Middle of Nowhere Productions

Middle of Nowhere Productions

Joyce. Dubliners. Counterparts

Counterparts p.82.

 

 

Characters

The main character is Farrington, but there is a fair number of other characters, that can be classified in three series according to the places in which the story takes place: the office (Crosby & Alleyne,) the public houses (O’Neill’s, Davy Byrne’s, the Scotch House, and Mulligan’s,) then Farrington’s home. One character stands out in each place: Mr Alleyne at the office, Weathers at the pubs, and Farrington’s son at Farrington’s place.

What is at stake is the life of Farrington, once again described in a very bitter and cruel manner by Joyce. The theme is the same as all of the stories in Dubliners: paralysis, and the incapacity of the characters to extricate themselves from their rather dreadful lives.

 

Setting & Time

The story is contained within half a day: an afternoon at the office, with an intermezzo at a pub, followed by an evening in the pubs, and a short, yet poignant episode at home. The places have already been enumerated, and what comes out of this is, as it is often the case in Dubliners, is a snapshot of urban Irish everyday life.

 

Narration

From the beginning to the end of the story, the narrative voice shifts continually from that of an omniscient narrator to an internal focalization that is exclusively centered on Farrington, the main character.

 

Development

Two main themes criss-cross the story, like two leitmotivs: alcohol and violence. What Joyce has in mind is once again a satire of two worn-out colonial archetypes of the Irish: they drink a lot and they are prone to start fisticuffs (remember Jack Mooney in The boarding house.) For Farrington, the only way out of his miserable existence is either drinking or fighting. The very first mention of alcohol in the story is not direct, but concerns Farrington’s appearance: his face is wine-coloured (82,) as if he was, either genetically or through habit, literally alcoholic. Violence and drink reappear on pages 83 (A spasm of rage gripped his throat, (…) leaving after it a sharp sensation of thirst,) on page 84 (he must slake the thirst in his throat (…) his inflamed face, the colour of dark wine or dark meat,) on page 85(he longed to spend it in the bars, drinking with his friends,) on page 86 (his mind wandered away to the rattle and glare of the public house. It was a night for hot punches –note the double meaning of the latter- violently, revel in violence, was set for a spell of riot,) on page 88 (he felt savage and thirsty,(…) aching for the comfort of the public house,) then in situ for four pages, 89 to 92. It starts again on page 93 (full of smouldering anger and revengefulness (…) He began to feel thirsty again (…) a woman who bullied him when he was sober and was bullied by him when he was drunk.) Violence culminates of course in the appalling final scene, when Farrington beats his son viciously with a walking stick (94.) This repetitive pattern, moreover, is reminiscent of Farrington’s job, itself a repetitive one since his task consists in copying the same documents over and over again. The combination of the two may remind of the myth of Sisyphus: Farrington is unable to fulfil his professional duty and he will prove in the long run equally unable to achieve his drinking ambitions: and he did not even feel drunk (93.)

Another latent theme is sex. Three women are mentioned in the story, among whom two in praesentia: Mrs Delacour and the woman at Mulligan’s (p.91.) The third is Farrington’s absent wife Ada. The relationship between Farrington and all of the three women highlight his impotence, which is not only the fact that he is bullied at work and incapable of having a decent professional life, but literally incapable of achieving any recognition of any woman. The story does not reveal that Farrington is attracted by Mrs Delacour, but Joyce’s insistence on her smell makes it quite obvious, as if the woman was a pheromone factory, and Mr Alleyne’s obvious sexual interest for her, coupled with the pleasure he gets by humiliating Farrington in her presence, paradoxically indicates Farrington’s interest for her. On the contrary, his interest for the woman at Mulligan is explicit: Farrington gazed admiringly at her plump arm etc. (91) but even though she answered his gaze, she does not look back at him when she leaves the public house. As concerns Ada, her absence and their exchange of violence speak for themselves.

 

The underlying theme of paralysis is exploited through both Farrington’s professional incompetence and his incapacity to respond to Mr Alleyne’s repeated scoldings. It is interesting to note here the subtle way Joyce introduces one of his major aims, the criticism of the British colonial influence on his fellow-Irishmen: Farrington’s workmates and boss all have English or non-Irish names (Parker, Higgins, Shelley.) The description of Mr Alleyne, although very cruel, clearly opposes his Englishness to Farrington’s caricatural Irishness (his great body (88)) : a little man wearing gold-rimmed glasses on a clean-shaven face (…) the head (…) seemed like a large egg reposing on the papers. The same opposition is marked again when Farrington is defeated at arm-wrestling by Weathers, whose complexion is also pale (92;) Weathers is obviously an Englishman by name, and is furthermore presented as someone who protests that the hospitality is too Irish (90.) At the end of the story, when Farrington goes back home, he passes the barracks that house British soldiers on Shelbourne Road, another symbol of domination. Mrs Delacour is not specifically connoted as British, but as Jewish, but it boils down to the same, since there is no authentic Jewish presence in Ireland; if there were Jews in Ireland, they were British ones. Last, but not least, before the woman with the peacock-blue scarf leaves Mulligan’s, she says O, pardon! In a London accent (91.)

 

It has already been noted that the two causes of Irish paralysis aimed at by Joyce were Britain and the Catholic church. Unsurprisingly, but the reader must wait till the end of the story to see it surface, Joyce does not forget the church as a paralysing element in the story. Even though this appearance is short, one could dub it terminal for its violence and bluntness:

Where’s your mother?

She’s out at the chapel.

That’s right…. (93)

The presence of an extra suspension mark is important, since it marks a great deal of silence after Farrington’s acknowledgement of his wife’s preferences, and gives more weight to the reason of her absence, but the conclusion of the story is even more poignant in its treatment of religious faith: Farrington’s son, in a way that reminds of Father Flynn, the simoniac, tries desperately to trade prayers for clemency. The boy’s desperate repetition of I’ll say a Hail Mary for you, three times, conveys a pathetic image of religion, and the image of the family is not presented in a better way, since Farrington cannot even tell one son from the other.

 

Conclusion

The image of a paralysed society is here pushed to its paroxysm in the pitiless description of petty lives. Farrington stands out as a caricature of the Irishman, big-bodied, stupid, lazy, frustrated, violent, impotent and utterly incapable of escaping his fate. More, he employs all his energy trying to make it worse. Emasculated by the British, his wife more interested in religious practises than in the conjugal life, he eventually, and pathetically transmits his misery and violence to his male progeny by making it the last link of the violence chain, the one that will pay for the oppression, the forthcoming element of the vicious circle, the ultimate and useless counterpart.

 



20/11/2009
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