Joyce presents drinking in Dubliners as a sort of social malaise that cripples individuals and ultimately hinders the progress of Ireland. Although the vast majority of the stories mentions individuals struggling with drinking, in fact aside from the first two childhood stories the thirteen others stories mention excessive drinking , the stories “Grace” and “Counterparts” most clearly elucidates the idea that alcoholism is bringing immense suffering to the people of Ireland. This excessive drinking however is not merely happening for no reason it is a reflection of the characters tortured lives and of the culture that encourages excessive consumption of alcohol.
Joyce is not advocating complete cessation from drinking but he is instead making a reasonable argument for the reduction of alcoholism in Ireland and of the culture of excessive drinking,
Mr. Kernan was once a prosperous businessman however his life has been on a slow decline and he now owes money to debtors. At the beginning of the story he is found at the bottom of the stairs blacked out drunk. His name is not even mentioned and the horrible extent of his alcoholism is shown in the sense that he is described as barely human “They succeeded in turning him over. His hat had rolled a few yards away and his clothes were smeared with the filth and ooze of the floor on which he had lain, face downwards. His eyes were closed and he breathed with a grunting noise. A thin stream of blood trickled from the corner of his mouth.”
(“Grace” 150). He is brought up to the stairs by several men and one young man especially takes initiative to help Mr. Kernan. Ironically the man gives the very poison that is the root of Mr.
Kernan’s troubles as a medicine,“The young man washed the blood from the injured man's mouth and then called for some brandy. The constable repeated the order in an authoritative
voice until a curate came running with the glass. The brandy was forced down the man's throat.(“Grace” 185). This quote reveals the culture of drinking in Ireland, and of the psychology of alcohol consumption. People use alcohol to forget their problems and as a means of escape however the very thing they consume to alleviate the pains of life, ironically brings more problems and the destitute character of Mr. Kernan lying at the foot of the stairs shows all the promises of alcohol to be false. Eventually a friend of Mr. Kernan arrives, Mr. Power, who thanks the young man and thinks to himself that he regrets “that they could not have a little drink together” (“Grace” 188) and this again reinforces the culture of drinking in Ireland and how it is always present in the minds of the Dubliners. When they arrive at the house Mrs. Kernan is severely angry at her husband at his lack of self control. “Such a sight! O, he'll do for himself one day and that's the holy alls of it. He's been drinking since Friday." ( “Grace” 190). Mr. Kernan is such an alcoholic that he will drink for days upon days and does not care what happens to his family. A family without a father especially in the world of the early 20th century would have not been able to function effectively and this shows one side of the power of alcohol, it isolates people from their families. Despite his addiction to alcohol Mr. Kernan is not a violent drunk but his alcohol addiction will probably one day kill or in the words of his wife “hei’ll do for himself one day”
In “Counterparts” another character’s struggle with addiction is explored however this man does not merely neglect his duties he is extremely violent and abusive. Mr. Farrington is incompetent at his job and he is condescended to by his boss Mr. Alleyne furthermore his job is immensely tedious and boring. These factors lead him to drink to escape from the routine and
daily struggle of life. However alcohol is not the medicine it is the poison and it has complete control of Mr.