28 pages 56 minutes read

James Joyce

Two Gallants

Fiction | Short Story | Adult | Published in 1914

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Symbols & Motifs

The Harp

The harpist that Corley and Lenehan encounter on Kildare Street represents Joyce’s most explicit symbol of Ireland’s Social Decline. As the harp is a well-known emblem of Ireland, the imagery used to describe the musical instrument symbolizes the condition of Ireland as the author saw it.

Significantly, the harp appears in the text after Corley and Lenehan’s cynical dialogue about exploiting women and romance as a transactional business. The narrative describes how the harp’s “covings ha[ve] fallen about her knees, [and] seem[] weary alike of the eyes of strangers and her master’s hands” (8). Joyce’s personification of the instrument suggests an exhausted female sex worker who has undressed but is tired of being exploited and objectified. This imagery also connects the harp to the story’s theme of Suspicion and Betrayal. Joyce’s metaphor parallels the primary characters’ misogyny and perception of sexual relationships as exchange-based processes. Joyce’s emphasis on the weariness of the woman critiques the characters’ attitudes by demonstrating the effects of their behaviors.

The depiction of the harpist “pluck[ing] at the wires heedlessly” contributes to Joyce’s representation of Ireland’s social decline (8).