A Little Cloud and Counterparts: Two Faces of Paralysis

September 18, 2021 by Essay Writer

On the surface, James Joyce’s Dubliners is a collection of short stories and unrelated characters woven together only by the common element of the city of Dublin in the early 20th century. Upon closer examination, however, it is evident that each story and character is connected by the many common themes that appear in every story. The main characters of the stories “A Little Cloud” and “Counterparts” seemingly have nothing in common; Little Chandler is a quiet, artistic man who rarely drinks or strays from his usual routine, while Farrington is an impoverished alcoholic on the verge of complete disaster. Yet each man experiences agonizing feelings of paralysis and a need to escape, leading to strikingly similar epiphanies at the end of each story. After a night of drinking and introspection, both Little Chandler and Farrington come home and take out their anger on their children, symbolically expressing their frustration with themselves and their tragic lives of boredom and missed opportunities.”Little Chandler” earns his nickname not from his physical size, but because he “gave one the idea of being a little man.” (Joyce 67) Joyce paints the picture of a shy, bookish man uneasy and timid in social situations: “His hands are white and small, his frame was fragile, and his manners were refined.” (Joyce 67). Conversely, Farrington is “tall and of great bulk” with “a hanging face, dark and wine-coloured.” (Joyce 84) Little Chandler has no interest in social life and prefers to spend his time reading poetry in his quaint home, while Farrington seems to be a raging alcoholic that obviously spends any free moment in a pub. While Little Chandler is too shy to even read his favorite poems to his own wife or to meet new people, Farrington expresses his anger at his boss causing him to be fired, and heads to the nearest bar to drink and brag about it to his friends. It’s clear that on the surface, these two characters have little more in common than a job they hate and an unquenchable thirst for something more.In both stories, the setting of the office represents the paralysis that Little Chandler and Farrington feel. Both men are stuck in monotonous jobs that offer them no satisfaction except the fleeting joy of the end of the workday. Yet while these settings are similar in many ways, they demonstrate the individual problems both men have. Little Chandler is obviously a good worker with a decent job that requires some degree of education and skill, while Farrington is behind in his work, disliked by his employers, and willing to sneak out of the office for a drink at any time. Obviously Little Chandler, an intelligent man with a good background, had the option of doing something fulfilling with his life, “but shyness had always held him back.” (Joyce 68). Farrington, on the other hand, is obviously lucky to have his menial job, but can’t even do adequate work because of his personal faults of alcoholism, laziness, and ignorance.Just as the office represents paralysis in both stories, the bar room represents escape and opportunity. Both men leave work in excited anticipation of the night to follow; Little Chandler, who “drinks very little as a rule,” is more excited about seeing his now famous and successful friend Gallagher than actually going to the bar, while Farrington, after pawning his pocket watch for drinking money, simply looks forward to “drinking with his friends amid the glare of gas and the clatter of glasses.” (Joyce 72,88) Little Chandler finds escape personified in Gallagher, who has gone beyond Dublin to find happiness, and even entertains the idea of writing a poem and getting Gallagher to “get it into some London paper for him.” (Joyce 70) Farrington simply aches “for the comfort of the public-house” and, unlike Little Chandler, goes out with the predetermined goal of escaping into drunkenness in a loud and boisterous party setting. (Joyce 91)It is in the bar where each man, hoping to find comfort and at least temporary escape, instead meets with disappointment and shame. Little Chandler is easily coerced into drinking by his charismatic friend, and through the course of their conversation begins to develop feelings of shame and hostility towards Gallagher. By the end of their conversation, Little Chandler is overcome with jealousy, thinking to himself that “Gallagher was his inferior by birth and education,” and that he could easily have done “something higher than mere tawdry journalism,” if he weren’t so shy. As the night draws to an end, Little Chandler is left with a need to “vindicate himself in some way, to assert his manhood.” (Joyce 78)Farrington’s night progresses in a similar way. He is met with approval and compliments as he narrates the story of his encounter with his boss, and roams from bar to bar with his friends feeling joyful and proud. Yet towards the end of the night, he is first disappointed by an attractive young woman that shows no interest in his flirtations, then beaten in arm-wrestling by a friend. His manhood is symbolically taken from him in the most primitive way, and to top it off he didn’t even get drunk. Much like Little Chandler, he leaves for home “full of smouldering anger and revengefulness,” feeling “humiliated and discontented.” (Joyce 95)Finally, at the end of both stories we are given a glimpse of both characters’ home lives, and shown just how paralyzed they really are. Little Chandler holds his infant child and realizes that he is unhappy with everything about his life, including his wife. The baby wakens and begins crying, an obvious metaphor for the feelings that Little Chandler has been overcome with all day. The crying becomes screaming, and Little Chandler realizes that he is “a prisoner for life.” (Joyce 82) Finally, in his tragic epiphany, his frustration with himself and his situation finally bursts out in a shout at his helpless child.Farrington’s epiphany is strikingly similar, but the differences in the final scene of “A Little Cloud” and “Counterparts” demonstrate how the theme of paralysis differs in both stories. Whereas timid Little Chandler expresses his anger through a simple shout and instantly feels more ashamed and pitiful, Farrington clings to a ridiculous excuse to resort to violence against his young child. Little Chandler is simply overcome by the emotions that he’s pent up for so long, and we are shown his remorse afterwards as he realizes the error of his ways. Farrington, whom we already know is brutish and unintelligent, finds release and joy in the screams of his young boy as he beats him senselessly, asserting his manliness in the only way he knows how.In a strange way, Farrington and Little Chandler are “counterparts”. While they have completely opposite personalities, they arrive at the same end through different means. Little Chandler is the man that Farrington would be if he weren’t paralyzed by his own ignorance and alcoholism; Farrington is the man Little Chandler would be if he weren’t paralyzed by painful shyness and delicate sensitivity. It seems as if Joyce deliberately placed the two stories in succession, and even titled the second one “Counterparts,” to show the paralysis and lack of fulfillment that plagues all of Dublin: the rich as well as poor, the educated as well as the ignorant, and the strong as well as the weak.

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