Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Joyce uses a number of styles in “Two Gallants.” There is, first, the formal and evocative style of the third-person narrator that is used to set up romantic expectations. Describing the lamps of a Dublin street as “illumined pearls” is a good example of this style. In contrast, these expectations are violated by the clichés of Lenehan: “That takes the biscuit!” Almost every sentence of Lenehan’s conversation contains a cliché. More important, however, is the low and crude style of Corley. His many references to women as “fine tarts” are examples of this style. His advice to Lenehan on how a gallant should behave shows the reader what they are really like: “There’s nothing to touch a good slavey,” he affirms, “Take my tip on it.”

There are two significant symbols in “Two Gallants.” The first is the reference to the harp. The harpist is weary, and “His harp too, heedless that her covering had fallen about her knees, seemed weary alike of the eyes of strangers and of her master’s hand.” The harp, which is given female characteristics, is unable to transcend her condition. This symbol contrasts to one of the great symbols of Ireland, Cathleen ni Houlihan, who is transformed from an old servant to a grand and beautiful lady when revolution breaks out. However, there is no revolt in Joyce’s story; the harp remains sunken in weariness and oppression.

The most important technique in the story is the use of a Joycean epiphany. An epiphany is a “showing forth,” a revelation of what a character or his or her situation is. This epiphany can be made by the character or the reader. In “Two Gallants” the characters are totally unaware of their true situation. It is the reader who, in a negative epiphany, recognizes the “coin” in the hands of Corley as a sign of the true nature of these Dublin gallants.