As many flashy cars drive toward Dublin, crowds gather and cheer. A race has just finished, and though the French have placed second and third after the German-Belgian team, the local sightseers loudly support them. Jimmy Doyle rides in one of the cars with his wealthy French friend, Charles Ségouin, whom he met while studying at Cambridge. Two other men ride with them as well: Ségouin’s Canadian cousin, André Riviére, and a Hungarian pianist, Villona. Driving back into Dublin, the young men rejoice about the victory, and Jimmy enjoys the prestige of the ride. He fondly thinks about his recent investment in Ségouin’s motor-company business venture, a financial backing that his father, a successful butcher, approves and supports. Jimmy savors the notoriety of being surrounded by and seen with such glamorous company, and in such a luxurious car.
Ségouin drops Jimmy and Villona off in Dublin so they can return to Jimmy’s home, where Villona is staying, to change into formal dress for dinner at Ségouin’s hotel. Jimmy’s proud parents dote on their smartly dressed and well-connected son. At the dinner, the reunited party joins an Englishman, Routh, and conversation energetically moves from music to cars to politics, under the direction of Ségouin. Jimmy, turning to Irish-English relations, rouses an angry response from Routh, but Ségouin expertly snuffs any potential for argument with a toast.
After the meal, the young men stroll through Dublin and run into another acquaintance, an American named Farley, who invites them to his yacht. The party grows merrier, and they sing a French marching song as they make their way to the harbor. Once on board, the men proceed to dance and drink as Villona plays the piano. Jimmy makes a speech that his companions loudly applaud, and then the men settle down to play cards. Drunk and giddy, Jimmy plays game after game, losing more and more money. He yearns for the playing to stop, but goes along nevertheless. A final game leaves Routh the champion. Even as the biggest loser alongside Farley, Jimmy’s spirits never dwindle. He knows he will feel remorse the next day, but assures himself of his happiness just as Villona opens the cabin door and announces that daybreak has come.
“After the Race” explores the potentially destructive desire for money and status. The monetary standing and social connections of most of the characters are explored, but the story focuses on the efforts of Jimmy, and to some extent Jimmy’s father, to fit into an affluent class. Jimmy is completely unburdened and childishly whimsical about life and money, as his father fosters Jimmy’s lush lifestyle. Having earned a large income from wise contracts and retail developments in his butchery business, the father provides Jimmy with a prestigious education at Cambridge, where he gains Ségouin’s coveted friendship. However, this potentially sunny portrait of carefree wealth and prestige is dulled by the less impressive excesses of success. Jimmy’s studies focus mainly on social outings and spending, and at the end of “After the Race” Jimmy emerges not as a dashing, popular bachelor, but as a clueless fool, his pockets empty after a spate of card games in which he was barely sober enough to participate. Indeed, Jimmy hardly seems cognizant of himself as a person, but highly aware of where and with whom he is seen. For Jimmy, seeking riches and notoriety leads only to poverty and embarrassment.
Like many of the characters in Dubliners, Jimmy has a moment of revelation in which he recognizes the truth of his situation, but he does nothing to change it. After he loses ruinously at cards, Jimmy hangs his head in his hands, knowing that regret will set in the next day. The irony of the conclusion is that the next day is already there, that daybreak has come. Jimmy, the story suggests, always faces the reality of his feigned wealth and his follies, but he also always avoids it. Regret lurks constantly beneath the surface of his actions, yet he continuously puts off fully acknowledging it. Jimmy instead submerses himself in his infatuation with signs of wealth. He relishes the experience of riding in the French car, exclaiming to himself how stylish the group must look. Such statements reveal Jimmy as intoxicated with presentation and committed to convincing himself of his rightful place in the group. When Jimmy delivers his speech on the yacht, he cannot remember what he says only moments after finishing, but assures himself that it must have been decent if such excellent people applauded him. The story casts Jimmy as simple and passive, placing trust in money that constantly eludes him.
“After the Race” highlights the political interests that underpin the Doyle family’s clamoring for money. The father’s profitable business that gives leisure to Jimmy flourished at the cost of his political views. Though once a fervent supporter of Irish independence, the father makes his money on contracts with the same police who uphold British law. He also acts against the national interests of promoting all things Irish by sending his son to England and encouraging his investments in French business ventures. When Jimmy attempts to talk about such popularly debated issues at the dinner table, his voice is silenced. The Englishman leaves this story the winner. Like the luxury cars that speed away from the countryside to return to the continent in the opening of the story, all money seems to flee from Jimmy’s pockets into those of others by the end of the story. The Irish, “After the Race” implies, always finish in last place.