Social Commentary in "A Mother"

The thirteenth of fifteen stories in James Joyce's Dubliners collection, "A Mother," can be seen as something of a break between the heavy, serious vignettes in its vicinity. It can be seen as a story to chuckle at; after all, the title character is an overbearing "stage mother" who demands that her daughter be paid full price for performing in a series of concerts in which she accompanies on the piano. Everyone, including eventually her family, feels that she is not only overreacting but ruining the show for everyone. It is possible to read this story and conclude that it's simply a case of a shrill, uptight woman trying to live vicariously through her child. Upon a closer reading of "A Mother," however, it is evident that there is more than meets the eye. Joyce includes intricately placed symbols and metaphors alluding to Irish tradition, and references Irish history quite a few times. In the following essay I will make a case that Joyce constructs a social commentary within “A Mother,” calling for a progressive mindset in Ireland. To do this, Joyce discusses three main themes: death, Irish nationalism, and feminism.

First, death is symbolically portrayed throughout the narrative, with...

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