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This is one of the several stories about drunkenness in "Dubliners." It studies the chain of developments in a single day in the life of a confirmed alcoholic: the blunted intelligence and indolence leading to shabby work resulting in insults and punishment; the inevitable visits to a bar to drown one’s sorrows; the fake cheerfulness of drink wearing off; and awareness of reality bringing with it a sullen rage seeking any helpless victim-usually wife and children-as an outlet. Joyce writes almost as in a case study, with clinical detachment, which has a far more devastating effect than any more moralistic rendering.
The author sees Farrington-not so much as a personality but as an extension of the machine at work and a ruined human being. Most of the time he is simply called "the man." In ‘Dubliners’ as a whole there is a bitter mournful sense that the Irishman has instead of confronting his social and political problems, sought oblivion in drink and religion. This is shown repeatedly-in "The Sisters" in "After the Race", "Ivy Day", "A Painful Case", and most of all in "Counterparts" and "Grace."
In "Counterparts", Farrington has lost his humanity; he is merely a wreck, motivated only by his craving for alcohol; lost to all the finer feelings. At another level, he and Alleyne are counterparts. Alleyne, with his repulsive appearance is perhaps unsatisfied in his personal life. He finds the wretched Farrington the perfect butt for all his anger and frustration. Farrington must cling to the job and has no option but to submit to Alleyne’s ego. He then enacts the same role of domineering bully in his own home, where the family is financially dependent on him. Thus the chain of rage and disappointment could stretch on infinitely, all over Dublin and elsewhere.
He is both physically and morally a wreck. The fact that he is a clerk at a solicitor’s office implies that he has had an education and some intelligence yet he is resolved to a copying machine for documents in the office. This dehumanization has driven him to take refuge in drink, which when thwarted, makes him violent. The only enjoyable reality for him is at the bar, surrounded by people of the same desires. He can pretend to himself that he is still strong and attractive to women. When that illusion is shattered, there is nothing left. Hence wife, children, work are all hateful irritants. Farrington doesn’t even know the name of his child, so little interest has he in his family. He is weak when sober, as we see in his conduct, at the office, and from the fact that his wife "bullied him when he was sober." His is the classic stereotype of the alcoholic. It is only Joyce’s clinical reporting which brings home, the meanness and cruelty of his life.
The junior partner of a firm of solicitors, he is drawn as a caricature. Right from his description as "a polished skull" as a "large egg" and a "manikin", he is a ridiculous and one- dimensional character. The domineering employer, seizing every opportunity to rant and rave at his underlings, and not above showing off before the entire staff and a female client. This is all Joyce shows us of him-the skull directing the company, the voice emanating from the speaking tube.
PLOT STRUCTURE ANALYSIS
The mechanical roles of human beings at work are vividly brought out in the opening paragraph. There follows the angry scene between Alleyne and a sullen Farrington. The latter sneaks out for a drink. He sneaks back into the office. Another abusive episode follows with Alleyne, followed by a visit to the pawnshop. The scene at the bar has all the men coming to life. Farrington fantasizes about the girl from the music hall, but comes down to earth. This scene ends with him unsatisfied, going home in a rage and venting his rage on the child. There is no realization or self-awareness for the main character.
Joyce’s theme here, as in "Grace" is the study of an alcoholic but in "Counterparts" he studies his main character against a backdrop of drudgery and humiliation, tracing its connection with his drunkenness.
SYMBOLISM / MOTIFS / IMAGERY / SYMBOLS
The story is bare of figurative language except for the constant references to Farrington’s face as "wine-colored" or colored like "dark meat", which reflect his inseparable attachment to liquor, and its unhealthy effect on his physical condition. As elsewhere in "Dubliners", the physical senses are referred to. Farrington is not able to see or read properly his sight constantly dulled by his frequent trips to a bar. He is always having trouble with reading the legal documents that he has to rewrite. However, his sense of smell is sharp. He is conscious of the heavy perfume of Miss Delacous even before he sees her. He thinks longingly of the smell of a "hot punch" or "small hot whiskies." This only underlines the animal strain in him. The dehumanizing effects of the modern workplace are brought out in images of Alleyne as the skull that manages the office, his pervasive presence felt only as the sharp voice issuing out of the tube. Similarly Farrington’s only job is to copy out documents, a job soon to be taken over by a machine.