Themes and Meanings
Like each of the Dubliners (1914) stories (this is the eighth of fifteen), “A Little Cloud” develops the theme of the paralysis of intellect and spirit in Dublin. In this story there are two specimens: Little Chandler the legal clerk and Gallaher the journalist. Through their occupations, they share a common professional interest in language as well as a Dublin background. Further, Gallaher has the reputation of success, and Little Chandler has ambitions as a poet. However, it is clear from the story that Chandler is emotionally limited. Gallaher is unsympathetic and crude, and each is self-deceived about his talents. Chandler’s thoughts and Gallaher’s conversation betray conventional attitudes in derivative, cliché-ridden language that belies their individual pretensions.
From the very outset, the story establishes Little Chandler’s physical, emotional, and social immaturity. He has the appearance of a child, takes his own fantasies much too seriously, shows no capacity for original thought or expression, and views the social and artistic life of Dublin from a private distance. At the same time, he pins some hopes on his reunion with Gallaher to help him break out of this condition, as Gallaher’s reputation and his invitation to Corless’s seem to promise. However, as their conversation progresses, it is clear—clearer to the reader than to Chandler—that these expectations are not to be fulfilled.
Despite his disappointment, Chandler is inclined to ignore Gallaher’s insulting behavior, and he allows the gaudy images of Gallaher’s life abroad to disconcert his own fragile self-image. Thus, at the conclusion of the story, Chandler’s rebellion against his domestic responsibilities is no wiser than was his vague discontent at the beginning.
The main focus of the story is Chandler: His life is circumscribed by his dull job, his passionless marriage, and his general insularity. The secondary focus is on Gallaher, who, for all of his vaunted talents and experience of the world, brings home nothing more than vulgarity and materialism. He makes no effort to understand or sympathize with Chandler, and finally has nothing to offer him but further reason to doubt himself. It is a measure of Little Chandler’s lack of perspective that he allows the conversation to disconcert him: Another person might...
(The entire section is 575 words.)