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.
Little Chandler eagerly awaits a reunion with his old friend Ignatius Gallaher, who moved to London eight years ago. A married man and father who earned his nickname from his small and delicate deportment, Little Chandler whittles away the afternoon hours at his clerical job, constantly thinking about his approaching evening drink. Little Chandler wonders in amazement at Gallaher’s impressive career writing for English newspapers, though he never doubted that Gallaher would do well for himself. As Little Chandler leaves work and walks to the bar where the men agreed to meet, he contemplates Gallaher’s homecoming and success, then thinks of his own stunted writing aspirations and the possibilities of life abroad that remain out of his reach. Little Chandler used to love poetry, but he gave it up when he got married. As he walks he considers the far-fetched possibility of writing his own book of poems.
In the bar, Little Chandler and Gallaher talk about foreign cities, marriage, and the future. Little Chandler is surprised to see Gallaher’s unhealthy pallor and thinning hair, which Gallaher blames on the stress of press life. Throughout the conversation, during which the men consume three glasses of whiskey and smoke two cigars, Little Chandler simultaneously recoils from and admires Gallaher’s gruff manners and tales of foreign cities. He is displeased with Gallaher’s presumptuous way of addressing others and wonders about the immorality of a place like Paris with its infamous dance halls. At the same time, he envies Gallaher’s worldliness and experience. Little Chandler has settled down with a wife and has a son. When he himself becomes the subject of conversation, he is uneasy and blushes. He manages to invite Gallaher to visit his home and meet his family that evening, but Gallaher explains that he has another appointment and must leave the bar soon. The men have their final drink together, and the conversation returns to and ends with Gallaher and his bachelorhood. When Little Chandler insists that Gallaher will one day marry, the journalist scoffs at the prospect, claiming that if he does so he will marry rich, but as it stands he is content to please himself with many women rather than become bored with one.
Later that night in his house, Little Chandler waits for his wife to come home from the local store—Chandler had forgotten to bring home coffee in his flurry of excitement about Gallaher. While he holds his baby son in his arms, as directed by his wife, he gazes at a picture of her and recounts his conversation with Gallaher. Unlike Gallaher’s exotic, passionate mistresses, his wife appears cold and unfeeling, though pretty. Chandler begins to question his marriage and its trappings: a “little” house, a crying child. Reading a passage of Byron stirs his longings to write, but soon his wife returns home to snatch the screaming child from his arms and scold her husband. Little Chandler feels remorse for his rebellious thoughts.
“A Little Cloud” maps the frustrated aspirations Little Chandler has to change his life and pursue his dream of writing poetry. The story contrasts Little Chandler’s dissatisfaction and temerity with Gallaher’s bold writing career abroad. Little Chandler believes that to succeed in life, one must leave Dublin like Gallaher did. However, Gallaher’s success is not altogether confirmed in this story, unless one measures his success by his straightforward, unrestrained take on life. Little Chandler compares himself to Gallaher, and in doing so blames his shortcomings on the restraints around him, such as Dublin, his wife, and his child. He hides from the truth that his aspirations to write are fanciful and shallow. Not once in the story does Little Chandler write, but he spends plenty of time imagining fame and indulging in poetic sentiments. He has a collection of poetry books but cannot muster the courage to read them aloud to his wife, instead remaining introverted and repeating lines to himself. He constantly thinks about his possible career as a poet of the Celtic school and envisions himself lauded by English critics, often to the extent that he mythologizes himself. Little Chandler uses his country to dream of success, but at the same time blames it for limiting that success.
While dreaming of a poetic career may provide escape for Little Chandler, the demands of work and home that serve as obstacles to his dreams ultimately overwhelm him. Like other characters in Dubliners, Little Chandler experiences an epiphany that makes him realize he will never change his life. Looking at a picture of his wife after returning home from the pub, Little Chandler sees the mundane life he leads and briefly questions it. The screams of his child that pierce his concentration as he tries to read poetry bring him to a tragic revelation. He knows he is “prisoner” in the house. Little Chandler’s fleeting resistance is like a little cloud that passes in the sky. By the end of the story he feels ashamed of his disloyal behavior, completing the circle of emotions, from doubt to assurance to doubt, that he probably will repeat for the rest of his life. The story finishes where it began: with Little Chandler sighing about his unrealized aspirations, but submitting to the melancholy thought that “it was useless to struggle against fortune.” Circular routine plagues Chandler as it does for most of the characters in Dubliners.
Little Chandler’s inability to act on his desires and his dependence on Gallaher to provide experiences he can participate in vicariously make him similar to Lenehan in “Two Gallants.” Just as Lenehan stands in Corley’s shadow, Little Chandler admires and envies Gallaher. Even when he realizes that Gallaher refuses his invitation to see his home and family out of disinterest, he keeps such sentiments to himself. In Gallaher, an old friend who has done well for himself, Little Chandler sees the hope of escape and success. This friendship sustains Little Chandler’s fantasies, allowing him to dream that Gallaher might submit one of his poems to a London paper, and allowing him to feel superior because he has foreign connections. At the same time, as the meeting at the pub progresses, Little Chandler feels cheated by the world since Gallaher can succeed and he cannot, and so once again the friend provides a barometer to measure and judge himself against. Left on his own with his books, Little Chandler must face his own shortcomings.