A little cloud - James Joyce

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The title
A little Cloud may be taken from the Bible (I Kings !8, 44). The little cloud in the Bible puts an end to a long period of drought. Here it could refer to the presence of Gallagher who seems to cast a little cloud over Little Chandler’s life. Anyway it can represent anything that obscures and casts shadows of gloom trouble and suspicion. So it is a sign of hope but of hope deluded. It can also point to Little Chandler’s character, a “little cloud”, like a storm in a tea-cup.
Eight years ago Little Chandler, the main character of the story, saw his friend Gallagher off at the North Wall ; he was escaping to London probably because he had trouble with the police. Gallagher went off to London, and since then has become a great journalist. Chandler is to meet him that night, and he’s growing increasingly excited.
He’s called “Little Chandler” despite his more or less average height because he gives the impression of being small and childlike. He works at his desk in King’s Inns, where he is employed as a clerk most of the time, thinking of people outside the office window and the melancholy of life. He has books of poetry on his shelves at home; sometimes he is seized by desire to read something to his wife, but his timidity holds him back.
His workday ends and he sets off Corless’s, one of Dublin’s most cosmopolitan bars and the appointed meeting place. He remembers Ignatius Gallagher as he was eight years ago. He had always been wild, mixing with rough fellows, borrowing money from everybody but something in him suggested future success.
Little Chandler cherishes vague dreams of being a poet. The dominant note of his poetry would be melancholy; perhaps some of the English critics would recognize him as one of the Celtic school. At Corless’s, Gallagher greets him enthusiastically. He has aged badly. They talk about their old gang of friends; most have either settled down for modest careers or have gone bankrupt. They talk, Little Chandler shy in the company of his great friend; among the topics is how little Chandler has never travelled. The farthest he’s been from Ireland is the Isle of Man. Gallagher has wandered about the great cities of Western Europe. Little Chandler finds something upsetting about Gallagher: “There was something vulgar in his friend which he had not observed before”. Gallagher laughs at Chandler’s provincial attitudes and shocks him with immoral stories of religious houses in Europe and the wild parties of the aristocracy.
The conversation turns back to Chandler. He has been married for over a year, they have a baby boy. Chandler invites Gallagher over to see the wife and child, but Gallagher’s time in Ireland is too short and busy to permit a visit. The next time Gallagher comes, the man say, and at Chandler’s insistence, they have another drink. Little Chandler feels the difference between his life and Gallagher’s. He can’t help being jealous; he is Gallagher’s superior in birth and education, but Gallagher has been much more successful.
The subject of marriage comes up. Gallagher says he many never get married, and that if he does it won’t be for a while yet. He has no plans to “put” his “ head in the sack”; Chandler says rather vehemently, “You’ll put your head in the sack… like everyone else if you can find the girl”. Gallagher says that if he does marry, it will be for money.
Later that night, Chandler is at home holding his baby. He came home late and forgot to get the coffee for his wife. His wife Annie goes out herself buy it, putting the sleeping baby into his arms. Looking at wife’s photo, he finds her plain, very different from the exotic beautiful women of the continent. The furniture, chosen by Annie, seems plain and second-rate. He feels as if he is imprisoned. He opens a volume of Byron’s poems, and reads a rather romantic poem with a melancholy tone. He wonders if he could express himself in such a way. As he tries to finish reading the poem, the child wakes up and starts to cry. He tries to soothe it, but when the child keeps crying he screams “Stop!”. After that, he can’t calm the boy. Annie comes home, and the boy is still crying. She angrily asks Chandler what he has done to it. Chandler stands by, tears of remorse in his eyes. Significantly, Chandler’s wife in trying to calm the child calls him with Irish words a “lamb-child ” he himself a predestined victim of the same malady: Dublin’s paralysis.
The settings are:
1).Everyday Dublin of Little Chandler’s life is a city of which is given an image of decrepitude, decay and extreme shabbiness: even the golden light of sunset can’t embellish it. We read of “vermin-like life” and “gaunt spectral mansions” where lost memories of the past no longer survive. The children play along dirty streets “crawl” and “squat” like mice upon the thresholds of the poor houses.
2).The office in King’s Inns where Little Chandler has been working for eight years is briefly hinted at. There Little Chandler carries out a “tiresome writing”, an unsatisfactory job which makes him sad and melancholy. He has no friends there only fellow-clerks. In that situation he feels a loser, a prisoner of paralysis. The only fleeting joy is the end of workday. Obviously the setting of the office represents the paralysis that Little Chandler feels.
3).When the scenes moves to the luxurious cosmopolitan bar, where he is to meet his friend, we plunge into a quite different world. Little Chandler has never dared to enter Corless’s before. It is a place for women goddess-like richly dressed and theatre-goers who are served oysters and liqueurs by waiters speaking foreign languages. It is a symbol of an easy-going elitarian life unattainable by Little Chandler.
4).Little Chandler’s home is an uncomfortable place with mean shabby furniture bought “on the hire system”. When he goes home after Corless’s he feels he hates everything there; even his wife’s photo looks mean devoid of romance, poetry and passion. In his home he feels definitely entrapped, “a prisoner for life”.
5).We can include in the settings the European cities where Gallagher has been, imaginary places of the mind, as London and Paris full of gaiety movement and excitement. Chandler’s mental imprisonment extends to his questions about Gallagher’s travels. He asks again and again if Paris is a “moral city”, as if that were a simple question, as if morality were something to be measured exactly. Of course, his provincial standard for evaluating a city’s morality uses Dublin as the example of an ethically upright town.

The characters
Little Chandler and Ignatius Gallagher
The main character of the story is introduced in the first lines like Little Chandler not only for is stature, that is slightly under the average, but because he gives one “the idea of being a little man”.
Though not exceptionally short, he has small hands, a fragile frame and a quiet voice; besides he has refined hair and moustache, perfect nails and white teeth like a child’s.
Once more in Dubliners, descriptions are functional to symbolism and Joyce depicts Chandler’s physical aspect in great detail to reveal certain inner qualities.
Thomas Chandler is a thirty-two-year-old Irishman but he is immature. Everything about him is “little”, including his white hands on with their “perfect half-moons” and he comes across to the reader as being a slimy person, one of those who are typical failures in life.
He works as a clerk and has vague poetic aspirations, but the demands of ordinary life make that dream impossible. He spends his time in the office watching people outside the window and thinking of the melancholy of life; he witnesses to the world because he isn’t able to live is own life in a good manner, trapped and paralysed as he is.
Little Chandler feels disillusioned and he knows “how useless it was to struggle against fortune”, in fact his entrapment is more than geographical; it derives not only from his living in Dublin, but whole Ireland forms a kind of mental cage for him. He doesn’t have even spirit to reveal his poetic tendency to his wife and although he is seized by the desire to read something to her, “his shyness had always held him back”.
Chandler would like to write poems, to become popular and to lose his timidity; he really wanted to discover the world, but he had never the courage and he knows he'll never be as well-known as his school-friend Gallagher who incarnates everything that Chandler longs for.
At the beginning of the tale, Chandler is flattered to have such a friend, and even if he recognizes his inferiority in comparison to Ignatius, he feels only admiration for him, without any bad feelings.
Sitting at his desk, he thinks of the changes during those eight years: “the friend whom he had known under a shabby and necessitous guise had become a brilliant figure on the London Press”. What about himself? He lives still in Dublin, he had always lived there, and his farthest journey was to the Isle of Man, significantly a “little” island. So far, he has built a prison around him, consisting of his unsatisfactory job and boring married life, while, on the contrary, Gallagher had had and still has a “vagrant and triumphant life”, made up of active social life, journeys and charming exciting encounters.
Reviewing the past, Chandler remembers when Ignatius Gallagher was “wild”, when he hung around with shady characters and a suspicious money transaction forced him to leave Dublin. But in spite of that, already at that time he impressed people and “even when he was out at elbows and at wits’ end for money, he kept a bold face”.
These memories of the past, that come back alive in Chandler’s mind, let him realize the real meanness of his own life, struck down with paralysis, because he has the courage to abandon his native city.
As he walks along Dublin’s streets on his way to Corless’s, he cultivates the infant hope to change his uneventful life, to write poems expressing his true personality and to get a job at a London paper, maybe with the help of Ignatius; but, even in his dreams, Little Chandler is aware that he wouldn’t become as popular and brilliant as him.
However Chandler’s state of mind changes completely during the meeting, and he looks at his old friend under a new totally different light.
In the course of their conversation, he begins to feel quite disillusioned. “Gallagher’s accent and way of speaking did not please him. There was something vulgar in his friend which he had not observed before.”
Gallagher has an almost bald head a heavy face pale of unhealthy palor and his lips are colourless and shapeless; these features seem to point to moral weakness lassitude and discontent.
Chandler begins to feel quite disillusioned: “Gallagher’s accent and way of speaking did not please him. There was something vulgar in his friend which he had not observed before.” In that moment Little Chandler realizes that he has mis-remembered his friend Gallagher. He had thought of him only in his most glamorous aspect as a brilliant figure of the London press; however, upon meeting and speaking to him, he understands that his success is vulgar and superficial. But, in spite of that, “the old personal charm was still under this new gaudy manner” and a new feeling of envy takes the place of the admiration that there was before the encounter. Listening to Gallagher’s stories and sharing for a brief space his glorious life confuses Chandler, who believes that this contrast between their two lives is unjust because “Gallagher was his inferior in birth and education”. In this way, Little Chandler rises at the conclusion that he could do something better than his friend had ever done, but his timidity paralyses himself. He never goes abroad, he is a prisoner of his daily life; he can’t forget about his responsibility and his dreams will never come true.
A little cloud connotatively expresses in itself an effeminacy and fragility that little Chandler’s personality holds. The precision and care of his appearance is a reaction to needing to be in social order and in control of himself. The common practices of clothing and manner are reachable endeavours for a man who does not have what he wants, nor is whom he likes. Chandler’s inability to be the personification of men like Gallagher, an ideal archetype that Chandler has a need to feel in close and personal interaction with, becomes manifested in various forms that become evident to the reader through the story. While he thinks on life while observing people in the park, which shows the invading melancholy that is little Chandler’s most meticulous suit, the reader notices that he has not yet had the acquiring of wisdom that would allow him to make the distinction between his life, and life itself, and this philosophy is ruled by this perpetual melancholy, the only obvious remnants of a long and habitually stifled desire for passion.
The characters of Chandler and Gallagher are allegories for certain issues in the culture. Gallagher’s first name is Ignatius, referring to Saint Ignatius of Loyola, who is the founder of the order of the Jesuits, the strongest Catholics, so again Joyce is playing on religious theme, one of his lyrical obsessions.
Gallagher is one of those new rich people, who would succeed in life, and he is through and through a shallow character, vulgar in his expressions (he tells Chandler “ you had .. tasted the joys of connubial bliss.”), way of living. He has left Dublin, his old country, has seen the life in Paris, lives in London, but all that this experience has given him is a coat of gaudy varnish.
His personality and his past are shrouded in mystery but we know that he preferred to go away from his native land to succeed and to be popular instead of try to change the situation in his own country. Equally, Irish church (and Jesuits too), instead of fighting to obtain land’s freedom, doesn’t do anything to conquer paralysis and to assert the rights of Irish people
Narrative Techniques
The Joyce’s short story A little Cloud is an example of modern narrative technique.
First of all, the narrator rarely intervenes in the story, assuming the protagonist’s point of view.
The author’s objective is to make the reader know the inner thoughts of the main character, through some narrative techniques like the internal monologue and the indirect dialogue.
The first one consists of an almost involuntary reflection of the main character about his own feelings and thoughts, focusing on his personal point of view, making easier to the reader to create a psychological portrait of the protagonist.
Another way to spread pieces of the psychological mosaic of the protagonist can be found in the indirect dialogue. The author switches the point of view from the character to himself, making a totally objective analysis of the scene, reporting the words and actions of the two interlocutors, making the reader able to operate a personal process of analysis of the psychological side of the situation. This particular changing of the point of view makes also clear the differences between the personal and inner thoughts of the main character and the author’s reflections.
Through both these narrative techniques Joyce creates a faced reality focused on Little Chandler, making this character the key for understanding the world surrounding him and Joyce’s feelings about Dublin.

Dublin, city of paralysis
The Dublin that we find in A little Cloud is a deceitful city, beautiful in its decadence and corruption. It is the city of paralysis because it tends to enclose and imprison the individuals, hindering the realization of their hopes.
When Little Chandler looks out from his office’s window is Dublin what he sees.
The vision of his city makes him think about life and feel how useless it is to struggle against fortune, this being the burden of wisdom which the ages have transmitted him. Nor is he touched by the memories of the past. Little Chandler’s Dublin is a dead city but, on a symbolic level, it mirrors and expresses a perfect adherence to the protagonist’s personality.
One of the most beautiful description of this condition of paralysis that is referred more to humans than to objects is “ As he crossed to Grattan Bridge he looked dodown the river towards the lower quays and pitied the poor stunted houses. They seemed to him a band of tramps, huddled together along the river-banks, their old coats coverld with dust soot, stupified by the panorama of sunset and waiting for the first chill of night to bid them arise, shake themselves and begone”. Houses as a “band of tramps”, poor people, that misery makes weak, stupefied and indifferent to the kindly “golden dust of sunset”. Paralyzed people in a paralyzed city, so charmed from the sadness of their situation that they don’t want or can’t react.
The function of poetry
Little Chandler’s books of poetry lie on his shelves at home. His strong extreme shyness holds him back from reading some lines of it to his wife. The only thing he dares do is to repeat his favourite poems to himself, silently. And yet he has a dream: he would like to express his sweet melancholy in verse and be recognized by English critics as a poet of the Celtic school. This is an ironic suggestion by Joyce who didn’t appreciate this kind of poetry, empty and provincial. It is also meaningful that Little Chandler’s favourite poet is Byron, a romantic myth whose poetry and trasgressive personality had captured the imagination of whole Europe. And a great traveller too. In a way Byron becomes the counterpart of Little Chandler’s life and his inane desire of expressing the “nothing” that he feels with beautiful useless words. A crucial moment in the story is when Little Chandler cannot read one of Byron’s poems because the baby is crying. It is a moment of rage and rebellion soon stifled by the sudden realization of his real self. So poetry is no longer a means of escape but an instrument of epiphany, that is the revelation of truth.
Unfulfilled desire to escape
The theme of the escape is strongly related with the one of the paralysis. Chandler’s encounter with his old friend Gallagher is the starting point for a new knowledge of his own situation.
Chandler feels trapped by his circumstances, and a meeting with his friend who has overcome those circumstances serves as a reminder of how trapped he really is.
“There was no doubt about it, if you wanted to succeed you had to go away. You could do nothing in Dublin”. The protagonist suddenly sees himself with new eyes. He is chained. His friend is free.
As he acquires this new portrait of himself, he tries to “save” or better justify his situation, persuading himself that his life is better than his friend’s one, but in the deep of his being he is driven mad by his friend’s success. In this sort of epiphany, the main character sees his own dream of being a poet even more distant. He is envious of his friend’s social situation, but he tries to hide these feelings even to himself, turning them into anger and hate for his oppressed life. His work, his home, his wife, even his son, are the chains that trap his life in Dublin. We can find a summary of this situation when, trying to read his poetry, his son’s cry denies it to him and lets him face his situation of prisoner of his own life.
Man-woman relationship
Chandler’s wife is the focus of the psychological paralysis and of the desire to escape of the main character. Marriage is a prison, as Chandler himself says to his friend: “You’ll put your head in the sack, like everyone else if you can find the girl”.
In the depths of his heart Chandler knows that his wife may be the only cause of his oppressed life, and the dialogue with his friend make these feelings clearer. He has to accept his uninteresting job to marry her and support the family; she is the only reason for his abandoning the dream of becoming a poet. His fear of reading poetry to his wife symbolizes the wide gap between his dreams and his hopeless life.
The woman’s position in Irish society as it is described by Joyce is a state of inferiority and lack of freedom supported by tradition and the Church. In this story Little Chandler’s wife seems to be the dominating partner, but this aspect is just suggested.