Friday, October 5, 2012

James Joyce's Dubliners--"A Little Cloud" and "Counterparts"

In "A Little Cloud" and "Counterparts," Joyce continues to explore the experience of Dublin from the point of view of different stages of life.  The main characters in both stories are married men with children who find their lives stifling, and they both vent their frustrations on their sons.

"A Little Cloud" begins with Littler Chandler, a small fastidious man, eagerly going to meet an old friend Gallaher, who went to London and became a successful journalist.  On his way to the meeting, Little Chandler fantasizes about his own creative ambition, imagining himself as a celebrated Irish poet, hoping the Gallaher might give him some help. He arrives at the fashionable restaurant for his meeting, timid and confused by his surroundings, and his friend Gallaher calls him over for a drink.  Although Chandler has been fantasizing and romanticizing his friend's life, Joyce's unflattering depiction of Gallaher brings him down to earth.  Gallaher's face is "heavy, pale" with an "unhealthy pallor." He is balding, unlike Chandler, on account of the "hurry and scurry" of press life "pulling [him] down." Yet, as the friends' discussion evolves, Chandler asks enviously about the exotic places Gallaher has visited, like Paris (although it's clear that he would never enjoy Paris--he's too timid and squeamish to take part in the life of the city).  Gallaher talks of his travels in Paris, then asks Little Chandler about his wife and son.  Chandler is at first shy but proud when discussing his family, but when Gallaher notes he does not intend to marry, Chandler takes subtle offence.  His feelings are exacerbated when Gallaher declines to spend an evening with Chandler's family, then again when Gallaher insists he will only marry for money, and suggests that marriage can "get a bit stale." When Little Chandler returns home, his wife leaves him with their baby while she runs an errand.  He looks critically at her picture, imagining that her eyes are cold, not passionate.  He takes down a book of Byron's poetry and tries to read it, to see if he could be a poet.  But after only a few lines, the baby starts to cry.  Chandler feebly tries to comfort his son, and continue reading the poem, but it's useless.  Feeling imprisoned by his domestic life, Chandler screams at "Stop it!" at his baby's face, and his infant son begins to scream even louder.  When his wife returns, she angrily asks what he has done to upset the baby, and he insists he didn't do anything.  He quietly weeps with shame and remorse.

Dublin, Ireland

In "Counterparts," Mr. Farrington works as a lowly clerk at an office.  His boss, Mr. Alleyne, angrily summons him to his office to tear him apart for his shoddy work. Angry and humiliated, Farrington sneaks out for a quick glass of porter to improve his mood.  But the alcohol makes him even more careless and sloppy at his job; when Mr. Alleyne again criticizes him, Farrington replies by mocking him.  Forced to make an abject apology, he grimly notes that Alleyne will likely try to drive him out of his job.  Now completely unable to focus, Farrington leaves without finishing the work he was meant to do, and pawns his watch for money so he can get drunk.  As the night wears on, Farrington suffers several more humiliations: the actress he'd been eyeing ignores him, then he loses an arm-wrestling contest.  On his way home, he angrily reflects that he has spend all his money and doesn't even feel drunk.  When he arrives home, neither his wife nor his supper are waiting for him.  Instead, his young son comes running down the stairs to tell him his wife is at chapel, furthering enraging his father.  The hapless boy was supposed to cook his father's dinner, but he has let the fire go out (likely because it got so late at night).  Finally, Mr. Farrington vents his rage by grabbing his young son and mercilessly beating him with a walking stick.  

Like Little Chandler, Mr. Farrington is frustrated with his life, especially his miserable job.  Both men are also unable to recognize that it's their own flaws that have trapped them in their lives.  Chandler is timid and weak--he could never be a poet because he is too afraid to take risks or immerse himself in life.  He married a prim, pretty woman because she felt safe, and gave up his chance for passion.  Mr. Farrington is failing at his job because he is an alcoholic, yet his failure only drives him to drink more voraciously.  Instead of confronting their own failures, both men blame their helpless sons.  Chandler had never written a single poem in the years before his son was born, and his book of Byron had sat on his shelf for years.  Why then, did he decide that his infant was what kept him from his fantasy?  Why not wait to read the poem when his wife got home? It's easier to blame someone else, especially someone who can't defend themselves.  Likewise, instead of admitting that his humiliations are his own doing, Farrington savagely attacks his child on the flimsiest of excuses. The haunting title of the story,"Counterparts," suggests that Farrington has humiliated his own son just as he had been, thus inflicting his rage and violence on the next generation.

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