Joyce named this story as a personal favorite. He honored it by returning to the title imagery repeatedly over the thirty-five years that followed. The little cloud originates in Elijah’s ascension in a fiery chariot and a wailing child in Blake’s “Mad Song.” Gordon economically says “A Little Cloud” “…reflects the kinds of allusions that Chandler will put in his poetry” (167). Other literary connections already mentioned expand the symbol’s meaning beyond the narrative. Mary Reynolds lassoes Elijah’s Biblical cloud (399) and tethers it to the story, focusing the tale through Dante’s lens in Inferno (Canto XXVI). Once visibly flaming, the fiery chariot is now nearly out of sight, leaving just a memory of the conflagration before its ascent.
Chandler squints after the cloud and toward a celestial and imaginary career, ignoring the resultant destruction of his family. The Blake connection recalls his poem “Mad Song.” There, a demonic infant “like a fiend hid in a cloud” drops into a father’s world, pressing egotistical demands (Jackson and McGinley). In “A Little Cloud,” the wailing child might learn or inherit ways from a father, afire with self-interest.
In A Portrait, Joyce treats childish, aspirational clouds with mockery. Clouds girdle Earth’s sphere on the frontspage of Little Stephen’s schoolbook. He colors the clouds maroon. Later in the novel, clouds become not a vehicle of escape but a conveyance carrying Christ for the Last Judgement with Dedalus doomed by dreams contrary to salvation. In “A Little Cloud,” Chandler considers abandoning his family to pursue ethereal art. Giacomo Joyce reveals the cloud descended to Earth, grey and putrid. In the prose poem, Joyce imagines the conquest of the forbidden Amalia Popper. His obsession vaporizes after his victory. In Finnegans Wake, Joyce again connects the collision of artistic aspiration and family responsibility. Issy has assumed the formlessness of Nuvoletta “…climbed over the banisters; she gave a childy cloudy cry: Nuee! Nuee!” (159.2-3) to mark the combat of the Penman and Postman as art and responsibility. Joyce is then out of synch with chronology, as he often likes to be. He had resolved that conflict by conjoining Leopold Bloom and Stephen Dedalus under a single identity beneath Elijah’s “matitudinal cloud.” William York Tindall sees Polonius in Stephen’s aspirations before this mixing of souls. Stephen says, “Ay, very like a whale,” repeating the courtier’s sycophantic seconding of Hamlet’s mention of a little cloud (Tindall 28 and Shakespeare Act III, sc ii).
Joyce’s protracted use of the “little cloud” develops his theme with a logical if not chronological culmination in Ulysses. Chandler’s retarded spiritual development springs forth early in Joyce’s ontological journey. Little Chandler may be the least ethically evolved representation of the characters chasing the cloud (Stephen, Chandler, Giacomo, and Shem/Shawn’s unresolved shared identity). O’Grady attributes the resulting epiphanies, not to growth through experience by the character, but to lost innocence (403).
The commentary of recognizable names in Joyceana compares Thomas Chandler with James Duffy (a cold cod in “A Painful Case”), Lenehan (envious pilotfish of “Two Gallants”), and Jimmy Doyle (hooked flounder of “After the Races”). Another comparison might be to Farrington. Chandler and Farrington share approximate age (thirty-two and thirty-eight, respectively). Both are members of the lower middle class but excited by visits to low-class haunts. The two share the clerk’s occupation. They are unhappy husbands and destructive fathers.
Although Chandler and Farrington began in similar circumstances, they follow different clouds to different ends on equally disastrous prevailing winds. Chandler’s cloud lures him to grab for his art by bartering his family. He cultivated a prissy, passive persona and an obedient anima. Farrington, whose name in the Irish language, Jackson and McGinley tell, suggests both man and pig, hopes to roam his world like a Stone Age brute. Farrington’s ways are tempered but never quieted by God nor man. He loosens his shackles through enthusiastic alcoholism. Alcohol also briefly unshackles Chandler.
When drinking, Farrington rules his domain. Sober, we suspect, he answers to Mrs. Farrington’s discipline. Chandler, normally abstinent, slips into an inappropriate assertiveness under the uncustomary influence. He secretly wishes to be free of Annie: “Not e’en a Zephyr wanders through the grove,/ Whilst I return to view my Margaret’s tomb/ And scatter flowers on the dust I love.” In Dubliners, both direct their rage, not against their wives but their sons, future copies of themselves. Farrington and Chandler both came to their current states through a loss of innocence with dulled perceptions anesthetized by alcohol.
Farrington is the more corrupted of the two, not because he chose a worse path but because he has stumbled along longer. He is under the influence of Irish manhood “overvalorized mythically” as Mooney quotes Valenti (222). Chandler has wished Annie dead, but delicately and poetically. He brutalizes not a young boy but an infant. The potential for the corruption of T. Malone Chandler is at least as great as the corruption already realized in Farrington. At birth, Man Farrington, Boy Tom Farrington, Man Tommy Chandler, and Little Lambkins Chandler are all paralyzed by mother and Church’s influence by daylight and rebel against an oppressor with primitive urges by night. At birth, all are natural-born Farringtons. Weathers and Gallaher represent the oppressor in the stories. Weathers is English; Gallaher is Anglicized. As Gallaher proves, success demands an abandonment of the wombs of innocence, motherly love, Church, and homeland. Tindall calls the delicate mutual scorn of Chandler and Gallaher an “approach to the affairs of Shem and Shaun” (26).
One Joycean critic who briefly includes a comparison of Chandler and Farrington in her analysis is Kathleen Heininge. She focuses the effects of paternal paralysis on children “above all others trapped in their situations, victims of those around them” (271). Her discussion of the Irish Language’s “habitual present tense” suggests a tendency toward paralysis. Heininge predicts “…Chandler’s anxieties will eventually turn him into Mr. Kernan” (267). “Counterparts” refers to a true copy of a legal document. Chandler will become a true copy of Farrington. Lambkins is in danger of expressing a true copy of his father.
There is hope yet. If followed faithfully, the little cloud leads to Elijah’s revitalizing rain on a fertile plain where all life’s troubles resolve in Leopold Bloom. While Chandler-paralyzed dares not to look at the “alarmed Atalantas,” Bloom’s gaze is brazen. He takes in the next-door maid, a great lady ascending a carriage, Gerty MacDowell, and a marble Venus with equal “relish.” Chandler’s oysters are a fare too rich for him. On Bloom’s plate, oysters are the vehicle for his flirtation with Mary Driscoll. The escapade ironically further establishes Molly’s control over her wandering husband.
T.Malloy Chandler imagines a day-dream literary occupation; Bloom on trial in Circe’s den also claims a fictive living by the pen. He says…
Well, I follow a literary occupation, author-journalist. In fact we are just bringing out a collection of prize stories of which I am the inventor, something that is an entirely new departure. I am connected with the British and Irish press.
Chandler is an under-ripe 32-year-old. There are options to ripen or rotten by aged 38, the age of Farrington and Bloom. At his present age, Tindall calls our antihero “Prufrock’s ancestor” (241). He anticipates T.S. Eliot by a decade, but Joyce is not Eliot. In Joyce’s quantum spacetime wonderland, Chandler can grow into Bloom, concurrently appear as T. Malone or conjoined Shem/Shaum, or collapse into Farrington.