Counterparts by James Joyce, 1914
The magic trick:
Manipulation of the reader’s sympathies
Today’s story is a roller coaster, and not at all in the way that a roller coaster can be a fun experience. There is nothing fun about “Counterparts.”
For the bulk of the story I read with my sympathy firmly placed with Farrington. Yes, he’s a screwup. Yes, he has a drinking problem. But who can’t relate to the tendency toward procrastination at the office? Especially when you work is mundane, your employer is an obnoxious blowhard and your client’s perfume and expensive clothes only seem to mock you.
Just as he had my liberal bleeding heart bursting, Joyce put it to me with the concluding scene. My sympathies were ill-placed. Farrington is not worthy of any respect or slack given. He is a monster. Or maybe the closing scene only should turn my outrage even stronger toward the system that shows no concern for people in his position. I’m not sure, but like all of these Dubliners stories, there is much to consider and the issues are as relevant today in America as they were 100 years ago in Ireland. And that’s quite a trick on Joyce’s part.
Darkness, accompanied by a thick fog, was gaining upon the dusk of February and the lamps in Eustace Street had been lit. The man went up by the houses until he reached the door of the office, wondering whether he could finish his copy in time. On the stairs a moist pungent odour of perfumes saluted his nose: evidently Miss Delacour had come while he was out in O’Neill’s. He crammed his cap back again into his pocket and re-entered the office, assuming an air of absentmindedness. ”Mr. Alleyne has been calling for you,” said the chief clerk severely. “Where were you?” The man glanced at the two clients who were standing at the counter as if to intimate that their presence prevented him from answering. As the clients were both male the chief clerk allowed himself a laugh. ”I know that game,” he said. “Five times in one day is a little bit… Well, you better look sharp and get a copy of our correspondence in the Delacour case for Mr. Alleyne.”