One evening, a fussy, conservative Dublin clerk known as Little Chandler sets out to meet his old friend Gallaher at a restaurant called Corless's. Gallaher left Dublin eight years earlier and has made a success of himself as a journalist in London. On the way, Little Chandler fantasizes about succeeding himself, as a writer of poetry. At the restaurant, Gallaher tells Little Chandler about his adventures abroad; afterward, Little Chandler returns home to his wife (Annie) and baby son, where he fantasizes further about success as a poet, loses his temper with the child, and then feels remorseful.
This story reiterates the dynamic of "An Encounter," "Araby," and "Eveline," as Little Chandler sets out seeking Gallaher and all he represents, only to return home defeated. It also resembles "After the Race" in that Little Chandler quests like Jimmy for European sophistication and winds up as provincial as ever. At the same time, parallels exist between Little Chandler/Gallaher and Lenehan/Corley from "Two Gallants." The first member of each set is so misguided that he admires and hopes to emulate the second — though Gallaher, like Corley, is spiritually dead.
A new twist, not seen in other Dubliners tales, is the notion that escape from Ireland does not necessarily equal salvation. "If you wanted to succeed you had to get away," Little Chandler thinks, echoing the thoughts of the narrator in "An Encounter" ("real adventures . . . do not happen to people who remain at home: they must be sought abroad"). And yet Gallaher, who got away, has succeeded in only the most superficial sense. Despite having seen London and Paris and heard talk of Berlin, he is shallow, boorish, and alone. "A Little Cloud" is a turning point in the collection, because it implies that, contrary to what so many of the book's characters believe, flight from Ireland is not necessarily the solution to their problems. This was hinted at in "After the Race" (in which, after all, Jimmy has "studied" abroad), but it is truly dramatized here, in the insufferable, obnoxious figure of Gallaher.
Finally, the conclusion of "A Little Cloud," in which Little Chandler returns dissatisfied to his family and shouts at his crying child, will be brutally reiterated in the ending of the next story, "Counterparts." This binds the two stories together, as "The Sisters," "An Encounter," and "Araby" are bound by their interchangeable protagonists. Again, Joyce conceived Dubliners as an integral work of fiction, not merely a collection of stories. Techniques such as these lend the volume coherence.
got on (slang) succeeded.
on the London Press in the world of British journalism.
When his hour had struck when the work day had ended.
the gaunt spectral mansions in which the old nobility of Dublin had roistered buildings originally constructed to house the wealthy had deteriorated and were occupied by poor people early in the twentieth century.
Atalanta a beautiful, swift-footed maiden who offers to marry any man able to defeat her in a race: Hippomenes wins by dropping three golden apples, which she stops to pick up, along the way. The motif of Greek mythology (including the image of the golden apple) will reappear in Gabriel Conroy's speech in "The Dead."
Half time (slang) time out.
considering cap an Irish term equivalent to the American term "thinking cap."
across the water (Irish slang) in England.
Lithia lithia water, a mineral water containing lithium salts.
Press life the life of a journalist.
deuced extremely; very.
Land Commission the Irish Land Commission Court, a British agency.
sore head and a fur on my tongue hung over.
Moulin Rouge literally "Red Windmill," a Parisian music hall.
students' balls dances in Parisian cafes, especially those on the Left Bank, the location of the University of Paris.
cocottes (French) literally, hens. Probably used by Galaher to mean prostitutes.
rum (informal, chiefly British) odd; queer.
parole d'honneur (French) word of honor.
an a.p. (slang) an appointment.
deoc an doruis (Irish) literally door drink; last round.
put your head in the sack (slang) apparently, get married.
Bewley's a chain of coffeehouses.
Hushed are the winds . . . the first stanza of the poem "On the Death of a Young Lady, Cousin of the Author, and Very Dear to Him" (1802) by George Gordon, Lord Byron (1788–1824), an English poet.
Lambabaun (Irish) lamb child.