'After the Race' from Joyce's Dubliners: Summary & Analysis

Instructor: Joshua Wimmer

Joshua holds a master's degree in Latin and has taught a variety of Classical literature and language courses.

We might not think too much about what happens in a race once the checkered flag waves, but it's the primary concern in Joyce's 'After the Race.' Keep reading to explore a summary and analysis of this 'cautionary' Irish tale.

'After the Race' Synopsis

Racing hadn't advanced to the level of NASCAR or Formula One in James Joyce's day, but motorsport was already taking Europe by storm when he published the short story 'After the Race' as part of his famous collection Dubliners in 1914. As the story opens and cars come 'skudding in towards Dublin,' enthused spectators are waiting at the finish line to greet the racing machines. Several European countries have each fielded a number of cars, and the French are the local favorites. One of French team's blue cars is driven by Charles Segouin. Segouin has three passengers riding with him: his Canadian cousin Andre Riviere, a Hungarian pianist named Villona, and the story's protagonist Jimmy Doyle.

As the race comes to an end, the narrator reflects on the background of the young Irishman. Jimmy's father was a butcher who worked his way to becoming a merchant mogul in Dublin. This allowed him to provide his son with a world-class education, with Jimmy attending Dublin University and even Cambridge. Despite his great opportunities, Jimmy was never that interested in his studies, but instead seemed to spend his time rubbing elbows with the social elite, such as Segouin, whom he met at Cambridge.

Segouin and his mechanically-minded cousin are poised to open a motor company in Paris, and at his father's suggestion, Jimmy's set to invest in it. The narrative voice reflects on Jimmy's situation once again as the car brings them further into town. It's noted that Jimmy relishes the attention he gets from being seen with these men as well as the feeling he gets from being wealthy.

Coming into the heart of Dublin, Segouin drops-off Villona and Jimmy, who are going to Jimmy's parents' home to change for the evening. As the two change for dinner, it's noted that Jimmy's father in particular seems enthused to be entertaining a foreign guest. However, the two are soon off to join Segouin and his party. At dinner, an Englishman by the name of Routh joins them, and they all pass the meal in jovial conversation on everything from music to mechanics. However, the conversation starts going sour between Jimmy and Routh, but Segouin quickly redirects everyone's attention with a toast.

Afterward, they all go out for a stroll on Dublin, where they run-in to Farley, Andre's American friend. With another party member joining the group, the young men travel merrily down to the harbor where Farley's yacht is waiting for them. Aboard ship, Villona begins playing music and they all dine again and toast their individual nations. Once Jimmy finishes a lengthy speech that the men all applaud, they begin to play cards. Apparently not the greatest gambler, Jimmy quickly burns through money, eventually incurring a sizable debt that he knows he'll soon regret. For the moment though, day has already begun to break as the story ends.

'After the Race' Analysis

In motorsports, whenever there's a blow-out, collision, fire, or some similar incident, officials often wave caution flags to signal a temporary hold on normal racing. Like these flags, Joyce's 'After the Race' serves as a signal for dangerous conditions ahead - not just for frivolous youths, but possibly for an entire nation.

When James Joyce was writing the stories found in Dubliners, Ireland was still under British control. However, for much of the 19th century, groups of Irish nationalists had been gaining support, and during the early 20th century, vehement movements were made in favor of Irish independence. At the same time, though, there were those who questioned the country's readiness to enter the world arena as a new nation. And those questions and fears are reflected in the way Joyce characterizes Jimmy.

The narrator notes that Jimmy's eyes are 'rather innocent-looking,' and in all, this 26-year old seems to be a bit naive compared to his more worldly companions. Though they all appear to be about the same age, the other young men Jimmy associates with have longstanding foreign connections, such as Andre's American friend and Segouin's acquaintance, Routh, and are more accustomed to the wealthy lifestyle his family now leads. Even Villona, although he's said to be personally 'very poor,' seems to now how to navigate these social circles with more ease than Jimmy. The party also plays loose with their money, but Jimmy's anxiety over the debt compared to his companions' relative lack of worry also demonstrates that they can afford to lose more than he can.

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