The Dubliners Review; Counterparts By James Joyce

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I believe the best summary for this painfully bleak story can be found in it’s best quote; “He had done for himself in the office, pawned his watch, spent all his money; and he had not even got drunk.” See, I told you Joyce had some good quotes in him.

So the story centralizes around a morbidly obese middle aged man called “Farrington” who Joyce frequently refers to as “the man” in order to distance the character from the readers sense of empathy cause he is quite the cunt.

uncle vernon

He works as an office clerical worker and he’s really really shit at it. Like he’s such a lazy bastard, he literally left work unannounced just to get a pint down the pub before heading back and in his buzzed state was not able to do any work. Which of course got him in trouble and he then proceeded to accidentally insult the boss, Mr. Alleyne- who is a man from the North of Ireland (this book was published years before the war for independence so Northern Ireland did not exist yet) who has the most atrocious Northern Irish accent imaginable, probably from Belfast or even worse- Derry. It reminded me of Jonathan Pie’s impression of the accent, which was fairly accurate, for an Englishman.

I actually fucking despise those accents. It reminds me of the squeals of a banshee. Perhaps there were never banshees in Ireland, perhaps the southern villagers were terrified by a Derry woman walking down the road talking to herself. I remember in like third or fourth year I had this Irish class and we had a substitute teacher from around Belfast and the lads in the class kept mocking his accent. It was a bad accent. He was actually a nice guy though, I think someone tried to refer to me as being ginger to sustain some kind of ginger person fact (like how the native Irish or Celts were mostly ginger) and he tried to defend my honor and called the guy a bully, or maybe a racist- I can’t mind. Either way it was super weird.

I mind at a party my friend Matthew asked me what I thought about the fact that Gingers are dying out. Of course that’s a myth, an incorrect myth. I told him that gingers could never be wiped out because we’re an integral part of the white gene that you can’t eradicate. So if two blue eyed, blonde haired people mated they could come out with a ginger baby. So if you really want to eradicate the Ginger people from the face of the earth, you got to pick a flavour other than Vanilla.

So the story starts out with Mr. Alleyne calling for Farrington, he comes into the office and he’s given a bollocking cause he’s such a lazy cunt.  He’s sent back to work, where he struggles to do anything and he decides to fuck off down to the pub for a pint and comes back up and lo and behold- he’s too buzzed to do his job. So he proceeds to do fuck all and he’s constantly thinking about finishing work and heading down to the pub with the lads. So he’s an alcoholic, again Joyce is projecting.

Anyway he fails to complete an assignment but he gives it to Mr. Alleyne none the less in hope that he doesn’t notice it. Fortunately for Farrington the Northerner is too busy trying to seduce some rich bitch that comes around the office all the time. It also teases the Anti-Semitic nature of the time because Joyce wrote; “Miss Delacour was a middle-aged woman of Jewish appearance.” …What the fuck is wrong with these writers? Like it’s the same with Oscar Wilde and F.Scott Fitzgerald in The Great Gatsby; they’re describing Jews so lazily and vulgarly that the reader is supposed to be like “Ah right; hairy, big nose and they smell, I got you fam” like…I don’t fucking know. It’s weird.

But anyway Farrington heads back to work and then he gets another bollocking off of Mr. Alleyne. At some point Mr. Alleyne says “Do you think I’m some sort of idiot?” and Farrignton, the dumb cunt, says “I think that’s an unfair question to lay upon me sir” and that statement apparently made the room go silent. Like it’s not even a good comeback, it’s fucking shit. It’s as dull as Joyce’s wonky little eye and paedo-stache. It’s followed by Alleyne shaking his fist or declaring revenge for some reason- I don’t know, it’s super fucking confusing.

Then we cut to Farrington wandering about the street and all the banks are closed so he can’t get any money for a pint. So he decides to pawn his watch. Yes, you heard me right. The man pawned his watch so he could have enough money to go out on the sesh. That…that’s the most Irish thing I can imagine. And I once witnessed a Drunk man wearing a flat cap nearly get mowed down by a car on Maghera main street after his friend, who was also drunk, tried to get money from a cash machine which he didn’t realize wasn’t there anymore because the bank closed down months earlier- and it was a Sunday Afternoon.

So he goes down to the pub and tells his dull little story to his friends and they find it hilarious. His friend from the office he works in dropped by and he retold the same story which was apparently much better, to which Farrington was frustrated by. Most of the lads didn’t have any money on them so they fucked off down to a new pub where they met a guy, some kind of acrobat or something. They get a few drinks and they fuck off again. In the final pub they get a few drinks. Farrington stares at some English doll he finds pretty but doesn’t talk to her because- well, he’s married- but he’s also lazy as fuck. Eventually she leaves and he engages in an arm wrestle with the acrobat and loses, which makes him feel like complete and utter shit.

His friends leave him so the acrobat can introduce them to some girls. Excluding Farrignton because, well, he’s married. Unhappily at that. When he returns home he finds his wife is away to mass, recalling that when sober she bullies him but when drunk he bullies her. He doesn’t recognise his son for a second and then orders him to heat up his dinner. He then goes into a drunken rage after finding out the boy had let the fire die down and then proceeds to beat him with a cane.

The story ends bitterly, but tragically mundane.

The main themes around counterparts is repetition or routine. Farrington’s job as a clerical worker consists of literally duplicating documents, which frustrates him. His tension with his boss is the result of his repeated incompetence and the fact that he was once heard mocking his accent. His alcoholism is due to the stress of his work, the more he drinks the more he wants to drink. He pawns his watch in some subconscious attempt at an escape of the mundanity of his life. Only for it to fail as once he escapes down to the pub, he has to live through the retelling of his own story twice. He leaves for several more pubs, stares aimlessly at a pretty girl, loses an arm wrestling contest that diminishes his self esteem and his idea that he is a strongman. Referring to his opponent as “merely a boy” which is ironic considering he goes home to beat his son, who is merely a boy.

The tale is one instance in a cycle of abuse and alcoholism. Farrigton’s frustrations build up throughout the day so much so that he attempts to cleanse them by his drinking, but failing to get drunk and encountering yet more frustrations they continue to build up. Blocking his arteries with rage which he is forced to unleash upon his family.

Joyce’s father was an alcoholic and Joyce too would later on become an alcoholic as well. So it’s safe to say that this story is based from some experience. It progresses from little Chandler’s outburst in A Little Cloud where he shouts at his own infant son to be quiet. But it’s clear that Joyce doesn’t really want us to sympathize with this character, if anything he wants us to resent him.

Because a lot of his issues are a failure of his own personal responsibility. He could have quit drinking during work, he could have worked on his work ethic, he could have worked harder in the office, he could have been more respectful to his boss, he could have have talked to that pretty English woman, he could have won that arm wrestle if he were strong enough, he could have processed his frustrations healthily instead of beating his own son for no reason.

We understand the frustrations but we don’t understand the man, we’re not even given his first name for Christ sake. I think that’s why this story fails for me. Because I don’t think Joyce understands the man. Because to understand a man is to admit that you cannot hate him. I can understand a refugee, therefore I can’t hate them. I can’t understand a Paedophile, therefore I hate them with a passion.

In the end the story resonates with the main themes of disappointment present throughout the Dubliners, by being fucking shit.

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