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Dubliners | Study Guide

James Joyce

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A Little Cloud

Course Hero Literature Instructor Russell Jaffe provides an in-depth summary and analysis of "A Little Cloud" from James Joyce's short story collection Dubliners.

Dubliners | A Little Cloud | Summary



After an eight-year absence, Ignatius Gallaher returns to Dublin and has lunch with his old friend Little Chandler. Chandler works in a law office, but Gallaher has made a name for himself as a reporter in London. Gallaher invites Chandler to London during the lunch, and Chandler spends the rest of his day fantasizing about what life might be like for him there as a poet moving in literary circles. He meets Gallaher for drinks in the evening, although Chandler does not usually drink.

As the two men catch up, they talk about their old friends. Gallaher tells Chandler about London, Paris, Berlin, and other cities he has visited. Chandler has only been to the Isle of Man, but he is especially interested in Paris and wonders if it is as "immoral" as he has heard. Gallaher tells Chandler about the Moulin Rouge and the charms of Parisian women, then he shares other stories from other cities, culminating in a scandalous tale about an English duchess.

Chandler tells Gallaher about his wife and little boy and invites him back to meet the family. Gallaher blows off the invitation, citing other plans and his return to London the next day. He makes a vague statement that perhaps he will visit them when he returns to Dublin next year. Chandler already feels jealous of Gallaher's success, even though Chandler comes from a better family and has a better education. When Gallaher rejects his invitation, Chandler feels Gallaher is patronizing him and Ireland with his visit. Eager to assert himself and validate his own choices, Chandler suggests Gallaher might be married the next time he visits Dublin. Gallaher dismisses the idea, saying he wants to see and do too much to be tied down. Chandler presses the matter, saying Gallaher will marry if he meets "the girl." Gallaher assures Chandler he plans to marry for money and could have a wife tomorrow if he said the word. When they part ways, Chandler speculates that Gallaher's life "must get a bit stale."

When Chandler returns home, his wife Annie is in a bad mood, made worse by Chandler being late and forgetting to bring her a package of coffee. She hands Chandler their child, cautions Chandler not to wake the boy, and goes out to get some tea. Chandler looks at a photo of Annie and remembers buying the blouse she wears in the picture. He feels irritated by the photo and fantasizes about the women Gallaher talked about earlier. He resumes his dreams about poetry, then the child wakes up crying. Chandler is unable to comfort his son and yells at him to stop crying, which only makes it worse. Annie returns and takes the child, asking what Chandler did to the boy. They exchange hateful looks, then Annie soothes the toddler. Chandler steps back and feels guilty, tears welling in his eyes.


Gallaher provides an example of the kinds of opportunities that await a man brave enough to leave Dublin. His confidence and gregarious nature have taken him to London where he works as a journalist. Based on the expensive restaurant he chooses for his visit with Little Chandler and the stories of his extensive travels, he is doing quite well in his chosen profession. Gallaher's example shows how an Irish man can engage with the rest of Europe in a way that is neither servile nor self-destructive, which makes his example a sharp contrast to the social-climbing Jimmy, who gets in over his head with wealthy European friends in "After the Race." Unlike Jimmy, Gallaher goes to London with the same self-confidence that enabled him to build his social popularity in Dublin; he does not feel the need to prove anything to anyone or impress anyone. He has little to lose, so he gains everything. Jimmy has a great deal to lose, and his need for approval causes him to lose it.

Little Chandler is far more reserved than Gallaher, and although he entertains fantasies about joining Gallaher in London and earning modest fame as a poet, the life he has in Dublin is more suited to his temperament. Until this meeting with Gallaher, Chandler seems to have been perfectly content with his life. It is only in comparing himself with someone else, someone totally unlike him, that he begins to feel resentment toward his family and toward Gallaher. When Gallaher turns down an invitation to meet Chandler's family, Chandler feels Gallaher is simply brushing him off because he has better things to do. Gallaher's endless stories about his travels and the adventures and scandals he has heard lend some credence to Chandler's belief. Gallaher takes only the briefest interest in talking about Chandler's life and dismisses any thought of settling down with another self-aggrandizing remark that he can get a rich wife any time he chooses. This dismissal and the dismissal of Chandler's invitation show that Gallaher's focus on himself causes him to minimize the choices other people have made.

Chandler's resentment follows him home and finds another target in Annie. He looks at her photo and remembers how much trouble he went through to buy the blouse she is wearing, and he remembers how happy she was that he thought of her, but these memories bring him no joy at the moment. He decides she looks mean in the photo and feels only irritation, but it is as if he is looking for reasons to be irritated with her. In the meantime, he accidentally wakes the child he is holding. He expresses his frustration when he yells at the baby, but that only scares the child. Most tellingly, Chandler does not feel a human connection to his son in this moment, referring to the child as "it." It is only in the next moment, when Annie comes home and takes the child, that the spell of bitterness over Gallaher and his own life seems to break. As Chandler watches his wife comfort his son, something he was unable to do, he feels remorse for his thoughts and behavior during the day, and seems to recognize the value of his small family.

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