James Joyce-A Little Cloud

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James Joyce - A Little Cloud (in: Dubliners)

A Little Cloud has not generated significant critical debate, despite Warren Beck’s unorthodox interpretation of the denouement in 1969. Chandler’s relationship with his son – not with his wife Annie or journalist/ friend Gallaher – could be the crucial, epiphanal element of the story - Joyce portraying a father who is just beginning to ‘learn [...] what the heart is and what it feels’ (A Portrait 252), a man whose conscience is awakened, despite his flaws. However, scholars have generally agreed that the ineffectual protagonist abuses his infant son and refuses to take responsibility for his own shortcomings. The story ends with the following paragraph: ‘Little Chandler felt his cheeks suffused with shame and he stood back out of the lamplight. He listened while the paroxysm of the child’s sobbing grew less and less: and tears of remorse started to his eyes.’ (81) Though it’s likely that Chandler is genuinely sorry for having frightened his son, most Joyceans insist that the protagonist cries out of self-pity, that his ‘epiphany’, if he does experience one, is egocentric – of a man who may dream and suffer but who will never ‘produce’. Except for Beck, many veteran Joyce scholars affirm that A Little Cloud develops the famous ‘paralysis’-theme and that it complements, in tone and circumstance, the other pieces which precede the final story, The Dead. Walzl believes that ‘The Dead seems to reverse the pattern of increasing insensibility that Dubliners other-wise traces’ and that no one prior to Gabriel, the protagonist, ‘undergoes a com-parable change or has such an enlightenment’. Similarly, Ghiselin suggests that A Little Cloud fits into the over-all schema of Dubliners by representing the sin of envy. Ruoff asserts that the story ‘describes a would-be artist’s pathetic failure to transcend a narrow existence of his own creation’, and Bernard Benstock’s inter-pretation mentions that Chandler ‘regresses to adolescent self-pity’. Indeed, all focus on Chandler’s ‘sloth, his cowardice, his self-delusion, and his final rage and humiliation’ assert that he is ‘shamed, not ashamed’. But what with Joyce’s use of ‘remorse’?

Probably the most important reason for assuming that Chandler is not enlightened by his experience involves several of Joyce’s own statements. A Little Cloud was written in the early months of 1906, when Joyce was 23 and the father of a six-month-old son, Giorgio. But In 1904, speaking about Dubliners, he had told a friend that he wanted ‘to betray the soul of that hemiplegia or paralysis which many consider a city’ (Letters 55). Another frequently quoted letter asserts, ‘It is not my fault that the odour of ashpits and old weeds and offal hangs round my stories’ (Letters 63-64). The combination of ‘paralysis’ and ‘odour’, then, while justified by many details in the works themselves, may have also clouded our perception of scattered, positive sensations which some of the pieces generate. As Gillespie argues, ‘The opinion that this [negative] attitude dominates the final form of the stories [...] oversimplifies Joyce’s emotional attitude toward his country and unjustly circumscribes the artistic potential of the work’. Similarly, Garrison observes that ‘Joyce’s explicit statements concerning his artistic intentions in Dubliners are not very useful as a basis for interpretation’. Although Joyce’s defense of his work provided us with an opportunity to clarify his intent, it probably was not meant to narrowly limit or define our reactions as readers. If Joyce at least partially intended the final story, The Dead, as a tribute to the more positive aspects of Dublin culture (Letters II 166), it is not unreasonable to discern a hint of this attitude in A Little Cloud. Joyce once told his sister, ‘The most important thing that can happen to a man is the birth of a child’, and since his only son and first-born child was about six months old when A Little Cloud...
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