Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

This story, like all those in Dubliners, displays a high degree of realistic exactitude while at the same time maintaining a firmly controlled sense of design and symbol. The narrator’s point of view, moreover, is nicely poised between the idiom of the characters—which verges on caricature—and the language of subtle irony.

First, it reports accurately the geography, architecture, and atmosphere of turn-of-the-century Dublin: the details of Chandler’s route to his meeting with Gallaher (he is, in fact, literally drawing nearer to London), the townhouses of the former aristocracy that have become shabby tenements, and the exclusive reputation of Corless’s. On this level alone, Joyce’s and Little Chandler’s notions of artistic integrity are a world apart.

Second, the story is told in a dialectical progression of three scenes: the first, presenting Chandler’s eager anticipation of Gallaher; the second, the unhappy reality revealed at Corless’s; and the third, the conflict in Chandler’s feelings set up by the contrast between these perspectives. Each of these scenes follows a consistent progression in subject: from particular considerations of Gallaher, to Chandler himself, to general reflections on “life,” ending with a retreat to “art.” The rhythm of this development suggests Chandler’s inability to draw any coherent or expressible conclusion from his actual experience.

Third, the language and symbology of the story suggest the theme of false feeling and forced manner. Both characters think and speak in clichés, as can be seen, for example, in the quality of mind attributed to Chandler in the opening paragraph and in the way in which Gallaher, in the middle scene, greets the news of his friend’s marriage. A pattern of symbols and allusions suggests Gallaher’s exaggeration and vulgarity: his orange tie, his ordering “whisky,” and his ostentatious use of Gaelic and French expressions. Finally, these images are complemented in the concluding paragraphs as Little Chandler hears his wife’s soothing words to their child: They remind him that he is a man of little consequence.