“After the Race” addresses the behavior and situation of the class of newly wealthy Irish during the early years of the 20th century. Although Ireland under British rule was plagued by widespread poverty, there was nonetheless an Irish business class that had arisen due to the Industrial Revolution and the globalization of trade, and which had become quite wealthy. It is this class of people that Joyce portrays and criticizes in his story. “After the Race” follows a young Irishman named Jimmy Doyle, whose rich business-owning father has provided him with economic stability and a variety of educational opportunities. But neither Jimmy nor his family use their resources to invest in Ireland or to change the Irish socioeconomic conditions of early 20th century Ireland. Instead, Jimmy sets his sights—and money—on achieving success in countries beyond Ireland; and it is much to his detriment that he does. The story takes place over the course of one day, which Jimmy spends driving, dining, and drinking with his foreign acquaintances: Frenchman Charles Ségouin and his Canadian cousin André Rivière; the Englishman Routh; an American man named Farley; and Hungarian pianist Villona. Rather than try to make a name for himself or for Ireland, Jimmy is content to be simply associated with these men from “great” countries, a relationship that he hopes to solidify by investing in Ségouin’s soon-to-be-founded motor company. As the evening continues, it is clear that Jimmy’s frivolous behavior has bleak consequences. After a night of heavy drinking and heavier gambling, Jimmy is left a loser at a table of European winners. Through Jimmy’s failure, Joyce is clear in his verdict that the Irish class of nouveau riche are irresponsible citizens and that, by ignoring the plights of their own country in their eagerness to achieve their selfish and superficial goals, they harm not just their country, but themselves as well.
Jimmy, who sees Ireland as an inferior country, is attracted by the social and economic opportunities to be found via association with more powerful foreign countries. He represents how the upper class of Irish citizens focus on making connections with these countries for selfish reasons. Because the Irish are excluded from the international capitalistic race, Jimmy sees his fellow Irish as making up “the profane world of spectators.” Being with Ségouin and his other European continental acquaintances grants Jimmy distinction from his local friends and a spot in a race car. His companionship with Ségouin brings more than social notoriety—Ségouin is his gateway into the motor business, where there are “pots of money” to be made. Jimmy plans to invest in Ségouin’s not-yet-founded motoring establishment. Ségouin even uses Jimmy’s sense of Irish inferiority to persuade him to invest by suggesting that it is only because they are friends that Jimmy’s Irish money is even being allowed into the investment scheme at all. Jimmy, desperate to belong, takes the bait.
Both Jimmy and his father redirect Irish resources from Ireland in order to make more money for themselves; they greedily do what they can to amass more wealth, no matter if it comes at Ireland’s expense. Jimmy’s father had once been “an advanced nationalist,” meaning that he had advocated for Irish Home Rule. But he “modified his views,” and by doing so he abandons Ireland politically. Although Joyce doesn’t explicitly explain why Jimmy’s father altered his politics, he implies that he did so to make money. Jimmy’s father became rich by opening a chain of butcher shops, starting in Kingstown, a town that, at the time, was heavily influenced by the English. Furthermore, he had “been fortunate enough to secure some of the police contracts.” Clearly, he cares more about the money that these contracts offer him than about taking down the infrastructure that maintains British law and rule in Ireland. Through Jimmy’s father, Joyce criticizes how the wealthy Irish class has sold out politically in order to make money for themselves. Jimmy, who has money because of his father’s Ireland-based business, chooses to invest this Irish money in a foreign venture, Ségouin’s motoring establishment. By doing so, Jimmy is redirecting Irish resources—money that is greatly needed to prompt economic development in the poverty-stricken Ireland—into wealthier foreign countries. He is convinced that, because he expects to make more money, it is a good investment. He doesn’t consider how he is further dooming Ireland to economic stagnation, a greedy negligence that extends to the Irish upper class as a whole.
The calamitous card game signifies that Jimmy’s greed—and therefore the greed of the wealthy Irish class he represents—will seal his fate, as well as Ireland’s. Jimmy makes the choice to join his acquaintances at the card table. This decision, likely prompted by his greed and aspirations to be connected to wealthier European countries, is a bad one. Jimmy is very drunk and ends up confusing his cards and betting away huge sums of money, which symbolizes the poor financial decisions of the wealthy Irish. His heavy losses may even foreshadow financial ruin with his other gamble, the investment in Ségouin’s company. Jimmy is too drunk to keep track of his own I.O.U.’s, so the other men manage them for him, which may indicate foul play on their end. Here, Joyce is suggesting that, by trying to play the game of capitalism with these more powerful countries, the wealthy Irish class is offering themselves up for exploitation and throwing away their (and Ireland’s) resources.
Jimmy’s and his father’s actions raise the question: had they focused their money and position to aid their home country, how would the result be different? On one hand, they would have protected themselves from the financial losses that Jimmy brings upon them. Additionally, Ireland would have the resources it needs to develop. But instead, Jimmy and his father augment the capital of other countries, an investment that, according to Joyce, is likely to leave the wealthy Irishmen themselves exploited, and to offer absolutely no return for Ireland, therefore sealing its fate of economic and political paralysis.
Wealth and Greed vs. Citizenship ThemeTracker
Wealth and Greed vs. Citizenship Quotes in After the Race
In Jimmy’s house this dinner had been pronounced an occasion. A certain pride mingled with his parents’ trepidation, a certain eagerness, also, to play fast and loose for the names of great foreign cities have at least this virtue.
Jimmy, under generous influences, felt the buried zeal of his father wake to life within him: he aroused the torpid Routh at last. The room grew doubly hot and Ségouin’s task grew harder each moment: there was even danger of personal spite. The alert host at an opportunity lifted his glass to Humanity and, when the toast had been drunk, he threw open a window significantly.
Play ran very high and paper began to pass. Jimmy did not know exactly who was winning but he knew that he was losing. But it was his own fault for he frequently mistook his cards and the other men had to calculate his I.O.U.’s for him. They were devils of fellows but he wished they would stop: it was getting late.
It was a terrible game. They stopped just before the end of it to drink for luck. Jimmy understood that the game lay between Routh and Ségouin. What excitement! Jimmy was excited too; he would lose, of course. How much had he written away?