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The story takes place within a few hours on the streets of Dublin City, one evening. There is a fake gaiety about the brightly-lit streets, with people out to enjoy the evening. But the main characters, two lay abouts, one of them dabbling in prostitution, represent the grim under side of the gaily-lit city.
LIST OF CHARACTERS
An over confident professional charmer he uses his middle class manners to seduce lonely servant girls and makes them pay for it.
Corley’s pathetic follower, he shares the spoils Corley gets.
a) Corley, a middle class professional charmer who seduces servant girls.
b) Lenehan, a hanger-on of Corley, admiring and envious of his sexual exploits. A more sympathetic character than his friend.
There is no clear cut antagonist, but the loneliness and alienation of city life and the problem of unemployment in colonial Dublin is always in the background.
Lenehan’s tense wait for the "spoils" which Corley will share with him is the climax of the story.
A triumphant Corley comes away after his encounter with a girl, with a shiny gold coin. Thus both men feel it has been a satisfactory evening.
The mood is bleak, from the description of the evening merry- makers to the sharp critique of Corley. Lenehan is seen more sympathetically but his spinelessness is underlined. The general handling of the two characters is sensitive but unsparing.
This story begins at dusk, with brightly dressed pleasure-seekers 2thronging the streets of Dublin. The lamps cast a pearly light over the city. Two young men are walking along, one talking confidently the other listening. The speaker obviously dominates over the other man. He is burly, walks like a policeman and his conversation is "mainly about himself." The other wears a "cheerful, admiring expression" but under it he has "a ravaged look", gray, scanty hair, and is getting stout. The speaker, Corley, boasts of his exploits with women. They seem to be servant girls who regard him as a "gentleman" and are willing to spend money on him. Corley says they generally don’t know his name and think, "I’m a bit of class, you know."
The other man, Lenehan is a hanger-on of those more prosperous or generous than himself. He has "a vast stock of stories, limericks, and riddles" which he contributes in exchange for a free drink. His occupation is unknown to his cronies but he is vaguely connected with racing. In tune with his profile of a "side-kick" he has a servile manner and a mocking way of flattering his friends.
Corley talks of how he was, at one time, foolish enough to spend money on the girls he courted, and had never got any "returns" on his investment. He fondly remembers one girl who had succumbed to his wiles. Leneham reminds him that she had turned to prostitution, and Corley had been responsible for that Lenehan makes these remarks in flattery admiring Corley’s deadly influence on women. They then discuss Corley’s date that evening. He refers to her as "a fine, decent tart." They pass a harpist playing sad old folk songs. They become silent under the influence of his melodies.
They then spot the young woman waiting for Corley at the street corner. Lenehan wants to see her close up. Corley accuses him of wanting her for himself. Lenehan denies this and they agree he should just walk past. They play to meet later that night. Lenehan walks past, eagerly noting her fresh, country looks, though she is not pretty, and "her mouth lay open in a contended leer." He feels tired and hopeless about his own life. He has no home, no family. Imagining Corley’s success with the girl, he feels "keenly his own poverty of purse and spirit." After eating the cheapest possible meal of a plate of peas at a Lear, he is comforted. After walking around aimlessly, Lenehan goes to the meeting place. Time passes he wonders if Corely has given him the slip. Then he sees the couple approach. The young woman enters a house, then comes out again to meet Corley. Anxiously, Lenehan runs ahead to catch up with Corley. Eagerly he asks, "Did it come off?" Corley is silent, then at last he opens his fist and proudly displays a shiny gold coin.
Joyce’s title is filled with irony. It suggests some romantic chevaliers from a bygone age, polished and perhaps rich. Instead what we have is two loafers. The first uses his strong figure to prey on poor servant-girls taken in by his practiced charm. Realizing early that women are susceptible to him, he drifts into prostitution. Both men find it difficult to get jobs. But in Corley’s case, he clearly has family resources and generous acquaintances. His friend’s situation is more precarious. Joyce exposes their lifestyle to our gaze methodically. He has some sympathy for Lenehan, but his viewpoint is clinically precise. The lack of action, the monotonous conversation, with only Corley holding forth and Lenehan’s passive admiration, reflects their spiritual poverty. All sympathy is forgotten at the end, as we see Corley’s glee on receiving payment for his services and Lenehan’s anxiety about this ‘loot’ from which he too will benefit.
Joyce displays his masterly range here. He shows the dregs of the middle class, individuals who hang onto their "genteel" masks, turning a "gentlemanly" appearance into an earning proposition, but still live precariously on the edge.