After a Dublin tea taster and salesmen named Tom Kernan loses consciousness while drunk, his friends Martin Cunningham, Jack Power, C.P. M'Coy, and Mr. Fogarty gather in his bedroom to gossip about the church and persuade him to attend a retreat that they hope will renew his faith. In the story's last scene, the men attend the retreat together.
This story is much like "Ivy Day in the Committee Room" in that it takes place for the most part in one room and is conveyed mainly by means of dialogue. Unfortunately, the dialogue, like that in the earlier story, is obscure to most American readers (though no doubt highly authentic). When the talk turns to ecclesiastical matters, mostly misinformation is shared by the participants; though their faith in God may be firm, their understanding of Roman Catholic dogma is shaky at best.
Here, Joyce repeats the theme of death — Kernan came near to killing himself when he fell down the stairs — and of corruption. Somehow, the purity of Christian faith in God has been corrupted by the institution of the Catholic Church, the author seems to say, and then further corrupted by types like Kernan's friends, who seem to mean well but misunderstand almost everything about their own faith. The way in which the priest at the retreat "dumbs down" the Bible for his audience is the final insult.
This is the most novelistic story in the collection, except for "The Dead." Not only is "Grace" longer than the stories that come before it, it also uses techniques such as three separate scenes and a truly omniscient point-of-view. Not only are the thoughts in Kernan's mind available to the reader, but his wife's and those of some of his friends are as well. These are techniques associated more with novels than with short stories. Fittingly, Kernan himself, as well as Cunningham and M'Coy appear in Joyce's great novel Ulysses.
Grace the unmerited love and favor of God toward mankind.
sha (Irish) yes.
ulster a long, loose, heavy overcoat, especially one with a belt, originally made of Irish frieze.
outsider a horse-drawn carriage with two wheels.
Ballast Office the location of the Dublin Port and Docks Board; in "The Dead," Gabriel Conroy's father is said to have worked there.
gaiter a cloth or leather covering for the instep and ankle, and, sometimes, the calf of the leg; a spat or legging.
Blackwhite apparently a renowned Irish salesman.
E.C. east central.
the holy alls of it (slang) the long and the short of it.
Fogarty's a Dublin grocer.
her silver wedding the twenty-fifth anniversary of marriage.
pale a territory or district enclosed within bounds.
She believed steadily in the Sacred Heart Mrs. Kernan displays an image of the sacred heart of Jesus in her home and takes communion on the first Friday of each month.
bona-fide travelers inns and pubs were allowed to serve alcohol to travelers before or after hours during which it was generally legal to do so; thus, Mr. Harford and his friends "travel" to the suburbs so as to be allowed to drink legally on Sundays.
usurious practicing usury; the act or practice of lending money at a rate of interest that is excessive or unlawfully high. Usury was forbidden for centuries by the Roman Catholic Church.
seven days without the option of a fine a week in jail.
peloothered (Irish slang) drunk.
True bill a bill of indictment endorsed by a grand jury as supported by evidence sufficient to warrant a trial.
a crusade in search of valises and portmanteaus to enable Mrs. M'Coy to fulfil imaginary engagements in the country apparently M'Coy borrows luggage under false pretenses so as to pawn or sell it.
bostoons (Irish) rogues.
omadhauns (Irish) fools.
up here to Dublin from the countryside.
wash the pot (slang) to confess one's sins.
secular priests Roman Catholic clergymen with parish duties; as opposed to those priests who live apart from society in a monastery or house.
Father Tom Burke an internationally popular Irish preacher of the nineteenth century.
Orangeman strictly speaking, a member of a secret Protestant society organized in Northern Ireland (1795); here, the term is used simply to denote a Protestant and/or Unionist.
they don't believe in the Pope and in the mother of God a simplification of the ways in which the beliefs of Protestants differ from those of Roman Catholics.
Lux upon Lux obviously a misquotation, as even if the Pope had a motto, it wouldn't include English words.
Crux upon Crux obviously a misquotation, as even if the Pope had a motto, it wouldn't include English words.
a sod of turf under his oxter that is, each student was expected to help heat the school by bringing fuel. In Ireland, turf was burned to provide heat; "oxter" is slang for armpit.
up to the knocker up to snuff; passable.
ex cathedra (Latin) with the authority that comes from one's rank or office; often specifically with respect to papal pronouncements on matters of faith or morals that have authoritative finality.
Credo! (Latin) I believe!
Sir John Gray's statue a statue of a Protestant patriot located in north-central Dublin.
Edmund Dwyer Gray the son of Sir John Gray.
lay-brother in this case, an usher in a church.
speck of red light the sanctuary lamp within a Catholic church.
quincunx an arrangement of five objects in a square, with one at each corner and one in the middle.
surplice a loose, white, wide-sleeved outer ecclesiastical vestment for some services, ranging from hip length to knee length.
Mammon riches regarded as an object of worship and greedy pursuit; wealth or material gain as an evil, more or less deified (from Matthew 6:24).