October 21, 1995
James Joyce’s “A Little Cloud,” depicts the world through the eyes of an Irish working-class man. It is a story about one man’s failure to achieve his dreams and aspirations. The narration and setting work together to describe Little Chandler and his failure in attaining his dreams. Each landscape Joyce describes is written with a slant reflecting Little Chandler’s present mood while the characterization of Chandler and Ignatius Gallaher play off the irony that Chandler can never become what Gallaher has become, no matter how hard he tries.
Joyce contrasts two characters within his story. The first one, Little Chandler is portrayed as being “little” due to his physique. “His hands were white, and small, his frame was fragile, his voice quiet and his manners refined” (142). This is an almost too perfect description of a little man. However, the description leaves out the real reason for his being called “little.” Throughout the narrative the narratee sees Chandler for what he really is, timid and shy. Little Chandler is “little” because he has failed to attain his goal of writing poetry and becoming a successful poet. Instead he deludes himself by creating up fancy bylines and praise from his London critics (144).
Little Chandler, in his imagination, fashions his poetry to be, “wistful” with a touch of “grace and beauty.” Furthermore, he desires to blend his half breed British heritage with “the Celtic note.” This, along with his thinking of Irish sounding conjunctives to add to his surname shows his desire of being full Irish instead of accepting his half-bred heritage.
Joyce includes this important information to show the narratee what is important to Chandler. He is more afraid of what the English public will say than he is concerned with what he wants to say in his poetry. Rather than sitting down and writing poems for publishing, Chandler spends most of his time dreaming about this future. His job and his family are depressing him, he would rather be rich and famous like all the British writers (142). All of his dreams of becoming a poet have accumulated in a fantasy world in which he doesn’t want shattered. He desires the outward life of a poet, yet he is afraid of being rejected and because of this, he is more apt to not show or talk to others about these aspirations. Chandler’s thoughts toward his current situation are conjured up by a visitation from Ignatius Gallaher, an old friend who’s moved into England.
The narratee’s first glimpse of Gallaher is rather dull. He is an Irishman seeking fame and fortune in England. He speaks of life in France, Germany, and England and shows off a little of his capacity for the French language. The most striking descriptive detail of Gallaher is that he wears an orange tie, signifying his desire to forget his Irish heritage and become a British patriot (145). This story was written in the early 1910’s when Britain and Ireland disagreed with one another; therefore, this metaphor represents the very heart of what Chandler desires to become, more like Gallaher.
This image also reflects the tension between Chandler and Gallaher, and Gallaher’s impact on Chandler. The tensions between the two friends is caused in part by the differences of having lived in two separate countries, each having their own customs and value systems. “Gallaher’s accent and way of expressing himself did not please him. There was something vulgar in his friend which he had not observed before” (146). Gallaher, since his departure from Ireland, has become rather outspoken and rude which Chandler admits to but later dismisses it “as the result of living in London” (146).
However, the real reason behind the tension is due to the fact that Chandler is jealous of Gallaher no matter what his friend’s attitude is like. Throughout the discussion he looks “at his friend enviously” (146) and also remarks on how “it (the fact that Gallaher succeeds and not him) seemed to him unjust. Gallaher was his inferior in birth and education. He was sure that he could do something better than his friend had ever done” (148). Here, the narratee can plainly see Chandler’s jealousy of Gallaher. It is interesting to note that Chandler gives himself a motivation to become something better than Gallaher but never finishes through with the actions required to secure the dream, namely writing poems.
Gallaher is a foil character to Chandler, and at times it seems as if Gallaher is a distorted mirror reflection of Chandler. For, each represents things that the other desires (and in some cases have already attained). Not only is Chandler jealous of his friend for becoming what he desires- a writer, but his boldness and outlook towards life also cause Chandler to be jealous.
Gallaher motivates Chandler to think about his life in ways that he probably wouldn’t have begun to. Gallaher’s opinion of women and marriage, illustrated on page 149, later sparks Chandler’s rational behind his inability to “do anything” (151). Chandler’s realization of this inability, in turn, causes him to reflect on his life and its accomplishments. Which, at that moment, are devoted to his wife, child, and work. This thinking about life also reflects on his inner life as a poet, for he realizes that he has failed to reach his dreams and goals. If these goals and aspirations weren’t important to him then he wouldn’t be feeling in this manner. Joyce’s unique use of narration help to place Chandler’s characterization into a unsympathetic perspective.
Narration allows the reader to see into the characters’ minds removing the visage each character wears. The narration shows the truth behind Gallaher’s success. In London, Gallaher is nothing compared to the other journalists, this being implied by Gallaher’s constant reference to his gladness for being back in Dublin where he is hero- worshipped by Chandler. He is all talk and probably has made up most of his fantastic stories. In trying to soothe his jealousy for Gallaher and all that he represents, Chandler reflects upon his thoughts of superiority to him.
As for Little Chandler, himself, the narration works to open his eyes to the fact that he hasn’t attained his dreams and that he is littler than his nickname suggests. He is Little because he refuses to stand up and speak out for himself and his beliefs. Pages 150-151 describe his beliefs and thoughts and proves to the narratee that he does indeed want to be published. But, the fact remains that he has yet to write any or is unable to get over his shyness to read preprinted poems to his wife or peers (150). Therefore he is “a prisoner for life,” just as Joyce suggests because he is too small to act and achieve all that he desires. In addition to narration the setting of “A Little Cloud” helps to define Chandler’s attitude toward his situation.
Three different settings are portrayed, all written with a slant towards reflecting Little Chandler’s present mood. When each scene is described, objectivity becomes obscured since Joyce’s descriptions constantly refer back to the thoughts and feelings Chandler has throughout the narrative. Granting the narrator permission to describe the setting in this manner Joyce allows the narratee to understand why Chandler has failed to escape from reality and pursue his dreams as a writer, despite the fact that he has failed to notice these important connections. Working along with characterization, the setting provides Joyce with a medium to describe the true personality of his characters as well as reasons for their fame and failure.
Capel Street’s setting, as described on pages 143-44, reflects what Little Chandler is presently thinking about. “It was his habit to walk swiftly in the street even by day and whenever he found himself in the city late at night he hurried on his way apprehensively and excitedly.” Here Little Chandler’s innate trait of shyness directly affects how the reader sees the Dublin streets. Each passer-by is foreign to him, a potential threat. Therefore, he is apt to avoid the larger streets and makes his way around town by the way of “the darkest and narrowest streets” (143). This scene is essential because it show the narratee the real reason for Chandler’s nickname of “Little.” Because he escapes into the darkness, away from unsuspecting conflicts he is admitting to the fact that he is timid of others and thus untrustworthy in his perceptions of others.
Upon entering the bar, “the light and noise of the bar held him at the doorway for a few moments” (144). Chandler, enraptured by the atmosphere within the barroom draws himself back from the doorway before he enters into the room. Only after he sets his bearings straight does he enter the room where once again he is swept away by the festivities. It seems odd, at this point that Chandler, already excited by the visitation, would pause at a moment such as this. Why does he allow himself this brief pause and then continue? Since Chandler is so shy and scared at the prospect of failure he has to correct himself, a sort of “setting himself up to take the fall” when it comes. The narration then continues the description of the barroom and through Joyce’s choice of diction it is alluded that the narrator is speaking through a filter of Chandler’s mind. There are many cases where the narrator makes a statement that could have been said by Chandler himself. At one point the narrator refers to Chandler’s glancing quickly and his sight being confused by “the shining of many red and green wineglasses” (145). This scene is reminiscent of a rat trapped in a corner with no noticeable escape route. His fear is visible at this point but curiosity and excitement keep him from leaving.
Once more this style of narration is repeated in Chandler’s description of his wife and child, where the reader sees another instance of the setting clouded by Chandler’s judgement. While his wife is away at the store leaving him to care for their child, Chandler becomes distracted by a picture of her. Chandler, who loves his wife, notices something in this picture for the first time. This picture, more specifically, the eyes of his wife in the picture suddenly “repelled and defiled him: there was no passion in them…no rapture” (150). Up until this point, Chandler’s life has been very idyllic. Each and every moment is accounted for and contains some satisfaction or happiness. Now the veil has been lifted and he sees his wife, for the first time, through the truth of her being.
As Chandler recollects the memory of when he gave her the sweater, worn in the picture, he realizes that she is not as lovely as he once saw her (150). Continuing in this train of thought he looks around the room. The furniture he was once proud of having is now seen as reflecting the coldness of his wife’s eyes (150). The sweater and all the furniture are symbolic of prizes she has won in her fulfillment of her desires. Once again Chandler’s wife is a source of jealousy for even she reflects the ability of dream attainment which everyone in Joyce’s story seems to have done, except for Chandler himself.
His anger towards Gallaher along with his questioning of the reasons for his marriage cause him to realize the flaw in his life, his dream of becoming someone- all forgotten because of his marriage to his wife Annie. His reminiscing then reflects back upon the conversation he and Gallaher had about marriage and Gallaher’s beliefs of marrying a woman for money (149). To him this also makes the rational behind Anne’s marriage to him clearer, for his money and ability to hold a stable income. Quickly he begins to ask questions of himself to find that route of escape, to write that book, to become someone (150-151). However for all this effort he is stuck in his old ways of thinking, he has learned nothing, and for this reason alone he is trapped within a prison created by his abandonment of his dreams. With this realization the story closes, leaving Chandler to face his shattered dreams.
Setting, along with astute characterization leads Chandler as well as the narratee to this awakening. The use of characterization and setting achieves Joyce’s goal of describing the triumphs and failure within the human spirit. Having the narrative written in such a fashion works to allow the reader into the lives of the characters within, while still being somewhat reliable in telling the events that unfold in the story. Joyce’s use of describing the setting through Chandler’s filter also allows the reader to grasp information about the characters that would otherwise be hidden if told from a different point of view. Irony is evident in the story not only in the names of the characters but in the fact that each person has something that the other is aspiring to be. Chandler desires Gallaher’s courage and ability to be a journalist /writer, whereas Gallaher desires to be more British, something that Chandler was born with. What is even more ironic is the fact that neither character realizes the humor of their situation. “A Little Cloud,” in all that it illustrates, has proven to be a sign of the coming storm.