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The background is initially the office of a firm of solicitors in Dublin where there is a furious encounter between the protagonist Farrington, a clerk and the junior partner, Alleyne. It moves from the firm to the bar to which Farrington sneaks out and still more bars where he spends the night. He then goes home to his small shabby crowded house, very late. Thus the setting is the familiar one, in Dubliners, of the lower middle class office employee.
LIST OF CHARACTERS
An alcoholic copy clerk at a solicitorís firm.
The junior partner at the firm where Farrington works.
One of his five children, who attends to him when he returns home.
Farrington is a middle aged, middle class office employee like many other Dubliners. However he is also a confirmed alcoholic finding pleasure and emotional satisfaction only in drink, and with his drinking companions.
Alleyne, the junior partner of the solicitors firm where Farrington works at copying documents. A vicious, frustrated, misshapen "little man." Alleyne is happy to wreak his fury on Farrington, the drunkard who always provides him with an excuse.
A morning of drudgery and humiliation at the office is followed by an afternoon and evening of drinking in the bars for Farrington. The reckoning comes not so much for him as for his family, when he returns looking for a victim on whom he can spew his frustration. This time it is his son Tom.
Joyce follows an alcoholic on an entire day, revealing the frustration at work, the futile pleasure of drinking, the anger when the drink wears off and the classic end of battering wife or children, who are helpless to resist. Here there is no self- awareness, nor any hope of improvement in their lives.
The mood is sharply satirical in the office of Farrington and Alleyne, analyzing with sensitivity, but without sympathy. The satire wears off when Farrington leaves the office, leaving only a grim reporting style.
Set against the background of the office of a firm of solicitors, the story begins with a sharp, hostile encounter between Farrington, a clerk and Alleyne, the managing partner at Crosbie and Alleyne. The encounter is a study in contrasts-Alleyne, "the polished skull which directed the affairs of Crosbie and Alleyne", is a "little man, wearing gold-rimmed glasses on a clean shaven face." Farrington is "tall and of great bulk. He had a hanging face, dark wine-colored, with fair eyebrows and moustache." His eyes are bulging and blood shot-tell-tale sign of the alcoholic. Farrington, who has failed to prepare a document on time, is roughly pulled up by Alleyne, who threatens him with a complaint, to the senior partner and blasts him for various other lapses. After this the furious Farrington suppresses on urge to attack Alleyne, which is immediately followed by a more desperate craving for drink. He canít concentrate on the urgently required document, but steals past the head clerk into the street. Safe in his favorite bar, he gulps down a drink and sidles back into the office. The chief clerk laughs at his attempts at excuses and comments that five times in a single day in too much. On hearing that the correspondence in the Delacour file is wanted, he hastily picks up the file, which is incomplete, and carries it up.
Alleyne is busy with Miss Delacour, a middle aged, heavily perfumed woman. He doesnít notice Farrington nor does he open the file. Relieved, Farrington descends to his office and tries to concentrate on the contract he was drafting earlier. The port he had drunk has confused him, and concentration is impossible. His mind escapes into the bar where he will enjoy himself with his friends. Suddenly a furious Alleyne, followed by Miss Delacour, descends on him, abusive and furious-"it was so bitter and violent that the man could hardly restrain his fist from descending upon the head of the manikin before him." Farrington is at first confused by what he has drunk and is silent. When Alleyne then barks-"Do you think me an utter fool?" he perks up and returns a cheeky answer. This enrages Alleyne further and Farrington is forced to apologize or quit the office. All this has a sobering effect on him when all have left he lingers hoping for an advance from the cashier, but fails to get it. As in every such crisis "he felt savage and thirsty and revengeful" and ends up at the bar.
There his cronies are like him, clerical employees, eager to drown the dayís drudgery and insults in drink. Each one boasts of witty replies to nasty bosses, and every such anecdote earns a fresh round of drinks and laughter. When their money runs out they move to another bar and other friends to finance their drinks. Farrington is quite cocky by this time. On being told that two attractive women sitting at a nearby table are from the Tivoli theatre, he ogles one of them receiving an inviting glance in return. He feels frustrated, recalling that he has no money left. Just then, a bout of arm wrestling begins at his table. He takes on a young man-Weathers-who has already had an expensive drink at his expense. Being hostile, older and in poor condition, Farrington is easily defeated. His night out thus leaves him in a foul mood.
Waiting for the tram home, Farrington "cursed everything. He had done for himself in the office, pawned his watch, spent all his money; and he had not even got drunk." He is furious and spoiling for a fight. His "manhood" has been slighted, first by having to pass up the young actress, then at his defeat "by a mere boy." He reaches home late and shouts for his wife-" a little sharp faced woman who bullied her husband when he was sober and was bullied by him when he was drunk." She doesnít answer. One of his five children, Tom, comes running to him, saying his mother is at the chapel. His temper rising Farrington demands his dinner and asks why the fire is out. The trembling child says heís going to heat the food, when seizing any excuse, Farrington picks up his walking stick and attacks the boy. The child filled with terror whimpers and pleads "Oh pa! Donít beat me, pa! And Iíll---Iíll say ĎHail Maryí for you!"