Cars in “After the Race” represent industrial and economic power, the era’s obsession with achieving this power, and how industrial and economic might is possessed by several western European and North American countries, but not by the Irish. The narrator suggests this symbolism at the beginning of the story, when cars are speeding across Ireland for the real-life Gordon-Bennett automobile race, which the narrator summarizes as “through this channel of poverty and inaction the continent sped its wealth and industry.” Only France, Germany, England, and the United States had participating cars in this actual, historic race of 1903, which shows that these countries have industrial and economic power. Ireland, notably, only participates as the setting for the race. The might of these countries is quite literally driven all over Ireland, whose people do nothing but stand on the sidelines and admire the industrial energy of these other nations and “pay homage to the snorting motor.”
The Irish who do have money, represented by Jimmy Doyle, are obsessed with cars and the economic power they symbolize. Jimmy loves cars, and his actions demonstrate how his obsession with them (and therefore, his obsession with achieving industrial and economic power) contribute to the paralysis of both himself and Ireland. Jimmy neglects his studies, which could contribute to his personal and professional development, to socialize with “motoring circles.” He is easily seduced by the elation that comes from “rapid motion” from driving in a car, and his thoughts never reach deeper, which speaks to Jimmy’s superficiality and the role that industrial capitalism plays in it. When he tries “to translate into days’ work that lordly car on which he sat,” he is distracted by the “style” and speed of the car, which illustrates how far removed he is from what is required—time, resources, human lives—to actually make a car, or an economic and industrial empire. He plans on investing a large amount of money into the not-yet-existent motoring company of Charles Ségouin’s, which, the story suggests, is likely a bad idea; he is, after all, putting his trust in a mere acquaintance simply because Ségouin has “the unmistakable air of wealth.” Further, by deciding to invest in a French company, instead of investing in an Irish venture, Jimmy contributes to the inaction of Ireland by distributing Irish resources to foreign countries. Jimmy’s actions also illustrate a belief in Irish, and therefore his own, inferiority—in his desire to achieve economic and industrial power, he looks for validation in other countries, and completely neglects the needs of his native Ireland.
Car Quotes in After the Race
At the crest of the hill at Inchicore sightseers had gathered in clumps to watch the cars careering homeward and through this channel of poverty and inaction the Continent sped its wealth and industry. Now and again the clumps of people raised the cheer of the gratefully oppressed.
Rapid motion through space elates one; so does notoriety; so does the possession of money. These were three good reasons for Jimmy’s excitement.
Jimmy set out to translate into days’ work that lordly car on which he sat. How smoothly it ran. In what style they had come careering along the country roads! The journey laid a magical finger on the genuine pulse of life and gallantly the machinery of human nerves strove to answer the bounding courses of the swift blue animal.
Near the bank Ségouin drew up and Jimmy and his friend alighted. A little knot of people collected on the footpath to pay homage to the snorting motor.