In this short story from Dubliners, Joyce explores the tension between Ireland (Little Chandler) and England (Gallaher). England comes across as an almost threatening force to Ireland, poised to rob Ireland of its identity.
Little Chandler comes across as a very insecure figure, called “Little Chandler” “because, though he was but slightly under the average stature, he gave one the idea of being a little man.” Throughout the story he struggles for identity. He walks to his appointment with Gallaher “tr[ying] to weigh his soul to see if it was a poet’s soul” and while he believes he has emotions that he wishes to express in poetry, his mind does not begin to form the poems but rather the reviews he will receive for his poetry. He feels that to succeed he must leave Dublin for England, as Gallaher did, where he may be recognized for the Irishness of his poetry. Hoping that his (English) critics will recognize him as a member of the Celtic school, he considers under what name he will publish his poetry, wanting to include his mother’s maiden name so that his name will look more Irish. [As a side note, judging by Joyce’s tone I don’t think he thought much of the Celtic school of poetry.]
Poetry does not seem to serve Little Chandler well in the story, however. At the beginning of the story, he thinks of his books of poetry at home and how “he had been tempted to take one down from the bookshelf and read out something to his wife. But shyness had always held him back.” When he finally does read from his books of poetry at the end of the story, the poetry only upsets his crying son more. Also within his home sphere, Chandler cannot seem to find a place. His domineering wife [Thank you for that portrayal of the only woman in this story, Joyce.] completes errands herself that he forgot to do and accuses him of doing something to their son when she returns and finds the baby crying. Chandler wonders “Why had he married the eyes in the photograph [of his wife]?” Chandler is also presented as a rather naïve individual, asking Gallaher if Paris is a “moral” city like Dublin. The other stories in Dubliners (that I have read at least) do not present a very “moral” portrait of Dublin, therefore Joyce intends Little Chandler’s comment to seem naïve to the reader.
Gallaher, in contrast to Little Chandler, is brash, obnoxious and overly confident. His Irishness has been subordinated by Englishness, revealed in his speech and even in his clothing. His orange tie suggests a loyalty to England [William of Orange and all that]. Chandler has come to Gallaher for help in gaining success, but Gallaher is a very unhelpful, off-putting figure, who mocks Chandler for his naïveté.
In this story, Dublin seems to be a prison from which Little Chandler must free himself to achieve success and happiness. Gallaher, by leaving Dublin, gained fame and success in London and he introduces the prospect to Chandler of “thousands of rich Germans and Jews, rotten with money, that’d only be too glad [to have a relationship with him].” When Chandler returns to his home and is wondering why he married his wife, that image of those foreign women returns to him as an appealing thought.