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Dubliners | Discussion Questions 21 - 30

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What evidence in "The Boarding House" indicates Polly Mooney's plan was to get Mr. Doran to marry her in Dubliners?

Mrs. Mooney blames the older, more experienced Mr. Doran for the affair with Polly, and she expects him to make amends and save Polly's reputation by marrying her. Mr. Doran's own reputation and job are at risk as well, so it is safe to assume society will blame him for the affair. Yet Polly is the one who comes to Mr. Doran's room at night when he is undressing to initiate the affair after weeks of her casual touches and glances. Once they are physically intimate, Polly gets closer to Mr. Doran. She stays up to warm his dinner when he works late and serves him warm punch on the nights when the weather is bad. Polly Mooney's actions toward Mr. Doran are those of a wife caring for her husband. She has calculated her moves to convince him she is worthy of marrying. It is a risky move because it could cost Polly her reputation if it does not work, but she also knows her mother is watching. By making the affair physical, she is able to enlist Mrs. Mooney's powers of persuasion as a backup plan if her own charms are not sufficient to convince Mr. Doran to marry her. Her response to being called downstairs by her mother, that this is what she has been waiting for, suggests she has been hoping and planning to marry Mr. Doran for some time.

What aspects of Little Chandler's personality, not his circumstances, prevent him from living his dream of being a poet in "A Little Cloud" in Dubliners?

Under the influence of his old friend Gallaher, Little Chandler daydreams about becoming a poet and enjoying celebrity in social circles, and he blames his wife and child for holding him back. Wife or no wife, though, Chandler is unlikely to realize his dream. He does not actually do any writing; he only thinks about writing poetry while he composes the accolades he would win for his verse. He looks from the bridge to the houses along the river and thinks of writing about these things, but later he is unable to because he can't recapture the feeling from the bridge. Were he serious about writing poetry, or anything else, he would do as many writers have done and practice during the hours available to him between his work and his family. His wife and her sister care for his son most of the time, so he could have time to write poetry if he were serious. The larger flaw for Chandler is his shyness. He has books of poetry in his home. He sometimes thinks of reading poems to his wife but is too shy to do so. If Little Chandler is too shy to read other people's writing to the woman he has married, he has little chance of reading his own poetry to strangers. Chandler is not held back by his wife and family. His aversion to risk has led him away from poetry and toward the conventional life he has.

What aspects of Gallaher's personality have ensured his success as a writer in "A Little Cloud" in Dubliners?

Unlike Little Chandler who is shy and has opted for a conventional life, Gallaher is an outgoing risk-taker. Chandler realizes he should not be surprised at all by his friend's success. When he and Chandler were younger, Gallaher was known for drinking with all sorts of different people, borrowing money, and getting into scraps. His attitude to troublesome situations was to say, "half time now, boys" and ask for his thinking cap. In short, Gallaher has never been in a situation he did not believe he could think his way out of, and this confidence has carried him abroad and into a lucrative job in the London Press, a career that demands risk-taking. His talents for socializing and dealing with tricky situations have served him well in his chosen career and in his travels to different parts of the world. While Chandler later feels jealous of Gallaher, who cites his own superior family and education, this thought reveals a lack of understanding on his part. The kind of success Gallaher has found is not based on such conventional notions as family connections or schooling but the kind of brash assertiveness Gallaher has displayed all his life.

How does the title of "A Little Cloud" relate to the ending of this story in Dubliners?

The image of a little cloud calls to mind a small cloud passing in front of the sun, creating a temporary shadow. The story contains several clouds, the most prominent of which is Gallaher's visit to Dublin. He comes to town and creates a darkness in Little Chandler's life. Chandler questions the course of his life, his choice to marry and start a family, his steady job in a law office. He entertains dreams of following Gallaher to London and becoming a poet. These are all just thoughts for Chandler, but they do cause him to feel resentful toward his wife, Annie, and his son when he comes home from his evening out with Gallaher. After his return home, Annie becomes another cloud for him, and the baby another. He and Annie exchange tense words and angry looks. Chandler accidentally wakes the baby and makes him cry, then he panics and thinks the child might choke to death in his fit, which frightens him. During these moments, he does not think of his child as a "him" but as an "it." The cloud seems to clear when Annie comes in and soothes the baby while Chandler watches helplessly from the side. He feels shame and remorse, presumably for his earlier neglect and resentment, and with these feelings the cloud starts to clear away.

How is Farrington in "Counterparts" a mirror image of Little Chandler in "A Little Cloud" in Dubliners?

Both Farrington and Little Chandler have office jobs that are unsatisfying to them. Chandler thinks he would rather be writing poetry. Farrington does not have any dreams of a different, more fulfilling job; he would just rather be drinking. The plots of both of these stories follow roughly the same trajectory: Man goes to work. Man finds work unsatisfying. Man goes out for drinks with friends. Man comes home to his family, feeling resentful. A child cries because of something the man has done. However, Farrington and Little Chandler are mirror images of one another, and a mirror reverses the image. Chandler has two drinks with one friend and goes home. Farrington drinks with many friends until his money is gone. When Chandler comes home, he feels prickly about his family, but he attempts to take care of his child. Farrington comes home in a rage and makes demands that his child take care of him. Chandler makes his child cry by accident, and eventually feels remorse for this action. Farrington beats his child on purpose as an outlet for his rage, and feels nothing when the boy cries out for mercy. Because the two stories are placed back-to-back, Farrington's story in "Counterparts" reads like a worst-case scenario of what might happen if Chandler were to give his minor resentments free rein. It also points out the difference money and intemperance make in day-to-day living conditions. Chandler has money and has no insatiable need for alcohol, so his frustrations are buffered in a way Farrington's are not.

What is the underlying source of Farrington's problems at work and at home in "Counterparts" in Dubliners?

Farrington's obvious problem is that he is an alcoholic. He cannot make it through even a few hours at work without sneaking out for a pint, and he is able to drink a pint of porter—a heavy, dark, and sometimes bitter beer—in a single gulp, which indicates he has had plenty of practice. Farrington's real problem, though, is his inability to accept responsibility for anything. At the office Mr. Alleyne reprimands him for sloppy work, because Farrington's work is sloppy. Instead of looking at his own habits, Farrington blames Mr. Alleyne for hassling him. When Farrington loses an arm wrestling match to his friend Weathers, who is presumably more sober than he is, Farrington accuses his opponent of not playing fair rather than considering his drunkenness or his own physical condition. When Farrington comes home and finds no dinner or fire waiting for him in the kitchen, he does not consider how late he is coming home but blames his young son Tom for letting the fire go out. Most of Farrington's problems are created by Farrington, but he is unwilling or unable to realize that.

What does Farrington's interaction with his son, Tom, reveal about him as a parent in "Counterparts" in Dubliners?

Farrington ends "Counterparts" by beating Tom with a stick for letting the kitchen fire go out. Even accounting for a different time period and different standards, this is an excessive response, but the beating is only the most obvious sign of Farrington's inadequacies as a father. When Tom comes down the stairs, Farrington does not know who he is. He asks, "Who are you? Charlie?" Farrington is either too drunk or too detached—or both—to be able to recognize his own children. Tom's age is not specified, but he is described as a "little boy," which means he is probably too young to be expected to build or tend a fire. He says he is going to cook dinner for his father, another activity he appears too young to do. Farrington places his own wants—for dinner and a fire—ahead of his son's safety. He has been out all evening, and the five children have been left at home alone while their mother attends church, which indicates neither parent places a high priority on their children's security.

What does Maria's job in the laundry in "Clay" reveal about the options available to women in Dubliners?

Maria works at the Dublin by Lamplight laundry, a Protestant charity organization that helps women get out of prostitution and into a more respectable line of work. The laundry really did exist in Dublin at the turn of the 20th century. While there is no indication that Maria was a prostitute, her nursing of the two boys, Joe and Alphy, indicate that she had a child out of wedlock. Maria's working career reveals the limited options available to lower-class women in Dublin, especially those whose sexual history falls outside the social expectation of celibacy outside of marriage. A lower-class woman can become a house servant, or a prostitute, or a laundry worker. In any of these cases, she is looking at a lifetime of bodily toil for little pay and little opportunity for advancement.

What does Joe in "Clay" reveal about the nature of alcohol in Dubliners?

On her way to the Hallow Eve party, Maria hopes Joe will not be drinking because he tends to get short-tempered when he drinks. While there is no evidence Joe becomes violent, he is "so different" when he drinks. During the party, Joe does have a few drinks, and he becomes very angry at Maria when she brings up his brother Alphy. He loves Maria but has no qualms about losing his temper with her when he is under the influence of alcohol. A sober Joe might be more respectful of a woman he thinks of as a mother to him. At the end of the story, still drinking, Joe becomes emotional and tearful when Maria sings a song about his childhood. In other stories, such as "Counterparts" and "Grace," there are hints or explicit evidence that drinking turns men into violent creatures, exacerbating rage that is already present or bringing violent tendencies forward. Drinking seems to make Joe more emotionally volatile and raw. By presenting him as a point on the drinking spectrum, it becomes easy to see how drink could make an ordinary and generally caring man into a violent animal, because drink, as Maria observes, makes people "so different."

What is the significance of the song Maria sings at the end of "Clay" in Dubliners?

Maria sings a song from Joe's childhood, which reminds him of the past and his love for Maria. It also takes on an ominous mood after the events of the party. Maria drew a lump of clay during a party game, which the other guests interpret as a sign she will die soon. Joe gets emotional not just at the memories the song brings up but at the prospect of losing the woman who raised him. When Maria accidentally repeats the first verse of the song, Joe takes it badly, thinking it serves as an indication she may already be in decline. The song's references to marble halls and riches—none of which Maria will see in this lifetime—seem like references to heaven. The song choice also draws an unlikely parallel between Maria and Eveline of "Eveline." In "Eveline" Frank takes Eveline to see a ballad opera called The Bohemian Girl, and the song Maria sings is from that opera. Although they are different ages, both women are working class and limited by the options available to them in the city. Maria, like Eveline, has resisted getting married, and at her age Maria believes she is better off for being independent, even though other characters make her feel self-conscious about her marital status. In this way, Maria's life becomes a possible model for what will happen to Eveline as she ages.

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