4. He remembered the books of poetry upon his shelves at home. He had bought them in his bachelor days and many an evening, as he sat in the little room of the hall, he had been tempted to take one down from the bookshelf and read out something to his wife. But shyness always held him back; and so the books had remained on their shelves.
—“A Little Cloud”
In this quote from the beginning of “A Little Cloud,” Little Chandler sits in his office, waiting for the workday to conclude so he can meet with Gallaher, his old friend. As he thinks about Gallaher’s successes as a London newspaper writer, Little Chandler begins to reflect on his own career as a writer. Though he works as a clerk, a job in which writing plays a large part, Little Chandler aspires to be a poet—a writer whose material is human emotion, not drudgery. In this passage, however, Little Chandler dejectedly accepts that such aspirations will never materialize. He has the books, but none of the passionate drive to produce one of his own. The books in the quote, in turn, serve as emblems of Little Chandler’s poetic desires. They are present and within reach, but his temerity and hesitation prevent him from pulling them from the shelf. His inability to read to his wife also hints at the contradictory role of marriage in his life: it acts as an inhibitor rather than an encouragement to fulfilling his desires. The final moments of the story confirm this antagonism. Little Chandler musters the courage to read some poetry to himself, but his wife’s entry crushes his reverie and makes him feel remorseful for his actions.
The symbolic setting of this passage underscores the competing forces in Little Chandler’s life. He wishes to live and write poetically, but does so in the confines of an office space. The imagined presence of the books, juxtaposed with Little Chandler’s surroundings, highlights the contrast between his grandiose dreams and the mundane reality that envelops him. Little Chandler’s wandering mind evokes the escapist leanings of so many of the characters in Dubliners, though his reality at least mimics his dreams. That is, Little Chandler earns his living in a pallid version of the same career about which he fantasizes.