Dubliners: Surprised by Chance

Vicki Mahaffey

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Readers who encounter Joyce's collection of short stories for the first time often come away with the impression that turn‐of‐the‐century Dublin was an airless world, and that Joyce mercilessly arraigns its inhabitants for their helplessness. Using taut, spare prose, Joyce shines his interrogating beam of narrative attention on one telling detail after another. This process is not interrupted by the voice of that avuncular, editorializing third‐person “omniscient” narrator we so often expect to hear when reading fiction. Instead, we are starkly confronted by selected “facts” about the lives of individual characters, and how we interpret those facts or respond to those characters is left to us. Readers tend to react to this narrative challenge in a predictable way: with boredom, avidity, depression, or moral judgment. Many readers patronize the characters as less self‐aware and functional than the readers believe themselves to be. It is easy to feel protected from Joyce's scrutiny by the fiction, which is most often experienced as a one‐way mirror rather than the “nicely polished looking‐glass” that Joyce claimed it was (LI 64). When judging the characters, readers typically exempt themselves from those judgments, thereby neglecting the opportunity to look scrupulously for the “meanness” – in the less usual sense of the term, the thread of connection or commonality – between themselves and the characters they have deprecated.1
Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationA Companion to James Joyce
EditorsRichard Brown
Place of PublicationMalden, MA
PublisherBlackwell Publishing
ISBN (Electronic)9781405177535
ISBN (Print)9781405110440
StatePublished - Jan 2008


Dive into the research topics of 'Dubliners: Surprised by Chance'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this