Joyce’s “An Encounter”, follows our unidentified narrator and his schoolmate Mahony on a wild search for adventure. “I wanted real adventures to happen to myself” the narrator says, “but real adventures do not happen to people who remain at home: they must be sought abroad”(13). Influenced by the likes of Joe Dillon and other Wild West adventures, the boys arrange to miss school in order to achieve a sense of freedom amid the streets of Dublin. While on their adventure, the narrator and Mahony encounter the burly sight of a Norwegian vessel, the commercial life of the city, and a peculiar conversation with an old man. With constant references to ‘chastising boys’ and “teaching them to never talk to girls“ (19), the man with “bottlegreen eyes” is cast as being a figure for homo-sexuality. At one point, this “queer old josser” as the narrator says, goes off to aid himself in the field. However, despite the ambiguous sexual preferences of the old man, his ‘bottlegreen’ eyes do not solely symbolize homo-sexuality. Had this been an intimate relationship, Mahony would not have “turned his eyes away again, while the man continued his monologue (19). We see that the boys are interested in the world around them and fulfilling their day of adventure rather than listening to an old hag from the city.
Still, with the color green, the man’s eyes present a catalyst for the narrator and Mahony’s own coming of age. In turning towards the footnotes, we see that the color green is referred to not only as homo-sexuality, but also, a color for holding things, such as beer. With this, the narrator describes the eyes of not only the old man, but the eyes of Norwegian sailors as being “blue and grey and even black” (16). They are sailors, who have without question encountered the sort of wild adventure the boys are seeking. Whereas the man has green eyes, which like the bottle of beer, signify a constraint or lack of freedom. Both the narrator and Mahony fail to find any enjoyment or freedom in speaking to the man as they constantly turn their attention elsewhere. Yet, it is this old mysterious man with green eyes that make both the narrator and Mahony realize such adventures cannot be met in the real world. Having experienced a sexual encounter and the ugliness of city life, the narrator “with an accent of forced bravery” called out for his friend (20). Reassured of safety, the boys realize that such adventures cannot be met in real world society. In fact, the world does not live up to the wild expectations of the west, but are lost in a disappointing field of green.