Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The most important theme in “Two Gallants”—and it is the great theme of Dubliners (1914), the collection of which it is a part—is the way love is turned into, or perverted into, a commodity. The “gallants” do not want love but a girl who will give them money or even support them. Corley does not even want sex from his “slavey,” but the coin that she gives to him. He is, therefore, seen as a Judas who has sold out love, instead of Christ, for a coin, and he has a most willing “disciple” in Lenehan.

Another important theme is the enslavement of the Dubliners and, by extension, the Irish. First, there is a harp in the story, which is a traditional symbol for Ireland. The harp is controlled by a “master” and subject to “strangers.” This, at first, may suggest the domination of Ireland by a foreign power, such as England. However, the point that Joyce wishes to make, above all, is that the Irish have enslaved themselves. The Irish “slavey” willingly pays the coin of tribute to the “conqueror,” Corley, while his anxious collaborator, Lenehan, looks on. Corley is the “base betrayer” of his own country, and Lenehan the informer; these are familiar themes in Irish history.