Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Farrington is Joyce’s most brutal creation. Evidently devoid of redeeming social or personal qualities, he does not appear to be respected by anyone. His relationships at work and home are marked by threats, evasion, and fear. His leads a life of desperate routine, never realizing an ennobling or liberating moment. Instead, he escapes into the temporary and insincere refuge of his drinking friends. The mood of the story suggests that their fates are very much like his: Their evening together does not lead to enlightenment or solidarity; rather, it is the occasion of mutual exploitation. Thus, when Farrington at the end of the story realizes his abandonment, his sadistic response amounts to an implicit admission of self-hatred. The design of the story, however, suggests that Farrington is not really a free agent and is not fully responsible for his actions.

“Counterparts” is Joyce’s portrait of alienated labor. Farrington has little or no control over his own life, and his work is utterly mechanical and repetitious. His employers clearly belong to a higher social class—as various details, such as the hats and the accents, attest—and they deal imperiously with their employees, as shown by the two dramatic encounters in the first part of the story. Farrington’s work, moreover, is the mind-numbing transcription of legal documents that mean nothing to him. He is kept to this treadmill by sheer intimidation, but the reader sees his mind and...

(The entire section is 570 words.)