A Little Cloud: Summary and Analysis
Little Chandler: Thirty-ish clerk and amateur poet
Ignatius Gallaher: Little Chandler’s school friend, now a journalist living in London
Little’s Wife (Annie) and Baby Son
Little Chandler, a 30-year-old legal clerk, is anticipating his evening meeting with Ignatius Gallaher, a friend from his youth. In the eight years since they’ve seen each other, Gallaher has moved to London to become a journalist, a situation which both impresses Little and makes him envious. He covets Gallaher’s freedom to travel as well as his career as a writer. As he prepares for their meeting, Little allows himself to hope that Gallaher might be able to help him launch a literary career as a poet, perhaps even outside of Dublin.
Gallaher, however, talks mostly about himself—not about Little’s literary ambitions—and Chandler finds his manner slightly vulgar, especially when discussing the immorality that abounds abroad. After several more drinks than Little’s customary number, they discuss Little’s wife and baby son. Although Gallaher congratulates him he swears that he would never marry and, at the end of their last drink, patronizes the entire notion of marriage.
When Chandler returns home he argues with his wife about a petty complaint and she leaves him with the baby to run an errand. Alone with his son, Chandler begins to resent and regret the different elements of his life that he believes are holding him back. As Little reads poetry and considers the likelihood of a career as a writer, his child wakes up screaming and cannot be comforted. His wife returns, furious that Little has disturbed the child. As she comforts the baby, Little’s own eyes begin to fill with tears.
Joyce drew the title for this story from I Kings 18:44. The prophet Elijah, having defeated false prophets and returned his people to the Lord, announces that the end of a long drought is at hand: “there ariseth a little cloud out of the sea, like a man’s hand.” The long drought of Little Chandler’s life and career, however, shows no sign of ending in the story.
Throughout the story, Thomas Chandler is described in infantile terms, highlighting for the reader his ineffectual presence. He is “fragile,” his voice “quiet,” and he has “childish white teeth.” His nickname, of course, articulates his overly-boyish qualities, as do the author’s descriptions of his “infant hope” and adolescent shyness both with Gallaher and his wife.
Little dreams of being a poet, but even his dreams are unassuming: “If he could give expression to it in a book of poems perhaps men would listen,” he thinks, and longs to establish a “little circle of kindred minds.” (emphasis added) It’s clear to the reader that Little has dim hopes of taking the literary world by storm; the author tells us that “he was not sure what idea he wished to express” with his writing, and his career as a poet (and the poems themselves) are sketchily conceived. His reading of Byron at the story’s end and his longing to “write like that” are absurd given his nature; Byron’s romantic and daring persona represent the complete antithesis of Little’s juvenile character and bearing.
When we meet at last the highly-anticipated Ignatius Gallaher, we can see immediately that he offers no hope in amending Little’s dilemma. Crude, unhealthy-looking, and boorish, Gallaher seems to have returned to “dear dirty Dublin” merely to patronize the city and brag to his awestruck friends. Gallaher is portrayed as a non-believer and drunkard. When Little questions him timidly about the immoral nature of Paris, Gallaher makes a “catholic gesture with his right arm,” as if blessing the tawdriness found on the continent. Gallaher also encourages Little to “liquor up” beyond his ability, and Little—in an attempt to impress Gallaher with his manliness—drinks beyond his measure. For his part, Gallaher is described by Joyce as “emerging from clouds of...
(The entire section is 1,250 words.)