Summary (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
The action of “Counterparts,” one of James Joyce’s Dubliners stories, occurs during a February afternoon and evening in the life of a lawyer’s scrivener in Dublin. Farrington, the heavyset protagonist, is frustrated by his demeaning, monotonous job of copying legal documents. Mr. Alleyne, his boss, chastises him for taking an extended lunch hour, and rather than complete the work in hand, Farrington slips away from his desk to a nearby pub for a quick mid-afternoon drink.
Unable to finish the task before closing time, he turns it in two documents short while attempting to conceal his negligence. This time he is reprimanded by Mr. Alleyne for the compounded dereliction before his fellow clerks and an attractive, wealthy client. Faced with this public humiliation and affected by the combination of alcohol and suppressed rage, he blunders into an impertinent and accidentally witty answer, which sinks him in deeper trouble: He may now lose his job.
To drown these accumulated anxieties, when his workday is over he pawns his watch and spends the proceeds boozing with his pals. His embellished retelling of the confrontation with Mr. Alleyne earns for him their temporary admiration. As the evening progresses, however, and as they move from bar to bar, he pays for almost all the alcohol consumed in his honor, feels snubbed by a passing actress, and is defeated in Indian wrestling by an English vaudeville acrobat. He feels abused, cheated, and betrayed. When he finally arrives late that night at his cold, dark home to find his wife away at church, he turns in violent exasperation on his own son as the most convenient victim of his accumulated anger.