An Encounter: Summary and Analysis
Narrator: boy, 8–9 years old
Mahoney: school friend of the narrator
Leo Dillon: school friend of the narrator
Joe Dillon: Leo’s brother
Older Man in Field: quite likely a sexual pervert
The narrator of this story is once again a boy around eight or nine years old (possibly the same boy as in the previous story, but not specified), who loves reading stories of the Wild West and American detective tales. Although he acts out some of these western adventures with his friends, he feels stifled by both these childish games and school. With his two friends, Leo Dillon and Mahoney, the narrator plans to skip school for one day and have a real adventure in Dublin. Each puts in a sixpence to fund the adventure and they agree to meet in the morning.
When Leo Dillon fails to show up (presumably out of cowardice), Mahoney decides that he has forfeited his sixpence and the two split the extra money. They wander the quays and buy snacks, but the boys feel vaguely dissatisfied with their escapade. As the time for their return home draws nearer, they sit aimlessly in a field while Mahoney tries to slingshot a cat.
An older, dishevelled-looking man approaches them and begins to make conversation, asking them about school, books, and girlfriends. Though bored, they respond politely, but the narrator is made uneasy by the man, while Mahoney more or less disregards him. After the conversation turns back to school children, the older man excuses himself and retreats to the edge of the field where Mahoney spots him either urinating or masturbating (written in 1905, the story would not have been published if the act had been more carefully described). Mahoney sees him in the act, but the narrator doesn’t look up, even when Mahoney speaks out in alarm. The narrator then suggests that if the older man asks their names, they give him aliases.
After he returns to the narrator, the older man speaks even more animatedly about boys and their proper punishments, and the narrator makes up his mind to leave. Calling out to his friend (using the alias), the narrator is greatly relieved when the friend responds, even though he admits to the reader that he’s never liked Mahoney very much.
The narrator of this story, possibly the same narrator as in the previous story, seeks a life of adventure and fulfillment; he looks westward, at the Wild West, realizing that “real adventures do not happen to those who remain at home.” James Joyce realized this in his own life and fled Ireland, but the narrator—too young to flee—seeks adventure through the imagination and through literature, which “opened doors of escape” from his dreary schoolboy life. Still, detective stories and westerns can’t sate his desire for experience, and he longs for an event that goes beyond play-acting and stories.
Stanislaus Joyce writes in his memoir that his brother based this story loosely on a day in their youth when the boys skipped school and met an elderly eccentric in their wanderings (62). However, the story resonates far beyond a day’s “miching.” The suggestion of perversion, following on the previous story, darkens the theme of “The Sisters” and augments the vulnerability of this story’s narrator.
The other key theme in “An Encounter” is that of deception and betrayal, which pervades virtually every element in the story and many others throughout Dubliners.
In order to experience “real adventure,” the narrator, Leo Dillon, and Mahoney must deceive the school as well as their families. To secure the plot, the boys each pledge a sixpence; Leo Dillon, however, is too nervous to follow through with the plot and therefore forfeits his money. The narrator sees the forfeiture as somehow unfair to their friend, but Mahoney justifies it without troubling his conscience. Earlier, the narrator comments that “the confused puffy face awakened one of my consciences.” Again, the specter of Leo Dillon troubles the narrator—he knows the act...
(The entire section is 1,274 words.)