The story “An Encounter” is a part of the ‘childhood’ section of the collection of stories in Dubliners, and it explores the characteristics of child voice and child viewpoint the section contains. The extract of the story indicates a change in the boy’s attitude with regards to the old man. The initial response that the boy has when the man approaches them is that his voice is pleasingly liberal and well read, and as such was attractive to him. However, in the extract this perception seems to change, as it comes after the boy begins to feel uneasy around the man and decides to adopt false names as an indicator of his growing unease.
The seemingly inconspicuous title “An Encounter” makes the events in the story seem less sinister and wide ranging, so it was the boy’s reaction to the old man that was pivotal to the role of the encounter in the story rather than the existence of the man himself. This could be to show that the story presents the realities of real life and the difficulties that the boy will have to face as he grows up and becomes an adult. His changing perspective on the man and his growing awareness throughout the extract shows the speed of his maturation process, and how he is progressing to become a man.
In the extract, the voice of the narrator is used to show the boy’s growing mindfulness as he reflects on the words of the stranger. Joyce uses language to manipulate his narrator to reveal his own personal viewpoint and voice in the story. The methods used to capture the voice of the old man change throughout the whole encounter. Initially, the boy seems detached from the situation, using devices of indirect speech e.g. “he said”, “he asked”, “he began”. As the extract progresses the boy becomes more involved in the conversation and the terms of speech gradually become more direct. The middle section of the first paragraph seems to be almost word for word the man’s statements. This shows that the boy is gradually becoming more aware of the man’s intentions and thoughts as the conversation develops, and his involvement in the discussion becomes more explicit.
Also, the idea of an emerging paralysis of the boy is put forward by Joyce to emphasise the growing paralysis of the people of Dublin. This paralysis is shown by the silence of the boy during the conversation, in contrast to his dreamed, irate interaction: “I was going to reply indignantly that we were not National School boys to be whipped, as he called it; but I remained silent.” The use of a semi-colon extends the pause between the two clauses, and implies reflection; whereas the use of italics on the word “whipped” implies the indignant nature of the boy’s imagined delivery of his retort. His inability to confront the old man and act further emphasises his paralysis and implies the paralysis of the rest of the people in Dublin.
Joyce’s manipulation of narrative perspective throughout the extract reveals that the sexual nature of the man’s obsession with “whipping boys” is outside the boy’s immature frame of reference. The manner in which the boy recounts and comments on the man’s words proves this, with the constant referencing to the fact that it is indeed the man who made these utterances – with constant allusions to the man “he seemed”, “he said”. Contrary to the idea of a growing awareness being highlighted in the boy throughout, at the end of the extract, Joyce emphasises the fact that the boy doesn’t fully understand the man: “seemed to plead with me that I should understand him.”
“An Encounter” shows a growing awareness…