A Summary and Analysis of James Joyce’s ‘A Painful Case’

Interesting Literature

On one of Joyce’s most curious stories from Dubliners

Analysing James Joyce is rarely easy. The Irish modernist writer loved ambiguity, the essential mystery and unknowability of everyday life, and the slipperiness of language, and his novels Ulysses and Finnegans Wake certainly attest to the last of these. But before these novels, Joyce wrote a collection of fifteen short stories about life in Ireland’s capital city in the early twentieth century. Dubliners (1914) was Joyce’s first masterpiece, and ‘A Painful Case’ is a miniature masterpiece. You can read ‘A Painful Case’ here.

‘A Painful Case’ appears around two-thirds of the way into the Dubliners collection: it is the eleventh of the fifteen stories. Since Joyce roughly ordered the stories from ‘youth’ to ‘old age’, ‘A Painful Case’ is a story about the onset of late middle age, a time when people have perhaps left it too late to seek…

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