The Multi-Faceted Theme of Poverty in "The Sisters" from Joyce's "Dubliners"

Essay by LiSerHigh School, 11th grade September 2007

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James Joyce, the author of “The Sisters” in the anthology Dubliners is said to have experienced several societal and economic castes throughout his childhood life as his drunken father gradually swindled away the family’s money. The experience of descent in social status allowed him to gain views and insights into many of the social classes, especially that of the impoverished. The poverty Joyce had experienced had a large impression on him, giving reason for the dominant theme of poverty in his work. But in addition to the literal poverty of hunger and physical needs, Joyce also describes the poverty of the mind: the societal superstitions, ignorance and intolerance. These two types of poverty can be shown through the setting and characters featured in the short story.

The literal poverty that the lower-class Irish people endure is observed by the reader throughout “The Sisters”. This lack of money and luxuries is most defined by the setting of this story, which reveals the poor conditions of these Irish people through their basic needs of food, shelter, and clothing.

The unnamed protagonist along with his family, are seen to be dining on stirabout and a leg of mutton. Stirabout, a concoction of boiled oatmeal in water or milk, was the staple food for the poor at the time of Joyce, as is a leg of mutton, which is a tough meat from old sheep that can no longer produce wool. Both of these foods are simply meant to nourish, and not to be enjoyed. The fact that the family would dine on these bland provisions indicate their inability to afford anything better. In addition, they are not the only family that is impoverished. In fact, Great Britain Street, on which Father Flynn’s shop and residence is located, is found in Northern Central Dublin,