The automobile race that occurs just before the events of the story symbolizes the international capitalistic competition for industrial and economic power in which Ireland is used by other countries but does not actually compete. The race that Joyce chooses to symbolize in “After the Race” was a real-life competition, the Gordon-Bennett car race of 1903 that took place in Ireland. Notably, Ireland is not a participant in the race. But the race does take place all across Ireland and uses its roads and resources to execute such an event, which is symbolic of the more general exploitation of the Irish people, particularly at the hands of the British, who ruled Ireland at the beginning of the 20th century. Aside from their role as being resources that were leveraged by other powers to strengthen these foreign nation’s economies, the Irish are only spectators in this European competition for economic and industrial power.
In the absence of Irish cars, the Irish spectators cheer for “the blue cars—the cars of their friends, the French.” The French had a history of coming to Ireland’s aid, such as during the Irish Rebellion of 1798, although these efforts were not always successful and were also at least partially motivated by a desire to undermine the English, who were a historic enemy for the French. This contributes to the general feeling of exploitation that the Irish endured; the Irish may view the French as their friends, but the actual value of France’s contributions to Ireland may be limited, and France may in fact be exploiting that friendship for its own ends. Joyce reflects this in Jimmy Doyle’s acquaintanceship with Charles Ségouin. Ségouin is using Jimmy for his wealth, going so far as “to give the impression that it was by a favour of friendship the mite of Irish money was to be included” in this continental investment. The implication is that Ségouin is leveraging Jimmy’s feeling of Irish inferiority to persuade Jimmy that he should consider himself lucky to have the chance to be involved in an industrial venture that, as an Irishman, he would normally be excluded from. There is some suggestion in the story that Ségouin’s entire proposed company is illegitimate and just a ruse to part Jimmy from his money. But even if it is real, Jimmy’s investment with Ségouin is still damaging: it limits Ireland’s chances of becoming a part of the international competition of industry, since it involves relocating Irish money into the hands of foreign countries.
The race is also significant in that the narrator declares the French the “virtual victors.” This demonstrates Joyce’s speculation that the French would become global leaders of industry and wealth. Later, the evening card game complicates this prediction, as it is the Englishman Routh who wins that game. As the victors of the two competitions portrayed in the story, Joyce is suggesting that, in international competitions for power, England and France will lead, often at the expense of the Irish. The story foreshadows what will happen to the Irish “after the race” in which they do not even get to compete—they will be just as impoverished and inert as before.
The Race 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.