“A Little Cloud” was one of the three late additions to the 15 stories that make up the collection Dubliners. James Joyce submitted the first 12 stories to a London publishing firm as early as 1905. When the printers objected to the perceived indecency of some of the phrases in the stories, however, a long and frustrating set of disputes followed. Delayed by these often aggressive disputes, Dubliners was not published until 1914. “A Little Cloud,” with “Two Gallants” and “The Dead,” was written after the 12 original stories; it bears witness to its later date of composition in the deftness and precision with which it consolidates the themes of spiritual and social stasis built up in the earlier stories’ representation of petty bourgeois Dublin life.
The story hinges on a reunion between two friends after an eight-year separation. One of these friends, the bluff, worldy Gallaher, has “got on” in the world by leaving Dublin and becoming a journalist in London. Chandler has remained in Dublin, become a law-clerk, married, and had a son. Beside what he imagines to be Gallaher’s glittering, licentious adventures in the heady world of Fleet Street, Chandler views his own life as inadequate, his ambitions thwarted, his talents neglected. Chandler provides the focal point of the narration; referred to throughout as “Little Chandler,” he is not small in physical stature but gives the impression of smallness, and this diminutiveness ironically extends and echoes the pettiness and feebleness of his ambitions (247). Though Joyce uses a third-person narrator in “The Little Cloud,” the reader is offered no guidance as to how to judge Chandler or whether such judgment is legitimate at all. Chandler is a pathetic figure but is at the same time a quasi-tragic one, the dowdiness of his dreams only adding to the shallow depths of his suffering.
The story opens with Chandler in an office, follows him down a street walk to a pub, and then arrives at the enclosed space of his home, where his frustration and resentment finally emerge as he shouts at his infant son. This moment of open anger—pathetically directed at a child crying piteously—does not last: Chandler’s wife enters the room, rebukes him, and quiets the child while tears of remorse and shame start in Chandler’s eyes. The story ends thus, with Chandler trapped physically within the confines of a home his wife rather than he controls. This moment echoes the opening moment of the story, in which Chandler also sits imprisoned, this time at his office desk, bored by and resentful of the duties he nevertheless punctiliously fulfils.
The narrative structure of the story does not justify the conclusion that Chandler has been done for by domesticity, however, though this is a threat and a jeer contained in the ostentatiously ribald stories told by the bachelor Gallaher. It is when Chandler is alone and outside, walking through the streets of Dublin at sunset, that the paucity of his imagination is revealed. Spurred into feeling a vague hope by the expectation of his meeting with Gallaher, Chandler loosens his timid melancholy so far as to see himself as a prospective poet. It is significant that the moment of hope takes place outside: A mawkish rather than a liberating moment, issuing only in immature feelings of superiority and in imitative daydreams, it reveals the role of imaginative dependency in furthering states of unfreedom. As in the rest of the stories in Dubliners, it is not life but a surrender to and internalization of soulcrushing conventions that oppresses and fetters otherwise noble souls (603).
BIBLIOGRAPHY Joyce, James. Dubliners: Text, Criticism, and Notes. Edited by Robert Scholes and A. Walton Litz. New York: Penguin, 1996.