The first three stories in Dubliners are told in the first person. This means that the young narrators of “The Sisters,” “An Encounter,” and “Araby” all tell their own stories and refer to themselves as “I.” All of the other stories in the collection are told in the third person, which means that the narrators are not part of the story and refer to the characters as “he” or “she.” These third-person narrators tend only to have knowledge of a single character’s thoughts and feelings, which indicates that they have what is called limited omniscience. In “The Dead” for example, even though many characters appear, the narrator (and thus the reader) only has access to the interior world of Gabriel Conroy. The move from first- to third-person narration has a distancing effect for the reader. The use of first-person narration in the early stories of Dubliners, all of which feature young narrators, conjures the emotionality, immediacy, and confusion that characterize children’s minds. By contrast, the use of third-person narration in the later stories, all of which feature adolescent and adult protagonists, suggest the comparatively less emotional, more reflective, more jaded perspective of adults.
However, through frequent use of free indirect discourse, Joyce manages to evoke the intimacy of first-person narration in his third-person narratives. Free indirect discourse is a literary technique in which a third-person narrator echoes the expressive style of a particular character. This technique provokes an odd sensation of being inside and outside the character’s head at the same time. Thus, despite being told in the third person, it may seem like the character him or herself is speaking. “Eveline” provides one of the clearest examples of Joyce’s use of free indirect discourse. This story features a young female protagonist who harbors fantasies of a beautiful new life in Argentina. However, being young and inexperienced, Eveline’s fantasies are naïve, driven by emotion more than reason. Although recounted by a third-person narrator, the language of the story directly reflects Eveline’s emotionality through phrases like “A bell clanged upon her heart” and “All the seas of the world tumbled about her heart” (34). This kind of language does not appear anywhere else in the short story collection.
Finally, two stories in Dubliners share a unique form of point of view that involves shifting perspectives. Although these stories are told in the third person, the focus shifts among different characters. The most obvious example of this occurs in “The Boarding House,” where there are three distinct shifts. The story begins from the perspective of Mrs. Mooney, who runs the house, and it depicts her concern about the relationship between Mr. Doran, a man staying at her establishment, and Polly, her daughter. Several pages into the story, the narrative suddenly shifts to Mr. Doran’s perspective, portraying his own feelings about his relationship with Polly and what it might mean for his life and well-being. Near the end of the story, the perspective shifts once again, this time to Polly, who waits helplessly as her mother and lover discuss her fate. Through this shifting structure, “The Boarding House” offers a nuanced view of a single event from three distinct perspectives. Another, more subtle instance of this technique appears in “A Mother.” In one strange moment, the perspective shifts from Mrs. Kearney to her daughter, Kathleen, who is watching her parents talk about her from a distance.