The Boarding House

by James Joyce

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Student Question

How is Farrington’s son's plea in "Counterparts" from Joyce's Dubliners ironic, and what does it criticize? How does the story depict the Irish national condition and character?

Quick answer:

In "Counterparts" by James Joyce, Farrington’s boy’s plea is ironic because it comes as a response to a beating by his dad, who’s only recently lost an arm-wrestling bout to a “mere boy.” The ending is a criticism of the inability of Irish people to break out of their paralysis. Instead of doing something about his life, Farrington takes out his frustrations on his son. In his paralysis, Farrington can be seen as an allegory of the Irish national character.

Expert Answers

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After drowning his sorrows at a pub after work, the lowly scrivener Farrington makes his lonely way home, where he proceeds to take out his frustrations on his son, whom he subjects to a savage beating. What is ironic here is that, only recently, Farrington was embarrassingly defeated in an arm-wrestling contest in the pub by a “mere boy.”

Everything in Farrington’s life appears to be going wrong, not least his job, which it looks as if he’s about to lose for sloppiness and insubordination. To be sure, Farrington thoroughly hates the monotonous drudgery he’s forced to perform every day, but he still doesn’t want to lose his job. One gets the impression that he won’t be able to find an alternative source of employment any time soon.

Like most of the characters in Dubliners, Farrington’s life situation stands as an allegory for the condition of Ireland as Joyce saw it. To him, the country was mired in cultural paralysis; it was a remote backwater isolated from the rest of Europe, and firmly under the thumb of the Catholic Church. Farrington, like Ireland, makes no real effort to improve his lot. Nor does he lift a finger to escape his mindless existence of drink and drudgery. Instead, he’d much rather take out all his pent-up frustrations on his son as a way of reasserting some measure of control over his life.

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