A Mother by James Joyce, 1914
The magic trick:
Presenting an entirely negative story
There is no one to like in this story. Not a one. The promoters, the entertainers and of course the mother. This is the second story from Dubliners that deals with the choices a mother makes in order to secure a position of success for her daughter. In “The Boarding House,” the mother used her daughter’s sexuality to force a marriage. In “A Mother,” Mrs. Kearney desperately tries to establish her daughter as a musical talent. At least she’s trying, right? So many of the other parental figures we’ve seen in Dubliners are absent or worse. Mrs. Kearney does not escape this story in good standing, though. She is greedy, inexperienced and almost undoubtedly motivated by some misplaced bitterness about her own childhood musical failures. What is notable is that Joyce never establishes the story as a good vs. evil scenario. As I said, there is no one good. It’s a bleak, bleak picture of stupidity and selfishness. And that’s quite a trick on Joyce’s part.
Young James Joyce is SO ANGY. And it’s SO GOOD.
When the Irish Revival began to be appreciable Mrs. Kearney determined to take advantage of her daughter’s name and brought an Irish teacher to the house. Kathleen and her sister sent Irish picture postcards to their friends and these friends sent back other Irish picture postcards. On special Sundays, when Mr. Kearney went with his family to the pro-cathedral, a little crowd of people would assemble after mass at the corner of Cathedral Street. They were all friends of the Kearneys — musical friends or Nationalist friends; and, when they had played every little counter of gossip, they shook hands with one another all together, laughing at the crossing of so man hands, and said good-bye to one another in Irish. Soon the name of Miss Kathleen Kearney began to be heard often on people’s lips. People said that she was very clever at music and a very nice girl and, moreover, that she was a believer in the language movement. Mrs. Kearney was well content at this.