Dubliners

by: James Joyce

Drunkenness

1

He drank, plundered the till, ran headlong into debt. It was no use making him take the pledge; he was sure to break out again a few days after.

“The Boarding House” opens with the narrator’s description of Mr. Mooney, a husband whose failure as a provider sets the scene. Mr. Mooney had married into his father-in-law’s business but ruined it because of his chronic drinking. As a result, Mrs. Mooney separates from him and runs her own business, a successful boarding house, one of the few professions available to a woman at the time. Known as the Madam, her shrewd management counterpoints her husband’s squandering of resources. The plot of a mother-daughter manipulation of a bachelor boarder into marriage comments ironically on men’s misuse of their freedom.

2

The dark damp night was coming and he longed to spend it in the bars, drinking with his friends amid the glare of gas and the clatter of glasses.

The narrator of “Counterparts” describes a law clerk, Farrington, trying to meet a deadline at his office. He fantasizes about being away from his job and at the bar, drinking. This particular day he has sneaked out of work five times for a quick drink. His obsessive thirst betrays alcoholism. Between the mental distraction of longing for the bar and the physical toll the five drinks must be taking, readers understand his irresponsibility. Farrington can’t break the cycle by recognizing his own fault in this failure.

3

What a nice evening they would have, all the children singing! Only she hoped that Joe wouldn’t come in drunk. He was so different when he took any drink.

In “Clay,” Maria travels to visit her brother Joe’s family on All Hallow’s Eve, a special occasion. She has been reflecting fondly about Joe, whom she helped raise, but as the narrator reveals here, she feels a bit apprehensive about the evening ahead. While he has been very kind to her and even invited her to live with his family, Joe transforms into his worse self under the influence of alcohol. As a respectable woman, though of working class, Maria herself rarely, if ever, drinks, and certainly nothing strong. Throughout Dubliners, sober women pick up the pieces from men’s irresponsible drinking.

4

“Sure, amn’t I never done at the drunken bowsy ever since he left school? ‘I won’t keep you,’ I says, ‘You must get a job for yourself.’ But, sure, it’s worse whenever he gets a job; he drinks it all.”

In “Ivy Day in the Committee Room,” the old man who attends to the Committee Room fire talks to an election official. He calls his nineteen-year-old son a drop-out and a bum. He expresses surprise that his son turned out to be an unemployed drunkard despite sending him to the Christian Brothers’ school and frequently beating him as a young child. Satisfied with his parenting, he blames his son’s wildness on the mother for spoiling him. The old man recounts how his son disrespectfully talks back to him when he’s been drinking. Readers infer the true source of his son’s behavior in the father’s long-time abuse.

5

[T]hey were dreadfully afraid that Freddy Malins might turn up screwed. They would not wish for worlds that any of Mary Jane’s pupils should see him under the influence, and when he was like that it was sometimes very hard to manage him.

In “The Dead,” the narrator explains the Morkan family’s anxiety in regards to Freddy Malins, a known drunkard and family friend. Everyone in the family attended their annual dance, including Freddy and his mother. They hope for the best and then manage his behavior as needed. The party includes children, however, and the Morkan sisters feel concerned about exposing the children to his drunkenness. Despite all apprehension, the thought to ban Freddy never arises. Dealing with drunk friends and relations comes with the job of being good hostesses. To ensure all goes well, guests help keep Freddy’s drinking at a manageable rate.