is written like a play but it doesn’t clarify who is talking so you have to do a lot of backtracking. I guess a benefit of this writing style is that it allows readers to sort of observe what is taking place versus being told what is taking place.
“A Mother� was my favorite story from the public life section. I thought this one was the most modern. I didn’t really have much sympathy for the mother. She seemed very controlling and greedy. She totally reminded me of a crazy pageant mom, trying to live vicariously through her daughter. If she wanted what was “best� for her daughter she should have just let her play the piano and not been so worried about getting “her� money. The fact that a sister is mentioned and then disappears to me shows that she is a bad mother who only pays attention to her cash cow.
I think “Grace� gets its title from Mr. Kernan’s “return to grace�. In the beginning he falls down the stairs because he is drunk and on the wrong path and by the end of the story he has “seen the light� and is attending church. I guess I didn’t really buy the ending. It seemed too happy for Joyce.

I think James Joyce was trying to be ironic when titling "Grace." In some sort of sense, we get the fact that Mr. Powers is trying to help Mr. Kernan and give him 'God's grace' (since a lot of the story is about religion, etc).

As for the ending of "Grace," it leaves you hanging. I mean, we don't really know if Mr. Kernan actually did wash away his sins, etc. We know he went to church, but no real cleansing put into context. Or am I just missing something? For some reason though, it does seem like a pretty decent ending for the story. Maybe Mr. Kernan was supposed to go back to the way he was in the first place (fallen). But James Joyce leaves that for us to decide. We have to think about the story in order to figure it out. Most writers want their readers to think about their stories and what the whole point is. Joyce's ending tells us to think about, and tells us he won't tell us what the whole point to his story is. Do I make any sense?

I thought it was really interesting in "Grace" was the title in general. But I've already talked about that...

What?! There are three sections? The one in Google Books fails to tell us these titles of these three different parts. !?!?!?!

I actually didn't mind "Ivy Day". Sure it wasn't my favorite, but I didn't hate it either. I think that the fact that it was so dialog heavy made it very hard to keep track of who was talking, I don't, however, think this was a bad choice on Joyce's part. I just think we are more used to seeing this type of writing than reading it. And when we DO read it, we're giving the character's name before the character's dialog. I also think that had we been able to keep better track of who was talking, a lot of us would have enjoyed the story more.

I would have to agree with Jamie about "A Mother" being a "Stage Mom". She wanted so badly for her daughter to shine that she couldn't see what she herself was doing to her. I did have sympathy for her though because I don't think she knew she was causing any harm. She was doing what she thought was best for her daughter and felt that she was being taken advantage of. Although I have to say, I completely forgot that a sister had even been mentioned until Marcia said so in class. This does make me wonder whether the mother was living through Kathleen because she was the most like Kathleen, or what. Maybe this was just a one time thing, a heat of the moment lapse in judgement, or maybe it's Joyce's way of telling us that she only thinks of herself.

Like Ronnie said, it's a risk using so many characters weaving in and out of the story in combination with the confusing dialogue and the historical backdrop. I was totally lost on that story.
I liked A Mother because Mrs. Kearney seemed really realistic because, like Marlene said, we can all picture our mothers doing embarrassing things in public and wishing they would stop. But she also seems realistic because she's not really totally good or bad. I would say that she is "the good" character in the story, only because Mr. Holohan and the dark and clandestine "committee" are trying to cheat her daughter out of money. But otherwise she is not overly likeable, she married for the wrong reason and seems to be living vicariously through her daughter. Plus she's kind of bitchy.
Also with A Mother, it doesn't really trouble me that the sister is mentioned. It does seem unnecessary, but James Joyce knew what he was doing, so it probably had some reason for being there.

Ivy Day was far too hard for me to follow. A lot of this I feel is because of the fact that it is about politics for a country I don't live in and from I time I do not live in. Furthermore, it is loaded with dialog which can be an effective way to tell a story, but, often it was hard to tell who was talking and to who. We can look beyond the characters words to find a deeper meaning, but in this story I'm just too lost and uninterested to be able to do that. Dialog can be used to make stories more exciting and to the point, with less time focused on setting or other parts of the story. The problem is of course, that too much dialog can leave the reader lost and confused.

This section is called public life because it takes the private lives of individuals and shows how they effect others in a more public setting. There doesn't seem to be one clear good guy and one clear bad guy in A Mother. I can identify with both Mrs. Kearney and Mr. Holohan. I find it odd that it mentions a sister but seems completely unrelated to the story. However, its these insignificant facts that make these short stories seem more real for me. If I were to tell a story from my life, I might mention that I have two brothers but not tell anything more about them because its a fact that I do have two brothers but they had nothing to do with the events in my story.

Joyce by making Ivy Day dialogue centric turns the focus from individuals to the relationships of individuals. This underlines the fact that an author, by stressing dialogue, can more fully explore social systems. How is up and how is down. The problem is that unless the author is extremely skilled he/se may confuse the reader.

Mother belongs in the section "public Life" because it takes place n the theater, an epicenter of culture and social interactions. The mother debuts her daughter, which I imagine was a fairly common occurrence at the time.

The three section division seems to be an interesting topic. As noted in the questions the first could be titled "fall" as their definitely was a fall, the second "purgatory" - religious discourse in a hospital - surely fills that definition, but what of the third. If you’re optimistic could it be Redemption. Mr. Kernan converts and becomes "a good holy pious and God-fearing Roman Catholic." On the other hand if you are pessimistic you may call it Damnation. He continues his non-believing ways and suffers an eternity of anguish.

Joyce's "A Mother" is in the section called "public life" because it takes place in a public theater. To me, the "public" aspect of the story is that it is quite relateable, in that most of us have had an embarrassing parent or relative that almost seemed to insist on making a public scene by complaining or arguing about something. It is "public" because the story happens to everybody, if they are involved in that particular scene Joyce describes or not.

To me, the mentioning of a character that disappears isn't "disturbing." In fact, I didn't even think twice about it. The other sister, who has more involvement in the play, Kathleen, is hardly more developed than the sister that was merely mentioned in passing. Kathleen only exists because the mother needed somebody to live vicariously through, and since Kathleen is active in this particular story, she is slightly more developed. Bottom line, the sisters being developed or not, the story is about the mother.

"Ivy Day in the Committee Room"
With so much dialogue, I was constantly confused as to who was talking. I wasn’t able to look beyond their words at all. It was hard for me to get into and I found it incredibly boring. Having so much in dialogue, you risk the readers being quite confused (unless it was just me).
"A Mother"
I don’t think that there is a “good guy� or “bad guy� in this story. I see Mrs. Kearney as a strong woman. She seemed a bit stubborn, but had others been paid Id want my daughter to get all her money too. By the end of the story I had completely forgot any mention of another sister. It is a bit strange that she disappears.

I agree with everyone's assesment of Ivy Day being a little confusing. I had a really hard time following who was talking. I think this is the biggest drawback to the dialogue. The people in the story say a few things without saying anything. For one they debate politics, but they all share this common reverence for Parnell, which is why they have the ivy pins in rememberance of him. Also their inaction on the campaign for Tierney and simply their talk and inaction in general shows a kind of stagnation towards any changes coming to Dublin, much like the rest of the novel. Their is a lot of very real disatisfaction with the government in their talking and debating. The kind of disatisfaction that one could imagine pervades much of Dublin.

Grace is obviously called Grace because the entire story deals with reforming Mr. Kernan. At the beginning he is a drunk and kind of down on his luck. His wife and friends try to save him through the church. I think it is a fitting name for the story, and the idea of a story moving along with a divine comedy kind of structure is a pretty interesting aspect. I think it is an interesting ending, but I don't think it completes anything. I don't believe that Kernan reforms. I think it is perhaps mocking the church and the hypocricy of accepting people like Kernan while also trying to change them into something they are not.

Oh, Mrs. Kearney, how I loved thee!
Seriously, she was a great character, well balanced. I can feel for her. She puts all this effort into the event, and then it turns out the artistes are kind of crappy and her daughter might not get paid. Of course she makes a scene. Any good mother would. The fact that Joyce is all over that, inasmuch as he captures the embarrassing mother moments we all know and love, (okay, maybe not love, but acknowledge) makes me respect him more as a writer. He's not going to sugar coat it for me. He's going to make me wince (Nabakov's spin tingle). He's going to make me chuckle out loud as I read his story and for that I commend him. Frankly, I don't care that the daughter doesn't make a reappearance. The mother is focusing all her efforts on Kathleen. It's like, who remembers Lindsey Lohan's little sister? No one. Dina didn't go all show biz mom on her, she focused on one kid and ignored the other. Joyce is certainly welcome to do the same.

I loved the arch of "Grace." It starts with the fall, literally, the purgatory of being bed ridden, and the (possibility of) redemption. Using structure as a metaphor for the content of your story is definitely something I would love to try. Joyce is one clever bastard, I’ll give him that. He really thought this through.
The dichotomies are interesting too (the use of alcohol, for example. Mr. Kernan’s friends get him liquored up so they can convince him to stop drinking. The priest is a lush too. (I imagine his logic is something along the lines of, “The wine’s been transubstantiated, you can’t just throw it away. It’s the blood of Christ! Drink up!�). On one level, it’s humorous. On another, it’s a piercing critique of the hypocrisy in religion, and, more broadly, of those in power. It shows us the ridiculousness of reality.

"Ivy Day in the Committee Room"

This story was hard for me to get into, and it’s nice to see I wasn’t alone with that. The characters were very similar, and we really only saw one side of their lives, just the campaigning and the worries over money and politics. I think that this story, as we discussed, was really rooted in a specific time. It gives a great portrait of politics (in Dublin specifically) at that time, but as someone who knows nothing about those politics, it’s difficult to really appreciate. I think it is so tied to that specific time that it’s almost like reading a story in a different language, and you can’t really grasp all the nuances.

"A Mother"

Like Marlene, I loved Mrs. Kearney, though she wasn’t necessarily the “good guy.� Even in high school theater, there are parents like this, and I’ve always thought it was kind of sweet how much they cared. Overbearing, yeah, but ultimately they micromanage out of love. I saw Mrs. Kearney in the same way, she seems to be motivated by her investment in her daughter. Maybe she is carried away, but she has good intentions. I winced through that last scene where she ends up basically destroying her daughter’s career, exactly what she doesn’t want. I also wasn’t troubled by the mention of the sister. I just saw it as another fact about Katherine, like having brown hair or a penchant for carrots. So, I didn’t see it as emphasizing Mrs. Kearney’s focus on Katherine, either. To me, this story was about an isolated incident, and the sister just didn’t happen to be involved in that incident.


I think “Grace� is a whole story, but I also see it as a continuing story. This relates to the way I see the sections. I think that aside from representing a fall, a state of purgatory (or maybe earthly existence?) and a possible ascension to grace, the sections also parallel the typical cycle of addiction. In the first section, Mr. Kernan’s addiction is completely out-of-control, taking over his life, he’s falling down stairs and biting off bits of his tongue. (which still makes me flinch, it sounds so painful) In the second section, Mr. Kernan is recognizing his addiction, to an extant, in his partial complicity with attempts to reform him. In the last section, Mr. Kernan faces a crossroads, in the same way he does in the other breakdown of the sections, he might attain grace (stop drinking) or he might not. I have to say I tend towards thinking he won’t, though I can’t site a specific reason why. It’s definitely an open ending. The most interesting aspect for me was Joyce’s commentary on religion. He was just vicious. Not only are the guys hopelessly misinformed, according to my endnotes, the priest is making stuff up too. We were just talking about absurdity in my French class, and I think there is definitely a bit of absurdism to this story.
p.s. Marlene, I actually laughed when I read your priest's logic.

In "Ivy Day in the Committee Room" I found the dialogue to be distracting and difficult to follow, however I think it is very fitting to have the story based nearly entirely in dialogue. After all, we're following a story of a group of men who are sitting around discussing issues. The story wouldn't have had as much depth if we were simply told about what was happening, or if everything was described to us. Joyce lets us see the characters in a natural setting, and seems to let the characters speak for themselves. So, even as difficult as the dialogue was to follow, I think it ultimately added an element to the story that wouldn't have been present if it wasn't dialogue based.

When I was reading the stories belong to the section "Public Life", I thought that Joyce was writing these stories about the people who contributed to things you would experience in Dublin, outside of your home. For instance, politics: We can be sure that politics were very much essential to Dublin at the time, and to be able to go "behind the scenes" and see those who were part of the politics, as we do in "Ivy Day". And about "A Mother", I thought that Joyce was showing us the personal life of a mother who has a daughter participating in a concert, that if we were in Dublin, would have attended. I guess that's how I viewed the stories in Public Life, and that's why I see "A Mother" fitting very well into it. As for Mrs. Kearney.... I suppose I didn't feel one way or another about her, like most other characters in the story collection. She seems to be doing what she feels should be done in the suffocating environment of Dublin. And because that's how I see Mrs Kearney (along with many of the other characters), it's hard for me to side with one character over another. I didn't really see anyone in the story as "good" or "bad, even if they were pitted against eachother.

I really liked what Marlene had to say about the structure of the story as the metaphor, when talking about "Grace". I, too, found it very clever and a technique that I might want to try one day. "Grace" to me was more of a social commentary of sorts on religion in Dublin, which very well may pertain to religion here in the present day. The Priest seems to dumb down the Bible, and the characters in the book of the Catholic religion mean well, but ultimately know hardly anything about their own faith. This then, to me at least, makes it seem like they don't have much of a faith, which is ironic seeming as they're trying to "save" their friend.

Like most of the comments in this blog, i agree that "ivy day" was a little hard to follow. but i find most of joyce's stuff hard to follow, this one being especially cloudy. with so much dialogue it was hard not to get too lost, but i think it's purpose was to put you in the room and put you in the conversation. though back tracking got old, it was interesting.

in "mother," a little bit more of an understandable joyce piece for me, i found the mother controlling and over zealous. i think every one felt a little hope when the daughter ran away from her vicariousness. like jamie said, "a crazy pageant mom" (haha).

In "grace", when i hear the title i think of the classic phrase "falling from grace." I think their grace might be their unawareness to alcohol and when they fall, he's not only falling down stairs and eating his own tongue, but they are all falling from their naive state. I find joyce's overall use of alcoholism interesting and what roll it plays in every story. It's always the dark cloud looming over head.

All the dialogue in ''Ivy Day'' gives a sense of the characters being ones whose whole lives revolve around talking. Seeing as they're political canvassers, the likelihood of that is doubled. There didn't appear to be any real content in their debates—at least the way I saw it. More or less, the emptiness in their talk (and the emptiness in their convictions about the candidate they were supposed to be promoting) signaled Joyce's thoughts on Irish politics. Specifically, the fall of Irish politics.

The reason these stories, specifically ''A Mother'', fall under the title of ''public life'' seems pretty self-explanatory. These are stories of people and their movements in the public sphere, and many of those people are putting portions of their private lives on display (some intentionally, some not). The mention of the daughter in the beginning of ''A Mother'' and her subsequent erasing really just contribute to the idea that the mother is completely driven to drive her more-talented, more-exploitable daughter to be a success. When a reader is asked, ''What about the other sister?'' and can only reply, ''What other sister?'' it seems to me that Joyce played his hand quite well.

I think ''Grace'' gets its name from the idea of God's grace that permeates the story (or, at least the entire chunk devoted to Catholicism) and Mr. Kernan's lack of physical grace (and introduction to God's grace come the end of the story). The story seems to follow the arc of a complicated connection to religion—first a fall (from grace), then a conversion, then redemption.

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