On a Sunday evening in August, a young man named Corley has told another, Lenehan, of a plan he has hatched with a housekeeper engaged in prostitution on the side. Corley goes off with the young woman, while Lenehan walks idly around Dublin until 10:30, stopping only to eat a dinner of peas and ginger beer at a pub. Finally, exactly according to plan, Lenehan observes from a distance but does not interrupt as the woman enters via the basement the elegant house where she works and emerges from the front door. Minutes later, Corley shows Lenehan what she has stolen from inside: a gold coin.
In this story, Joyce reiterates the motif of a circular path that leads nowhere, introduced by implication in "After the Race." The author is even more compulsive than usual at including actual Dublin place names in "Two Gallants" — to a fault, perhaps. He does so partly to stress the story's veracity. These events could really happen, Joyce is telling us — maybe they did! But he also does this so that readers familiar with the city's geography would recognize that Lenehan, who will reappear in Joyce's novel Ulysses, ends his evening's odyssey not far from where he began it. Like Jimmy in "After the Race," Eveline (in the story of the same name), and the protagonist of "An Encounter," Lenehan has ventured out only to return to the place where he began. Clearly, the three frustrated characters who preceded him are going home after their stories conclude.
In keeping with a common theme in Dubliners, "Two Gallants" lays blame with the Catholic Church for Irish paralysis: The blue-and-white of the slavey's outfit recalls the Virgin Mary's traditional colors. But England is especially responsible here; almost every place name referenced on Lenehan's pointless roundabout, from Rutland Square (named for an English politician) to the neighborhood near (Protestant) Trinity College and City Hall, was associated by Irish-Catholic Dubliners with the English.
The street on which "Two Gallants" concludes is a dead end. Obviously Corley (a kind of poor man's criminal mastermind) and the slavey (a thief, by story's end) are already dead, in a spiritual sense. Lenehan, killing time on a warm summer evening merely so that he can witness a petty crime, is not far behind.
Finally, symbolism in this story is fairly straightforward, though sometimes ironical. The harp is a time-honored emblem of Ireland and means precisely what it appears to. The double halo around the moon, however, appears here as a reminder that neither Lenehan nor Corley is a saint, and that the woman in blue and white is no virgin. Joyce's private symbolic system (using the colors of yellow and brown to indicate decay) takes over at the end of "Two Gallants" — the coin the young woman steals is yellow in color.
public-house a pub; a bar or tavern.
racing tissues publications covering horse racing.
Waterhouse's clock the clock outside a jeweller on Dame Street in Dublin.
the canal Dublin's Royal Canal.
slavey (British informal) a female domestic servant, especially one who does hard, menial work.
Donnybrook the site, south of Dublin, of a yearly fair during which there was much brawling and rowdiness.
the real cheese (slang) the real thing.
up to the dodge (slang) capable of avoiding pregnancy.
Pim's a Dublin manufacturer and dealer of home furnishings, clothing, and leather goods.
hairy (slang) cunning.
about town a euphemism for unemployed.
hard word unpleasant information (that employment might be available for Corley, who doesn't like to work).
he aspirated the first letter of his name in the manner of the Florentines he pronounced Corley as "whorely."
on the turf (slang) engaged in prostitution.
sent to the devil (slang) told to go to hell.
the club the Kildare Street Club, a Protestant and Anglo-Irish gentleman's club.
harp the symbol of Ireland.
"Silent O Moyle" an Irish patriotic song.
Stephen's Green a large public park in a fashionable south-central Dublin neighborhood.
get inside me (slang) take my place.
the chains chains that used to separate paths around Stephen's Green from the streets beyond.
Half ten 10:30.
tulle a thin, fine netting of silk used for veils, scarves, and so forth.
curates (slang) barmen.
pulling the devil by the tail (slang) living on the verge of financial disaster.
a little of the ready (slang) with money available.
the area of a house a space providing light and air to the basement of a house.