Summary and Analysis
An inexperienced Dublin impresario named Mr. Holohan arranges with Mrs. Kearney for her daughter Kathleen to accompany on the piano the singers at a series of four concerts. When the first three concerts are sparsely attended, Mrs. Kearney demands payment for all the performances before the fourth show, delaying the start of that evening's entertainment. Finally, Mrs. Kearney refuses to let Kathleen play during the second half of the concert because she has not been paid the entire promised fee.
"A Mother" is a relatively straightforward and easy-to-read Dubliners selection that provides comic relief before the last two stories in the collection. The concert is literally paralyzed by Mrs. Kearney's greed until the Committee of the Eire Abu Society finds a replacement for Kathleen. In other words, although this story is light in tone, it nevertheless reiterates Joyce's main theme of paralysis.
"A Mother" also returns to the theme of corruption. The concerts staged by Holohan (who will reappear as Hoppy Holohan in Ulysses) are patriotic in nature, a celebration of Irish culture. And yet, Mrs. Kearney's only concern is the money promised to her daughter.
Although the goal of the Society is a renaissance of Irish culture and language, the concert series seems stillborn: "The poor lady sang Killarney in a bodiless gasping voice, with all the old-fashioned mannerisms of intonation and pronunciation which she believed lent elegance to her singing. She looked as if she had been resurrected from an old stage-wardrobe." Death, introduced in "The Sisters" and reiterated periodically ever since, reappears in "A Mother."
Lastly, Joyce's color symbolism (with yellow and brown representing decay and paralysis) returns as well, linking this story with the others preceding it in a fashion that seems genuinely cinematic. Mr. Kearny has a "great brown beard," for example, and that brownness yields a consistency of appearance with the stories that have come before, as if the same cameraman shot all of them.
Eire Abu (Irish) Ireland to Victory.
went to the altar every first Friday took communion on the first Friday of every month.
Skerries . . . Howth . . . Greystones seaside resorts near Dublin. "Eveline" included a reference to Howth.
Irish Revival a movement, begun in the 1880s, that supported Irish culture in general, as well as a revival of Irish Gaelic as the country's national tongue. The Irish Revival will be the subject of a confrontation between Gabriel Conroy and a colleague in "The Dead."
to take advantage of her daughter's name Ireland is sometimes personified as a woman named Kathleen ni Houlihan.
pro-cathedral a temporary substitute for a cathedral.
charmeuse a smooth fabric of silk; like satin in appearance but softer and having less body.
Brown Thomas's a Dublin fabric shop.
the house was filled with paper the theater was occupied for the most part by patrons admitted at no charge.
puff an advertisement, review, or the like, as of a book, containing undue or exaggerated praise.
the dear knows lord knows.
Maritana a Irish light opera.
Feis Ceoil a yearly festival of traditional Irish music.
the Freeman man a reporter for the daily newspaper The Freeman's Journal.
Mrs. Pat Campbell Mrs. Patrick Campbell (1865–1940); a famous actress of the day.
"Killarney" a popular song by Michael William Balfe, composer of the opera The Bohemian Girl mentioned in "Eveline" and alluded to in "Clay."
fol-the-diddle-I-do a nonsense phrase.