Dubliners: Novel Summary: A Mother
For a month, Mr. Holohan trudges up and down the Dublin streets attempting to make arrangements for a series of concerts. However, "in the end, it was Mrs. Kearney who arranged everything." Miss Devlin had become Mrs. Kearney out of spite by settling for the older, pious Mr. Kearney just to stop people from talking. She was "unbending in manner and made few friends" (113). Her only child and daughter Kathleen is musically inclined and Mrs. Kearney pushes her into a musical career. Mr. Holohan asks if Kathleen would be the piano accompanist for a series of four concerts and Mrs. Kearney has a contract drawn up. Holohan is sloppy in his record keeping so Mrs. Kearney plans the whole affair and invests in clothes for Kathleen. They "cost a pretty penny" (115). However, when Mrs. Kearney and Kathleen arrive for the first concert, the concert hall is practically empty. Mr. Holohan says that perhaps planning four concerts was a mistake and that the final show will be packed. Mrs. Kearney, however, blames him for picking untalented artists. She is furious. There are more people the following night but the Society decides to cancel the third concert and hope for a full house on the final night, Saturday. Mrs. Kearney begins to harass Mr. Holohan and insists her daughter be paid for four nights. She is extremely upset and orders her husband to accompany her to the final concert.
Mrs. Kearney searches for Mr. Holohan the minute they arrive. By then the artists are congregating: Mr. Duggan, the bass; the second tenor, Mr. Bell; Miss Healy the contralto and a friend of Kathleen's, and the soprano Madam Glynn. When Mrs. Kearney catches up with Mr. Holohan she brings up the money. Getting more and more irritated, Mrs. Kearney demands a guarantee of payment. Mr. O'Madden Burke who will write a review waits in the dressing room. By now, Mrs. Kearney is practically yelling and her husband has to ask her to lower her voice. The artists are becoming agitated. It is late but Mrs. Kearney informs Mr. Holohan that Kathleen will not perform without being paid. He tells her she will get half the money now and half later and Kathleen goes on stage with the nervous Mr. Bell. The first part of the concert is a great success but backstage the battle rages on. By now everyone is involved in the argument with various artists taking different sides. The writer O'Madden Burke is outraged and announces that Kathleen will never play again in Dublin. Mrs. Kearney's temper continues to escalate and eventually Mr. Holohan says the rest of Kathleen's money will be paid on Tuesday. If Kathleen refuses to play they will consider the
The author James Joyce had a wonderful singing voice himself and well knew Dublin's music scene in the era of the Irish Revival, a movement which sought to highlight Ireland's traditional arts, recover Irish as the national language and shed light on, and further the careers of, Irish artists, including musicians and writers. Joyce takes Dublin's musical milieu as his subject in "A Mother," the thirteenth story of Dubliners, and exemplifies the back-biting, small-mindedness, stubbornness and lack of funding inherent in the Irish Revival, which Joyce did not support. Patriotism and good art do not necessarily mix, he insisted.
Mrs. Kearney is painted by Joyce as being a manipulative power-grabber as witnessed by her taking over the concert project completely and arranging the contract for Kathleen. The concert artists are really second-rate as far as talent goes and just as small-minded as Mrs. Kearney in some regards. Holohan, who is in charge of the arrangements, keeps his records on little filthy pieces of paper. And even the audience has low expectations. They just want something patriotic. Besides, they practically have to be dragged in to listen. Mrs. Kearney "took a dozen two shilling tickets for the final concert and sent them to those friends who could not be trusted to come otherwise (115). In this story, Joyce is saying "so much for an Irish Revival."
Mrs. Kearney is small-minded, stubborn, excessively proud and besides that, stupid. She might win the day and her daughter's eight guineas to recover the costs of Kathleen's clothes and the tickets she bought for friends, but she has just put a stop to her daughter's career as a musician. Furthermore, she fails to realize the financial restrictions Holohan is under. After all, the concert is a failure. Hardly anyone shows up. Mr. O'Madden Burke says confidently that Kathleen will never play in Dublin again: "Miss Kearney's musical career was ended in Dublin after that" (123).