Farrington, a legal clerk, is verbally abused by his tyrannical boss, Mr. Alleyne, and given an absolute deadline for copying a contract. Farrington, however, is in dire need of a drink and shortly after returning to work sneaks out for a glass of porter at O'Neill's. Upon his return, Farrington smells the perfume of an important wealthy middle-aged client, Miss Delacour. The chief clerk tells him that Mr. Alleyne, in need of the paperwork for the Delacour case, has been looking for him again. Farrington delivers the file, hoping that his boss won't notice that the last two letters are missing.
After Farrington returns to work, he knows full well he will miss his deadline because he will not be able to complete copying the contract on time. His dreams of spending the night pub crawling are interrupted by a very upset Mr. Alleyne who yells at him in public about the missing letters. Farrington insists he knows nothing about them. Mr. Alleyne, now beyond anger, screams "do you think me an utter fool?" and Farrington gives him a pertinent response (73). Now, out of his mind with anger, Mr. Alleyne demands an apology which embarrasses Farrington and makes him more miserable.
Later on, Farrington hopes to get the company cashier alone so he can borrow money against his wages, but there's no hope and the only way he can get money for his carouse is to pawn his watch, for which he gets six shillings. He meets his buddies Davy Byrne, O' Halloran and Paddy Leonard and falsely tells them that he was able to trick his boss. They buy rounds of drinks and Higgins comes in and adds glorious embellishments to Farrington's run-in with Alleyne. After numerous drinks, they take off for the Scotch House where they meet young Weathers, an acrobat and an artist. They continue to drink and after this bar closes they continue on to Mulligan's, where a woman catches Farrington's eye then rebuffs him. Then he becomes surly and starts bemoaning his sorry, impoverished life. He thinks of how he has spent his money on drinks and how young Weathers drinks more than he buys. The night continues in typical drunken raucousness and arm wrestling until Farrington, angry now, accuses Weathers of cheating when he is defeated. They continue to drink.
Farrington's anger continues to mount on his way home: "a very sullen man stood on the corner of O'Connell Bridge," and once again he regrets pawning his watch, especially since (he thinks) he isn't even drunk (78). His reputation as a mighty man has been lost to young Weathers: "he had lost his reputation as a strong man, having been defeated twice by a mere boy" and his "heart swelled with fury" (78). When he enters his home he finds a cold dinner. Tom, one of his five children, tells him his wife is at church and Farrington orders the boy to heat his dinner. Little Tom obeys but Farrington notices the fire has gone out, chases the boy and beats him brutally with a stick despite the child's pleading cries for mercy: "Don't beat me, Pa! I'll say a Hail Mary for you pa, if you don't beat me" (79).
Joyce's ninth Dubliners story takes as its themes powerlessness coupled once again with resentment. Farrington, who copies legal documents, is stuck in a boring job from which he seeks diversion in the form of dreams and drinking. He is completely powerless over every aspect of his life and this is highlighted by his physical dependence on alcohol. All he desires is an evening out with his buddies so he can forget the sorry state of his life, especially his abusive boss Mr. Alleyne, whose name means all-seeing. There is no doubt he is an alcoholic and he will get drunk even if it takes every penny he has.
Nothing will keep him away from drink. Although, especially after the run-in with Alleyne, he is in great danger of losing his job, he goes to the pub during the day for a drink to see him over until he can get out for his night of drinking. As with most of Joyce's characters, his future seems darker than his present. He is no longer a strong man. While earlier he was emasculated by his boss, in the pub he is similarly diminished by young Weathers. Constantly "thirsty" throughout, he can actually no longer find oblivion even in drink: "he had not even got drunk" (78).
Predictably, he takes out his anger on his son Tom who only attempts to please his father. He has been beaten before, poor child, and he will be again.
In this story also, Joyce denigrates the Catholic Church which occupies the mother who should be protecting her children and gives false hope to the child who pathetically promises to pray for his father if he doesn't beat him.