Counterparts by James Joyce Book Review
Imagine the world’s most powerful politician leads a country towards a free liberal democracy, only to have it tarnished by a leader who seeks to enforce communism and order. In society there are many forms of authority; presidents, doctors, and police officers are all forms of power that can use their authority for good or evil, serving to be a light for justice, or serving to be a dark tunnel for injustice and dehumanization. In the chapter ‘Counterparts’ by James Joyce, Joyce embodies the narrative devices of characterization, setting, and symbolism in order to convey a central theme of the powerlessness and dread felt in the lower class individuals in society leading to the projection of stresses dealt with in work and life onto children and the vulnerable through abusive or negative actions.
The literary device of characterization is embodied in Joyce’s ‘Counterparts’ in order to invoke the central theme of powerlessness towards authority in societies. The antagonist of the text, Mr. Alleyne, is characterized as a negative narcissistic boss who belittles his workers and minority characters; which serves to convey the dehumanization and humiliation a marginalized group in society can endure from a higher-ranked member of society. This can be seen in the text through Mr. Alleyne’s belittlement of his worker Farrington, “‘Let me tell you that if the contract is not copied before this evening I’ll lay the matter before Mr Crosbie....’ ‘...Understand once for all that you get a half an hour for your lunch and not an hour and a half. How many courses do you want, I’d like to know...’”(Joyce). The coldness of Mr. Alleyne allows the reader to understand the conveyed message of a degrading boss who demands orders from the workers while being insulting; connecting to how he is asserting his authority in society due to his power of being a boss. Moreover, Mr. Alleyne can be described as asserting his authority by stating, “‘You impertinent ruffian! ... I’ll make short work of you! Wait till you see! You’ll apologise to me for your impertinence or you’ll quit the office instanter!’”(Joyce ). Likewise, one can view Mr. Alleyne as a demeaning boss who uses his power to make workers feel insecure. On the other hand, the protagonist of the story, Farrington, can be characterized as being victimized, violent, and deranged. Farrington can be highlighted as victimized by the bullying he experiences at work, and he can be deemed as violent and deranged due to his projection of negative feelings onto a child after a bad day at work, “The boy uttered a squeal of pain as the stick cut his thigh…“O, pa!” he cried. “Don’t beat me, pa!”(Joyce). This emphasizes Farringtons mental instability as he beats a child after drinking alcohol and experiencing humiliation; overall, this can signify the implications of being a lower-ranked member of society, and having to deal with the effects brought from society and authority.
The scenery in the ‘Counterparts’ serves a crucial role in developing the central theme because it highlights the stresses in work and life and how it can lead to addiction or negative behavior domestically. The setting of the workplace allows for the reader to understand the different levels of authority and the roles within the characters because of their level of power; for example, Farrington is identified as the lower ranking laborer giving him less authority, and Mr. Alleyne is identified as the higher-ranking boss giving him greater authority. In addition, the setting is significant in invoking a central theme because it gives the reader insight into Farrington’s emotions; the setting of the bar allows for the reader to understand why Farrington felt humiliated when losing an arm strength challenge, and this can highlight the feeling of powerlessness. The different settings of the chapter gives emphasis to the overall central theme of the vulnerable feeling powerlessness towards authority figures.
Not only does Joyce incorporate characterization, and setting, but also he uses symbolism in order to emphasize the negative implications that come of being a middle-class worker or person in poverty. The first symbol Joyce uses which can connect to the central theme is the locked arms of Weather and Farrington when playing an arms strength challenge. Joyce indicates, “The trial began again. The veins stood out on Farrington’s forehead, and the pallor of Weathers’ complexion changed to peony…After a long struggle Weathers again brought his opponent’s hand slowly on to the table…”, followed with, “He was full of smouldering anger and revengefulness. He felt humiliated and discontented; he did not even feel drunk…”(Joyce ). In summary, the arm challenge was symbolic in conveying the humiliation and anger Farrington was experiencing, and this serves as facilitation to Farrington’s violent and angry outburst at his home. In addition to this, Joyce uses the symbol of a stick to express the dreadfulness and humiliation Farrington experienced leading him to project those negative emotions onto a vulnerable child, “‘Now, you’ll let the fire out the next time!’ said the man striking at him vigorously with the stick. ‘Take that, you little whelp!’” (Joyce ). This statement connects to the demeaning and insulting nature of Farrington’s boss, Mr. Alleyne, someone who uses his place of power to take advantage of and belittle others, in comparison, Farrington is also using his power of authority to exert pain onto a vulnerable child who cannot fight back. The stick symbolizes the negative memories and emotions held in Farrington which causes him to inflict pain and sadness onto someone else because of the pain he experienced at the hands of his boss.
Through James Joyce’s incorporation of characterization, setting, and symbolism, in ‘Counterparts’ readers can gain insight into the central theme of powerlessness and weakness in those who have less power than those in authority; and this is conveyed through Farrington having less power because he is a worker, and the little boy having less power in the eyes of Farrington because he is a smaller, vulnerable child.