Professor David Lipscomb
26 February 2015
The True Storm in “A Little Cloud”
Background: Will be added once everything else is mostly done so that it is relevant to the argument at hand rather than a simple information dump
“A Little Cloud’s” ending ambiguity serves a dual purpose. Its low profile is meant to force the reader to focus on the details that hint at Little Chandler’s final mindset and thus on the part of the story that is truly important: Chandler’s inner conflict.
The ending of “A Little Cloud” is misleading because of the all of the support it supplies for a definite conclusion. There is an overwhelming amount of information supporting the notion that Little Chandler’s “tears of remorse” are directed towards his own life (Joyce). Little Chandler’s admiration and envy of Gallaher are always present. Gallaher always had “something… that impressed you in spite of yourself” (Joyce). He’s “been to the Moulin Rouge[,]… to all the Bohemain cafes. Hot stuff! Not for a pious chap like [Chandler]” (Joyce). Gallaher’s life is exciting and exotic, and Chandler cannot help but be impressed and jealous of his old friend. Gallaher is put on a pedestal as a sort of celebrity by Chandler, whose own life is mundane. Chandler has a wife, a son, and a steady job. He loves poetry and wished to share it with his wife, but his “shyness… always held him back” (Joyce). Little Chandler holds a “poet’s soul” (Joyce) and yearns for a mere fraction of Gallaher’s glow, but he cannot escape his mediocrity. Mary Lazar goes as far as saying that “most Joyceans insist that [Chandler] cries out of self-pity” (Lazar). Going by Lazar’s words, most scholars agree that Chandler is “paralyzed… and his ‘epiphany’ … is egocentric… [and he] will suffer… [but] never produce” (Lazar). In short, Chandler cries at the end because he realizes that he hates his life but can never change it, that he will always be stuck in the comfort of misery. Putting what the scholars believe aside, however, it is easy to make the opposite case.
Scholars may say that Littler Chandler cries because he believes his life has been wasted, but it is equally plausible to say that Chandler is crying because he regrets harming his son and harboring envious thoughts. Chandler may seem to worship Gallaher and believe that he can do no wrong, but on closer inspection he may not truly idolize Gallaher, only the idea of Gallaher. Little Chandler views Gallaher as a celebrity-like figure. He fawns over Gallaher’s success and adventures in anticipation, but once he converses with Gallaher his illusion fades. He notices that “There was something vulgar in his friend which he had not noticed before” (Joyce). He sees that Gallaher is losing his hair and that his skin is pale, where as Chandler is described as having perfect teeth and as a very clean and orderly person, showing that Chandler is in good health and that Gallaher’s health is relatively poor (Joyce). After meeting his old friend, he begins to see that Gallaher’s lifestyle may not actually be as wonderful as it seemed. On top of his disillusionment, Chandler holds his wife and son above Gallaher when Gallaher is boasting about his adventures. Chandler asserts his humble accomplishment, saying that Gallaher will “put his head in the sack… like everyone else if [he] can find the girl” (Joyce). This is the first time Chandler notes that he has something that Gallaher does not. He is taking pride in his own accomplishments because he is subconsciously realizing that Gallaher’s life is not what he truly desires. During his interactions with Gallaher, despite his subconscious disillusionment with him, Chandler still continues to think of him in high regard. That is why his tears of remorse are relevant. After lamenting his life decisions and making his son cry, Chandler realizes what his subconscious was telling him. His tears are remorseful because he realizes he was foolish and sees that his family is more important to him than Gallaher’s flashy lifestyle. But why is there so much evidence supporting both interpretations of the ending? Simple. The ending is left to the reader decide because it is ultimately unimportant.
The ending of “A Little Cloud” is left ambiguous because it is irrelevant to what Joyce wants the readers to ponder. Compared to the rest of the story, the conclusion is markedly abrupt. It seems out of place because the end of a story is usually what the reader ponders after finishing a story. But the ending of “A Little Cloud” is too sudden to have the reader’s thoughts focused exclusively on it. Instead of the ending, they drift towards the bulk of the story: Little Chandler’s interaction with Gallaher. This leads to one conclusion, that the focus is intended to be on Little Chandler and Gallaher’s exchange. Unfortunately, “’A Little Cloud’ has not generated significant critical debate[,]… and scholars have generally agreed that the ineffectual protagonist abuses his infant son and refuses to take responsibility for his own shortcomings” (Lazar). Scholars seem to hold the belief that the ending is an important part of the story, but I believe it is not important at all. It may invite discussion, but that discussion is relatively shallow. Is Chandler remorseful because he realizes his life has been wasted or is he remorseful because his thoughts and actions were foolish? The question is unremarkable, and more importantly it does not give much back to the reader who spent his/her time on the story. I say that the true importance of the story and the question it wishes to ask the reader are contained in the focus of the story, Chandler’s meeting with Gallaher.
The message of “A Little Cloud” revolves around coming to terms with one’s own life and discovering what one’s heart desires. At the beginning of the story, Little Chandler is described as “melancholic, ‘but it [is] a melancholy tempered by recurrences of faith and resignation and simple joy’” (Lazar). Melancholy is a term associated with depression and sadness, but it can also be defined as sober thoughtfulness or pensiveness. I believe that although Little Chandler displays some characteristics of he sad definition of melancholy, his character is more closely aligned with the pensive definition. Little Chandler seems to be thoroughly absorbed in his thoughts, shown in the beginning when he is building up his anticipation for meeting Gallaher, in the middle with his passing thoughts of Gallaher and his consciousness of his own words and actions, and at the end when he is consumed with worry. Furthermore, his thoughts are clearly sober for even in his dreams he is realistic noting that “[His poetry] would never be popular… He could not sway the crowd but he may appeal to a little circle of kindred minds” (Joyce). With all of his musings and worries, Chandler is a more thoughtful and reflective character than a sad one. He is swept in by Gallaher’s grandeur and loses sight of himself. Little Chandler’s thoughts and actions are meant to reflect those of the reader. Few people are completely satisfied by their lives. Everyone has regrets over mistakes made and their life choices. Little Chandler is an embodiment of those regrets of the past and worries of the future, which is why he reflects on his past so greatly and why he is so afraid his future will amount to nothing. Little Chandler is a struggle that most people, especially younger people face. Little Chandler’s age is not explicitly stated, but his timidness, “little” stature, and fretfulness are all qualities that many adolescents have. Like any child, Little Chandler is initially enamored with a gaudy lifestyle. As the story “ages” so does Little Chandler. Before his meeting with Gallaher, Little Chandler is a prepubescent boy. During his conversation with Gallaher, Chandler ages through his teenage years, holding on to some of his childish naivete but slowly maturing and realizing what he desires. At the very end, Little Chandler is finally an adult. He is looking back regretfully on his foolishness and coming to terms with what he truly wants and needs. The middle of the story is the focus because it is where Little Chandler does the brunt of his learning and begins to see what he truly desires. The ending completes Little Chandler’s revelation while still remaining ambiguous. Chandler’s realizations through his “aging” can still be interpreted as bemoaning his miserable life or regretting his recent actions, but the most important part, his journey towards his revelation remains the same no matter how the reader chooses to interpret his cry at the end. Whether he still wants Gallaher’s glamourous life or if he sees that his current life is all he needs, he has still come to terms with his life and what he wants.
Conclusion paragraph: I’m holding off on this until for after the peer reviews because it is so dependent on the body paragraphs that if drastic changes are made it will have to be completely rewritten. I also have not done the works cited page yet and I will touch up my citations for the final draft