32 pages 1 hour read

James Joyce

The Sisters

Fiction | Short Story | Adult | Published in 1904

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Symbols & Motifs


The chalice is a symbol of the eucharist, the ritual in the Roman Catholic mass in which the priest transforms bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ. A traditional and key Catholic belief is that this transformation is actual rather than symbolic, so the objects must be treated with extreme reverence. The chalice is the ceremonial cup used to hold the wine in this ritual. The chalice appears twice in “The Sisters,” first when the narrator views Flynn’s body—“There he lay, solemn and copious, vested as for the altar, his large hands loosely retaining a chalice” (181-83)—and in Eliza’s anecdote near the conclusion of the story in which Father Flynn has broken a chalice. After her distracted pause in the conversation, Eliza suggests: “—It was that chalice he broke. […] That was what was the beginning of it” (282-83). In that anecdote, the breaking of the empty chalice is described as the beginning of the end, marking Father Flynn’s decline, after which he “began to mope by himself, talking to no-one and wandering about by himself” (289-91). The chalice in “The Sisters” thereby takes on a layered sense of symbolism: first, the already loaded