Dubliners- Publication: Written in 1905. First publication in the first edition of Dubliners, 1914.
The story has three parts. In the first part the boy-narrator and his friends, the Dillon brothers and Mahony, are excited by stories of the Wild West, and are inspired to play out and dream of their own adventures and expeditions as a result of reading tales of cowboys and Indians.
Paralysis- Stuck in Dublin, the Wild West is after all only a dream.
These adventures are contrasted with the air of proscription and disapproved evident in the attitude of the boys' teacher, Father Butler. The boys dream up a plan to escape school for the following day, but the Billons do not show up, one because he has a vocation for the priesthood, the other because he is too frightened to play truant.
The second part of the story follows the adventure of the narrator and Mahony, who meet on a bridge over the Royal Canal in the north of the city. They walk along the North Strand Road, then down the Wharf Road, built on a sea wall on Dublin bay, past the Smoothing Iron, a bathing place, and to the quays. Their route takes them along the coast on the north-east side of Dublin. They stop for lunch on the quays, and then cross the mouth of the river Liffey by ferry to douth-east Dublin, this takes them across the river Dodder, a tributary of the Liffey, and they stop to lie on the bank of a field.
The third part of the sotry takes place in the field when a man with a walking stick, shabbily dressed and wearing a jerry hat, approaches them. The man talks to the boys of the weather, then of school and reading, and then of girls. At this point, the narrator suspects the man of being strange, for the mean talks of, 'how all girls were not so good as they seemed to be if one only knew' (p.26). After speaking of his fondness for, 'looking at a nice young girl', the mean leave for a few minutes, and does something at the end of the field. The narrator will not look at what he is doing, even though Mahony expresses surpise and calls the old man, 'a queer old josser' (p.26). He is persumably masturbating, although we have no way of knowing this.
When the old man returns, Mahony leaves to chase a cat, while the mean talks to the narrator of his desire to give young boys, 'a nice warm whipping' (p.27). The narrator becomes frightened frightened at this point, and finds an excuse to leave. The narrator and Mahony's companionship in the aftermath of their encounter with the strange old man.
The story is narrated by a boy, but it is not always clear from the perspective in time it is being narrated. On the other one hand, the language used by the narrator adopts the slang and the vocabulary of an adolescent boy, but there are occasional suggestions that the story might be narrated by an older man reflcing on his boyhood. For example, when the narrator described the old man's hat, he says that the old man, ';wore what we used to call a jerry hat' (p.24). This line suggests the perspective of an older man, not a boy.
STORY COMPARISON- Like 'The sisters', 'An Encounter' deals with the passage from childhood to adulthood, from innocence to experience (see Growth and Maturity in Themes). The narrator abandons the world of scholary knowledge for one day in order to go in search of adventure, and what he finds on this adventure is a sleazy, squalid world of adult desire and corruption. But he also finds a common bond of friendship with Mahony, and regrets having held Mahony in contempt. The narrator and Mahony are on the brink of the adult world, evident in the way that they maintain a form of polite adult conversation with the old man, but they are also removed from this world by their childhood beliefs in hope and virtue. One approach to the story might then be to regard it as the recognition that hope, virtue and goodness are myths, and that bonds of friendship and trust are the necessary substitutes for virtue in a world where absolute virute is unattainable.
The story had a religious significance, therefore, in replacing religious ideals, like virtue and truth, with human bonds. Moreover, there is the suggestion in the word 'josser' that the old man is also priest. The old man's desire to see boys whipped for being interested in girls could mirror the Jesuits' chastisement of boys in schools for being interested in adventures. The significance might be that the boys discover a world of excitement and adventure, and are hungry for new forms of knowledge and achievement, only by going outside the confines of their religious and scholarly instructions. From this approach, the story would be about the damaging effect of education on young people in closing their minds to all varieties of knowledge and experience.