A Consideration Of Farrington In James Joyce
’s “Counterparts” Essay, Research Paper
2. Consider the character Farrington in “Counterparts” and expound upon his character and the social conditions that helped to create him.
While it may be hard to like the characters that Joyce gives us in “The Dubliners”, I believe you must view these characters with an eye focused upon the oppression of the Irish people and the subjugation of their culture and society by the ruling class of England. The Irish people have a long tradition of rebellion against their alleged English masters and the psychological effects of constant oppression and eternal rebellion would clearly weigh heavily upon the hearts and minds of the citizenry. Irish rebellion and nationalism were well founded before Joyce. The genesis of the movement seems to be the ideas of the United Irishmen and the failed rebellion of 1798.
The times in which Joyce lived were truly chaotic in his homeland. The Irish situation was deteriorating rapidly, the year 1913 saw the founding of the Labour Party in Ireland. 1913 also saw “The Great Lockout” of workers that crippled the common man and galvanized the Irish Labour movement. The Irish Citizen Army was also founded in Dublin. Joyce was to witness four major nationalist parties in Ireland, the Irish Parliamentary Party, Sinn Fein, the Irish Republican Brotherhood, and the Ancient Order of Hibernians. Such noted historical figures as James Connolly, and James Larkin organized the Irish in their resistance to English Imperialism. This is the heated environment that James Joyce was to witness, and he was to be moved by these and prior events to seek to awaken the populace to the exploitation that was hindering the intellectual and nationalistic growth of the land. Not only were the people being hindered by the British, but also by the Catholic church. The church seemed to pacify the people and quell their desire to seek power. Insistence upon other worldly justice leads to a pacifism that stops the rebellious spirit. This is what Joyce sought to end. His characters represent the volatility, helplessness, and poverty of the time, as they struggle to overcome the agents of oppression that dominated their world.
One unlikely image of the struggle against tyranny is Farrington in “Counterparts”. Farrington has obviously slaved his entire life for those who have not rewarded or appreciated his labors. Mr. Alleyne is a symbol for the foreign carpetbaggers that descended upon Ireland like so many vultures to seek their fortunes from the sweat of the Irish working class. But Farrington has nobly continued on, he has lived his entire life in the service of others and has nothing to show for it other than his age and a pocket watch that he will hock to purchase the whiskey that helps to alleviate his mental anguish. His heartless boss, Mr. Alleyne, insults him to impress a bourgeois women that is hanging upon his well appareled arm, only to be quickly, and wittily, rebuffed by the weary Farrington. “Do you think me an utter fool?” Alleyne queries pompously. Made a fool of by Farringtons well known response, all Alleyne can do is threaten to terminate the employment of our poor anti-hero. Farrington dejectedly takes to the streets to seek his comfort in the only source that he can think of; alcohol.
While alcohol is not currently accepted as a solution to problems, in the 19th and early 20th century it was considered perfectly fine. The sadness of Farringtons condition is advanced further by the fact that he pawns his watch and chain for six shillings. With coins in hand, Farrington moves off into the night to seek his comfort. Here in the pubs, Farrington briefly regains his honor and his status while his story is told throughout the night. Farrington began to buy drinks for his friends and was now an honored man. This is sadly the traditional role of the working man in an unappreciative society. Farrington is simply a replaceable cog in a giant machine while he is at work, but here in the pubs he is a man of renown. Stories were exchanged and Farrington was again a hero, if but only for a short time.
Later at the pub Farrington was to lose an arm wrestling contest to a young Englishman named Weathers, who just so happens to be an acrobat and artiste. I do not believe it to be to far of a stretch to consider the battle between Farrington and Weathers to be full of symbolism. The old versus the young. The Irish versus those who oppress them. The poor working class versus the bourgeoisie. In this instant, Farrington had lost in his defense of the national honor and also been humiliated as an old man. Again Joyce picks a foreigner to be the downfall of our Irish anti-hero. To add insult to injury, Farrington has spent all of his money and his drinking buddies desert him. Now Farrington is left to consider his defeat at the hands of the Englishman and his battle with the undefeatable opponent that is time. He is growing old in a young mans world. He is a second class citizen in his own land. This is the point that Farrington takes his final sad step in his descent.
Farrington arrives home and viciously lashes his young son with a stick, ostensibly for allowing the fire to go out. This is Farringtons only outlet for his anger and his sadness. All of the anger, oppression and prejudice that he has been a victim to is redirected at his innocent son. The circle of oppression will invariably continue as the son grows to hate his father and also to enter the world that has so damaged his father. As the son begs for his fathers mercy he says he will pray for his father. This is a sign that the boy has accepted the church as his protector, but to no avail.
Farrington may not be a hero, but he is a potent and tragic symbol of the degeneration of a man when forced to live in a system that offers him no justice. It is not hard to imagine that Farrington was once a young child, much like his son, with a seemingly bright future ahead. Through years of hard labor and no opportunity he has fallen to his current state, but at times his spirit shines as a beacon and his wit humbles his oppressor. Knowing a little about Irish history, it is sad to say that Farringtons condition did not likely improve nor did that of his son. The oppression that destroyed so many proud Irishmen continues on today to some extent and the current economic boom is again being carved upon by foreign carpetbaggers. The quest for Irish freedom is a continuing struggle, and Farrington was merely another noble victim of the struggle. James Connolly once wrote, “The working class are the sole incorruptible inheritors of the fight for Irish freedom.” Unfortunately, In Farringtons time the fight was not to be won.
The English continue to occupy Ireland, and a unified Ireland does not seem to be on the horizon. The struggle is timeless as the following quote attests:
“We have seen with anger in our hearts and the flush of shame on our cheeks English alms dumped on the quays of Dublin; we have had to listen to the lying and hypocritical English press as it shouted the news of the starving and begging Irish to the ends of the earth; we have heard Englishmen bellowing on the streets of Dublin the lie that we are the sisters and brothers of the English?and the greatest shame of all, we have seen Irishmen give their approval to all these insults? God grant that such things man never happen in our land again.”
As current as that quote sounds, it is from Irish Freedom, December 27th 1913. With the atrocities and criminal behavior of the British in mind, it is easier to come to a more sympathetic view of Farrington. Farrington is not the cold hearted, drunken child beater that he at first appears, but rather the victim of a society that has doomed him to his sad fate. We must consider that he continues to struggle on despite the odds and that his lot has been shared by an entire nation for generations.