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Transcript of "An Encounter"
: "An Encounter"
The narrator of "An Encounter" uses Western novels as an escape from what he believes is a mundane life. When he grows weary of the Wild West stories, he craves “real” adventure. The speaker decides to skip school one day with his friends Leo and Mahony. They plan to walk around the town and go to the Pigeon House. The speaker collects sixpence from each boy before their planned excursion.
The day of the excursion, only the speaker and Mahony show up at the planned meeting spot. While walking around town, the boys buy themselves food and look at ships. When the speaker hears that one ship is from Norway, he searches for the ship’s name. Finding none, he wonders whether any of the passengers have green eyes.
The boys are unable to visit the Pigeon House due to time restraints; instead they spend the rest of their day resting in a field. While they are sitting an old man joins them. The stranger discusses books and sweethearts, and then goes into the field to expose himself in the field. While he is away, the speaker assigns the pseudonyms "Smith" to himself and "Murphy" to Mahony in case the man asks their names. The stranger returns and tells the speaker about his fantasy of whipping boys. Although the speaker senses danger, he initially is unable to leave the man. Finally, the speaker is able to walk away from the old man. As he leaves, he calls for Mahony and feels relieved in the presence of his friend.
Symbols Representing British Influence
The snacks that the boys eat are not native to Ireland and are imported
The pseudonym that narrator chooses for himself is British
The boys use the “Sixpence” which is British currency
The boys refer to a “bob and tanner” which is British slang for money
Symbols Representing Irish Culture and the Speaker's View of his Heritage
When the speaker sees the ship and discovers it may be from Norway, he searches for green eyes among the foreigners
"...I came back and examined the foreign sailors to see had any of them green eyes for I had some confused notion...." (19)
The speaker views green eyes as foreign and connects the color green with things that are new and exciting
Irony-Green is associated with the Gaelic traditions of Ireland and the nationalist (Catholic) population; it was used during a wave of Irish nationalism in the 19th century. The color was adopted to separate Ireland from the red and blue of England
Suggests the speaker has a misconstrued perception of his own culture (and the Irish people's loss of cultural identity)
Speaker even admits his notions of green eyes to be "confused"
The strange old man was dressed in a "greenish-black" (20) suit and had "bottle-green" (23) eyes
Joyce also suggests that the man is not native to Ireland (..."I noticed his accent was good." (22))
Although the speaker found someone with green eyes (i.e. foreignness and "adventure"), his experience doesn't match his preexisting notions of an adventure
The novella began with the speaker's plan to break the monotonous lifestyle of Ireland. His adventure did make his life more interesting, but is not anything out of the ordinary.
The title of the novella--"An Encounter"--suggests that the meeting with the strange man is not unusual, despite its awkward and uncomfortable nature
This further shows the decline of Irish culture; even instances like the meeting with the pervert have become normal
The narrator’s unsettling encounter with the stranger parallels his change of attitude towards his friend, Mahony, who represents the collective Irish heritage and culture.
Many characters (teachers, narrator, school friends) have disdain for the National School (Protestant School)
Evident at the speaker's Catholic school (teachers vocalize their unfavorable opinions towards Protestants)
Boys on the street insult the speaker and Mahony with the term “Swaddlers”, a reference to Protestants
In Britain, the major religion is Anglicanism (official Church of England). When England broke away from Roman Catholicism, it adopted Anglicanism which is a form of the Protestant religion. This provides more insight for the origin of religious rifts between Catholics and Protestants in Ireland.
i.e. Protestants = British people or British sympathizers
Mahony is assumed to be Protestant because of a badge of a cricket club on his cap
Cricket is British sport (sign of colonization)
The sky becomes cloudy towards the end of the boys' adventure during their rest in a field
"The sun went in behind some clouds and left us to our own jaded thoughts..." (21)
Creates an ominous, menacing tone; foreshadows the encounter with the stranger
During the old man's lecture to the speaker and Mahony the speaker is paralyzed with fear, despite his desire to escape the awkward situation
When the man leaves for a few minutes, the speaker stays put
It is only when there is a lull in the man's speech that the speaker is able to get up and leave
The paralysis of the narrator parallels the social paralysis of the Irish; although they see the decline of their culture, they do not act because they don't understand the extent or consequences of what is happening. They do not know how to respond to societal and cultural change.
Joyce suggests that there is a point of no return when it is too late to act.
When the man first approaches the boys, his conversation appears to be innocent. However, it becomes increasingly inappropriate and unsettling
If the boys had continued to stay put, they may have been in actual danger
Similarly, if the people of Ireland respond accordingly to their decline of culture, then the consequences of their inaction may be serious
Very evident in the old man's lecture
References to erotica: "...there were some of Lord Lytton's works which boys couldn't read."(21)
Asking about the boys "sweethearts"
"He began to speak to us about girls, saying what nice soft hair they and and how soft their hands were and how all girls were not so good as they seemed to be if only one knew." (22)
The Stranger’s “activities”
"He stood up slowly, saying he had to leave us for a minute or so...After a silence of a few minutes I heard Mahony exclaim:
-I say! Look what he's doing!" (22)
The vague references contribute to the mood of uneasiness since it is not immediately apparent what is going on
Similar to how the boys do not fully realize/understand what is happening
Emphasizes their innocence (innocent eye point of view)
Suggests that the decline of Irish culture is not always obvious
Alludes to the Wild West, “Indian” characteristics of wildness, battles, and excitement
Suggests Ireland's obsession with the modernized west
Allusions to the west:
Provides the basis for why the speaker wishes to escape his mundane lifestyle (wishes for adventure; doesn't realize that the novels are unrealistic)
Helps explain why the speaker views his Irish culture with disdain
Repetition of Actions: The man walked past the boys, then returned to talk to them. Then he left for a few minutes and returned again.
The man repeats the same points in his rant:
..."he was repeating something that he had learned by heart...he repeated his phrases over and over again, varying them and surrounding them with his monotonous voice." (22)
The speaker is sick of his daily routine and mundane lifestyle. His boredom prompts him to skip school and seek "adventure."
Main Character: the Speaker
Yearns to escape Irish culture. He is obsessed with Wild West stories and romanticized "adventure."
Dissatisfied with his mundane life (especially at his private school)
He is fascinated by foreigners and looks for them during his excursion near the boats
Associates the color green with Norwegians and foreigners; associates "foreign" with "adventure" and "excitement"
Unsure of what he wants, especially after meeting the old man whom he does not like and finds unsettling (confused perception of "adventure" and cultural identity)
Lack of name throughout novella emphasizes his lack of identity
His chosen pseudonym is british ("Smith"): connects to his desire to distance himself from his Irish heritage
Minor Character: Mahony
Mahony is an Irish name
His pseudonym ("Murphy") is of Irish origin
The speaker's feelings for his friend parallel the speaker's attitude towards Ireland.
The speaker believes him to be uncouth and is very straightforward
Chases a girl and a cat during the "miching"
Often speaks in slang
Claims to have "three totties" (21) (three sweethearts)
Functions as a foil to the speaker by highlighting their different attitudes
Behaves like a stereotypical boy (fulfills societal expectations)
Enjoys rough-housing, making fun of teachers, chasing a cat, etc.
Speaker realizes his friend's admirable qualities (like loyalty) at the end of the story, similar to his change of attitude towards Ireland
"...I was penitent; for in my heart I had always despised him a little." (24)
Connections to "The Dead"
The characters are dead (figuratively)
The speaker is "dead" because he wishes to escape his mundane life in Ireland, but when he tries to break up routine he finds that he does not experience adventure like he thought he would; he instead has a more unsettling experience
The speaker lacks an identity (we never learn his real name); also, he lacks a concrete understanding of his heritage and cultural identity, and is disconnected as a result
The characters of "The Dead" are also "dead" (Gabriel-culture, relationships; Aunts-no one respects them, old; etc.)
In "The Dead", there is evidence of some conflict between Protestants and Roman Catholics during the dinner scene
"An Encounter" also references this conflict (major motif)
Religion is a major theme throughout Joyce's
; this suggests that religion and the religious conflict between Protestants and Catholics was a major part of Irish day-to-day life
Even children are brought up to believe the other religion is inferior (evident in the behavior of the boys in "An Encounter")
Cultural identity crisis
Both the speaker of "An Encounter" and Gabriel of "The Dead" view their Irish heritage with disdain and seek to distance themselves from it
The speaker of "An Encounter" could be seen as a younger version of Gabriel
In both "The Dead" and "An Encounter," there is evidence of British colonialism everywhere
Products, food, culture, way of thinking, etc
Joyce suggests that the British influence in Ireland is a major cause of the degradation of Irish culture and heritage
Overarching theme of the decline of Irish culture throughout
The underlying tone/mood of "An Encounter" is unsettling and disturbing; connects to the overall tone of
because of the serious subject matter
Not immediately apparent why (brings back to “euphemisms”) because nothing is explicit. The reader must pay close attention to the story.
Connects to the idea that the decline of Irish culture and heritage can be subtle.
Joyce often ends his short stories of
on an eerie/unsettling note
Indicates the author's uneasiness with the decline of Ireland heritage and culture
Suggests ambiguity as to whether the Irish people will be able to realize the decline of their society and preserve their way of life
Offers more realism in the novella--Joyce introduces complex problems, and there are no tidy, perfect solutions
Style: Joyce wrote "An Encounter" in the past tense
Indicates that the event occurred in the past; may explain the speaker's depth in perception (more introspection, more complex thinking and maturity than a typical young boy)
"A spirit of unruliness diffused itself among us and, under its influence, differences of culture constitution were waived. We banded ourselves together, some boldly, some in jest and some almost in fear: and of the number of these latter, the reluctant Indians who were afraid to seem studious or lacking in robustness, I was one. The adventures related in the literature of the Wild West were remote from my nature but, at least, they opened doors of escape. I liked better some American detective stories which were traversed from time to time by unkempt and beautiful girls.Though there was nothing wrong with these stories and though their intention was sometimes literary they were circulated secretly at school."
This passage emphasizes the disturbing nature of the boys' encounter with the man by revealing the extent of the speaker's fear
This also serves as a turning point. The narrator realizes that the adventure that he craved is not the romanticized Wild West stories or what he originally expected
The narrator realizes the value of his friend, Mahony, when he comes running when the speaker needs him most. Mahony is a symbol for traditional Irish culture, so this represents his new appreciation for Ireland.
Joyce suggests that the people of Ireland only realize the true value and potential of their rich Irish culture and heritage in times of need
"I waited till his monologue paused again. Then I stood up abruptly. Lest I should betray my agitation I delayed a few moments pretending to fix my shoe properly and then, saying I was obliged to go, I bade him good-day. I went up the slope calmly but my heart was beating quickly with fear that he would seize me by the ankles. When I reached the top of the slope I turned round and, without looking at him, called loudly across the field:
My voice had an accent of forced bravery in it and I was ashamed of my paltry stratagem. I had to call the name again before Mahony saw me and hallooed in answer. How my heart beat as he came running across the field to me! He ran as if to bring me aid. And I was penitent; for in my heart I had always despised him a little."
This passage introduces the speaker's attitude and provides the basis for his lack of connection with his Irish identity
Establishes the speaker's view towards his Catholic school and explains his later decision to skip school and break his normal routine
The boy's obsession with Western novels seem childish, but this passage explains the speaker's craving for adventure
("...they opened doors of escape."(15)) and further develops the speaker's character
Even though the speaker doesn't fully align himself with the other boys who act as Indians, he considers books to be better than his own life
Implies that even though Irish people may not fully understand other cultures/nations, they are so disillusioned with their own Irish heritage that anything "new" or "foreign" is much more appealing
Although he seeks to distance himself from Irish culture, he does not know what "adventure" is and why he is seeking.
Influenced by peer-pressure. Not thinking for himself (afraid of being different): connects to the idea that the people of Ireland are not thinking for themselves or stepping up as leaders
Mahony represents traditional Ireland
Mahony wears a grey suit
plain color symbolic of narrator’s boredom with Ireland and the mundane
Speaker doesn’t want to be associated with Mahony (symbolic of the speaker wanting to distance himself from Ireland)
The old man speaks with contempt towards Mahony as the boy chases a cat
“I was afraid that the man would think I was as stupid as Mahony.” (21)
The speaker pretends to know which books the man speaks about so the man doesn't think he is ignorant like Mahony
The pseudonym the speaker assigns to Mahony is of Irish origin ("Murphy")
At the end of the novella, the speaker recognizes Mahony's (and therefore, Ireland's) favorable qualities and regrets his prior attitude towards Mahony