Joyce. Dubliners. Two gallants
Lenehan, Corley, the girl, the girl at the shop, a few unnamed friends of Lenehan’s.
Setting: Central Dublin, no apparent reference, except an abundance of topographic landmarks.
Time: A Sunday night in August.
The story falls very neatly into three parts : Pages 43-49: the two “gallants”, pages 49-53: Lenehan by himself, and pages 53 to 55: The two gallants again.
The story is told by an omniscient narrator, but the point of view is somewhere halfway between the omniscient narrator’s and Lenehan’s, the main character. The story is obviously filtered through Lenehan’s perceptions. Internal focalization is the term we need here. Moreover, the narrator follows Lenehan and only Lenehan, as if the camera were fixed onto that character. A good example, also, of Joyce’s ability to keep close to his characters. Even with a third-person narrative, the focalization remains strongly internal and the point of view restricted to that of the main character.
We are of course in Central Dublin, but the reader should pay attention to the numerous indications that the narrator gives about the itinerary of the main character. There are exactly 33 place and street names in the story. This might mean that the course followed by Lenehan (and Corley) bears some special significance. For one who knows Dublin, Lenehan’s peregrination will undoubtedly appear as a circular movement: he ends his journey not far from where he has begun it. This type of movement can be noticed in several of the short stories composing Dubliners, and it can also be felt in Leopold Bloom’s personal Odyssey in Ulysses. What we obviously have here is someone who goes in circles (an image that can also be found in the description of the moon on page 46, circled with a double halo,) like a hamster in its wheel. That comparison, besides, is not innocent, since there are several elements in the story that evoke imprisonment. On page 43, the streets are described as shuttered. Railings are mentioned on pages 47 and twice on page 50, and there are chains on page 49. Also note that the majority of the places indicated by Joyce in the story strongly connote British imperialism or protestantism, another way to lock the characters into a circular prison.
What is suggested by those two tracks, circularity and imprisonment, is but a variation on the paralysis theme, dear to Joyce, who saw his country as paralyzed, both by its own religious traditions and by the heritage of British colonization. This theme, suggested by Lenehan’s fruitless wandering, (p.52) is reinforced by the characteristics of the two “gallants”. The title, and the way it labels Lenehan and Corley, is ironical, since there is absolutely nothing in them that can arouse sympathy. They are directionless, have no apparent means of living, and above all, corrupt. Corley is described in a very cruel manner, and looks more like a puppet than a man: His head was large (…) and his large round hat, set upon it sideways, looked like a bulb which had grown out of another (p.45) Likewise, Lenehan is presented as someone who wants to appear younger than he is: His breeches, his white rubber shoes and his jauntily slung waterproof expressed youth. But his figure fell into rotundity at the waist, his hair was scant and grey and his face (…) had a ravaged look. (p.43) Corley’s father was an inspector of police, but he is presented as a probable police informer, thus as a traitor to his country. Lenehan is wrecked with the consciousness of his own poverty of purse and spirit. (p.51)
Yet, the crux of the story lies in the way they consider women and exploit them. Corley’s treatment of the slavey and the contempt with which he talks about her are a good example of Joyce’s analysis of the debasement of traditional Irish values. This has a political basis, since Joyce saw the degradation of Irish women by Irish men as a consequence of the emasculation of the Irish male ego by colonialism. By turning women into actual slaveys, they degrade themselves a bit further and nourish the brutish Paddy stereotype used by colonial Britons.
The corruption of the two characters is not only explicit, the way Lenehan is always pulling the devil by the tail (p.51) and the way Corley extorts sexual amusement, cigars and money from the girl, but metaphorical as well. The image of the moon, on page 46, circled by a double halo, as if to paradoxically indicate that the two characters are everything but saints, is itself corrupted, faint at first, then nearly veiled, and lastly, on page 54, invisible, since it has started to rain, the degradation of the weather like another metaphor for that of the two men. Last, Lenehan’s encounter with some of his friends on page 52 ends up in talk so idle that it cannot even be called communication.
Before dealing with the girl, let’s focus on the harp episode on page 48, which is also strongly symbolic. The return of the terms weary and wearily reinforce the feeling of paralysis that pervades the story, and the personification of the harp, itself a potent symbol of Ireland and Irishness, can be seen as a symbol of the Irish woman, naked (her coverings had fallen about her knees) and symbolically as weary of the eyes of strangers (the English) as of her master’s hands (the Irish.) Note also that Joyce’s choice of Silent, O Moyle, a song by Thomas Moore, is everything but innocent. It is deeply redolent of Irish nationalism and was one of Joyce’s favourite melodies. The symbolic importance of the harp and of the song is prolonged after the two men have left the scene: the music is described as mournful, a way to emphasize the almost-death of the protagonists, and they keep silent for a while, whereas they had been very talkative before.
The girl, however short, muscular, fat and blunt, yet presents some features that fit into a religious interpretation of the story, always linked with the social and political, of course. Although she is a slavey and has probably turned her back to dignity not only by having intercourse with the repulsive Corley, but by pilfering cigars and money from her employer for him as well, presents some troubling analogies with the Virgin Mary. First, her skirt is blue, an obvious reference to the Virgin’s symbolic colour. Then, the silver buckle of her belt seemed to depress the centre of her body, (p.49) as it is the case in every possible painting showing the Annunciation. The whiteness of her blouse may also be a sign of virginity, but the fact is that all those elements function in a paradoxical manner, since the reader knows perfectly that she is everything but a virgin, just like the two men are everything but saints. This, of course, stands for the hypocrisy of the religious system in Ireland, and the treatment it never failed to inflict on women.
Two gallants explores once again the flaws of the Irish society in Joyce’s time through the description of two young men whose opportunities have been destroyed by the system and who naturally shift their energy towards the search of easy money, drink and easy women for sex. The circular pattern of the story, the images of imprisonment and corruption, and the paradoxical religious symbols that appear in the text underline the place of religion in the system. There is little room for sympathy or optimism there, except a faint touch of identification, perhaps, between the writer and Lenehan, who both seem to be pursuing an unattainable goal.