Selected essays on James Joyce’s "Araby"

Sample Essays Analyzing JamesJoyce’s Short Story "Araby"

The content consists of brief but condensations of the action of the story. The content tells your reader whathappens. Remember that you cannot relate all the action. Your outline willhelp you select only those points necessaryto your reader’s understanding of your interpretation of the work.

Study the summary essay below to discover its organization.Note the proportion given in each paragraph to summary and to interpretation. Theintroduction identifies the workand the author. Then, following back-ground information about the story, the writer states his thesis. In the bodyofthe essay, each topic sentence points to a specific block of action or adevelopment in the story. The content ofeach paragraph is devoted to asummary of a selected block of action, and the last sentence of each para-graph evaluatesand interprets the action described. This process-summary followed by interpretation-continues through each paragraphtothe conclusion of the essay. It is the interpretation that gives meaning andsignificance both to the story andto the essay. In the essay that follows, note the use of quotations and how each aids understanding and impartsasense of the style and manner of the work.

James Joyce’s "Araby": Summary ofan Epiphany

Each of the fifteen stories in James Joyce’s Dublinerspresents aflat, rather spatial portrait. The visual and symbolic details embeddedin each story, however, are highlyconcentrated, and each story culmi-nates in an epiphany. In Joycean terms, an epiphany is a momentwhen the essenceof a character is revealed , when all the forces thatbear on his life converge, and we can, in that instant, understandhim.Each story in the collection is centered in an epiphany, and eachstory is concerned with some failure or deception,which results in re-alization and disillusionment. "Araby" follows this pattern. Themeaning is revealedin a young boy’s psychic journey from first love to despair and disappointment, and the theme is found in the boy’sdiscoveryof the discrepancy between the real and the ideal in life.

The story opens with a description of North RichmondStreet, a"blind," "cold … .. silent" street where the houses "gazed at one an-otherwith brown imperturbable faces." It is a street of fixed, decaying conformity and false piety. The boy’s housecontains the samesense of a dead present and a lost past. The former tenant, a priest,died in the back room ofthe house, and his legacy-several old yel-lowed books, which the boy enjoys leafing through because they areold,and a bicycle pump rusting in the back yard-become symbolsof the intellectual and religious vitality of the past.The boy, in themidst of such decay and spiritual paralysis, experiences the confusedidealism and dreams of firstlove and his awakening becomes incom-patible with and in ironic contrast to the staid world about him.

Every morning before school the boy lies on thefloor in thefront parlor peeking out through a crack in the blind of the door,watching and waiting for the girlnext door to emerge from her houseand walk to school. He is shy and still boyish. He follows her, walkssilentlypast, not daring to speak, overcome with a confused sense ofsensual desire and religious adoration. In his mindshe is both a saintto be worshipped and a woman to be desired. His eyes are "often fullof tears," andone evening he goes to the back room where the priesthad died. Clasping the palms of his hands together, he murmurs,"0love! 0 love!" in a prayer not to God, but to the concept of love andperhaps even to the girl, hislove. Walking with his aunt to shop onSaturday evenings he imagines that the girl’s image accompanies him,and thathe protects her in "places the most hostile to romance." Inthe mixed symbolism of the Christian and theRomantic or Orientalmyths Joyce reveals the epiphany in the story: "These noises con-verged in a single sensationof life for me: I imagined that I bore mychalice safely through a throng of foes." He is unable to talk tothegirl. Drifting away from his schoolmates’ boyish games, the boy hasfantasies in his isolation, in the ecstasyand pain of first love.

Finally the girl speaks to the boy. She asks himif he is going toAraby. He replies that if he does he will bring her a gift, and fromthat moment, his thoughtsupon the mixed imagery of the saintly lightupon her hair and the potential sensuality of "the white borderof apetticoat," the boy cannot sleep or study. The word Araby "cast anEastern enchantment" overhim, and then on the night he is to go tothe bazaar his uncle neglects to return home. Neither the aunt noruncleunderstands the boy’s need and anguish, and thus his isolationis deepened. We begin to see that the story is notso much a story oflove as it is a rendition of the world in which the boy lives.

The second part of the story depicts the boy’sinevitable disap-pointment and realization. In such an atmosphere of "blindness"-the aunt and uncle unawareof the boy’s anguish, the girl not con-scious of the boy’s love, and the boy himself blind to the true natureofhis love-the words "hostile to romance" take on ironic overtones.These overtones deepen when the boyarrives too late at the bazaar.It is closing and the hall is "in darkness." He recognizes "a silencelikethat which prevades a church after a service" but the bazaar isdirty and disappointing. Two men are "countingmoney on a salver"and he listens "to the fall of the coins." A young lady, bored withhim and interestedin two men who are flirting with her, cheapensand destroys the boy’s sense of an "Eastern enchantment."His love,like his quest for a gift to draw the girl to him in an unfriendly world,ends with his realizing thathis love existed only in his mind. Thus

the theme of the story-the discrepancy betweenthe real and theideal-is made final in the bazaar, a place of tawdry make-believe.The epiphany in which the boylives a dream in spite of the ugly andthe worldly is brought to its inevitable conclusion: the single sensa-tionof life disintegrates. The boy senses the falsity of his dreams andhis eyes burn "with anguish and anger."

Essay #2 Using Setting and Atmosphere

Remember that setting is usually a part of atmosphereand that atmo-sphere consists of the prevailing tone of the work and its resultant meaningor effect. Some workswill not warrant an essay devoted to setting and at-mosphere; others, like Joyce’s "Araby," will be soprofoundly dependentupon a particular setting that to ignore its importance will be to miss muchof the meaningof the work.

Dream Versus Reality: Setting and Atmospherein James Joyce’s "Araby"

Convinced that the Dublin of the 1900’s was a centerof spiri-tual paralysis, James Joyce loosely but thematically tied together hisstories in Dubliners by means oftheir common setting. Each of thestories consists of a portrait in which Dublin contributes in some wayto the dehumanizingexperience of modem life. The boy in the story"Araby" is intensely subject to the city’s dark, hopelessconformity,and his tragic yearning toward the exotic in the face of drab, uglyreality forms the center of the story.

On its simplest level, "Araby" is a storyabout a boy’s first love.On a deeper level, however, it is a story about the world in which helives-a world inimicalto ideals and dreams. This deeper level is in-troduced and developed in several scenes: the opening descriptionofthe boy’s street, his house, his relationship to his aunt and uncle, theinformation about the priest and hisbelongings, the boy’s two trips-his walks through Dublin shopping and his subsequent ride toAraby.

North Richmond Street is described metaphoricallyand presentsthe reader with his first view of the boy’s world. The street is "blind"; it is a dead end,yet its inhabitants are smugly complacent; the housesreflect the attitudes of their inhabitants. The houses are"imperturba-ble" in the "quiet," the "cold," the "dark muddy lanes" and"darkdripping gardens." The first use of situational irony is introducedhere, because anyone who is aware,who is not spiritually blinded orasleep, would feel oppressed and endangered by North RichmondStreet. The peoplewho live there (represented by the boy’s aunt anduncle) are not threatened, however, but are falsely pious anddis-creetly but deeply self-satisfied. Their prejudice is dramatized by theaunt’s hopes that Araby, the bazaarthe boy wants to visit, is not14some Freemason affair," and by old Mrs. Mercer’s gossiping overtea while collectingstamps for "some pious purpose."

The background or world of blindness extends froma generalview of the street and its inhabitants to the boy’s personal relation-ships. It is not a generation gapbut a’gap in the spirit, in empathy and conscious caring, that results in the uncle’s failure to arrive homeintime for the boy to go to the bazaar while it is still open. Theuncle has no doubt been to the local pub, negligentand indifferent tothe boy’s anguish and impatience. The boy waits well into the eveningin the "imperturbable"house with its musty smell and old, uselessobjects that fill the rooms. The house, like the aunt and uncle, andlikethe entire neighborhood, reflects people who are well-intentionedbut narrow in their views and blind to highervalues (even the street lamps lift a "feeble" light to the sky). The total effect of such settingis anatmosphere permeated with stagnation and isolation.

The second use of symbolic description-that ofthe dead priest and his belongings-suggests remnants of a more vital past. The bi-cycle pump rusting in the rainin the back yard and the old yellowedbooks in the back room indicate that the priest once actively engaged in realservice to God and man, and further, from the titles of thebooks, that he was a person given to both piety andflights of imagi-nation. But the priest is dead; his pump rusts; his books yellow. The effect is to deepen, througha sense of a dead past, the spiritual and intellectual stagnation of the present.Into this atmosphere of spiritualparalysis the boy bears, withblind hopes and romantic dreams, his encounter with first love. In theface of ugly,drab reality-"amid the curses of laborers," "jostled bydrunken men and bargaining women"-hecarries his aunt’s parcelsas she shops in the market place, imagining that he bears, not parcels,but a "chalicethrough a throng of foes." The "noises converged in asingle sensation of life" and in a blendingof Romantic and Christiansymbols he transforms in his mind a perfectly ordinary girl into anenchanted princess:untouchable, promising, saintly. Setting in thisscene depicts the harsh, dirty reality of life which the boy blindlyig-nores. The contrast between the real and the boy’s dreams is ironi-cally drawn and clearly foreshadows the boy’sinability to keep thedream, to remain blind.

The boy’s final disappointment occurs as a resultof his awaken-ing to the world around him. The tawdry superficiality of the bazaar,which in his mind had been an"Oriental enchantment," strips awayhis blindness and leaves him alone with the realization that lifeandlove differ from the dream. Araby, the symbolic temple of love, isprofane. The bazaar is dark and empty; itthrives on the same profitmotive as the market place ("two men were counting money on asalver"); loveis represented as an empty, passing flirtation.

"Araby" is a story of first love; evenmore, it is a portrait of aworld that defies the ideal and the dream. Thus setting in this storybecomes the truesubject, embodying an atmosphere of spiritual pa-ralysis against which a young boy’s idealistic dreams are no match.Realizingthis, the boy takes his first step into adulthood.



INSTRUCTIONS. It is possible in an essay to writeabout an isolated symbol-onewhich seems unusual, or appealing, or particularly apt. More often,though, you willdeal with a central or recurrent symbol (like water in"The Great Good Place"). If you write about anisolated symbol, your thesis should be a strong statement of the existence of the symbol in the work,and, the bodyof your essay should be composed of statements that actuallyconstitute evidence of the existence of the symbol.As you develop paragraphs in the body of the essay, make clear your reasons for ascribing the symbolic significanceyou do, show the function of the symbol in the work, and above all, prove that awareness of the symbol enrichesunderstanding or appreciation of the work.

The Central Symbol of the Churchin Joyce’s "Araby"

Joyce’s short story "Araby" is filledwith symbolic images of a church. It opens and closes with strong symbols, and in the body ofthe story, the imagesare shaped by the young), Irish narrator’s impres-sions of the effect the Church of Ireland has upon the peopleof Ire-land. The boy is fiercely determined to invest in someone within thisChurch the holiness he feels shouldbe the natural state of all withinit, but a succession of experiences forces him to see that his determi-nationis in vain. At the climax of the story, when he realizes that hisdreams of holiness and love are inconsistent withthe actual world,his anger and anguish are directed, not toward the Church, but to-ward himself as "a creaturedriven by vanity." In addition to the im-ages in the story that are symbolic of the Church and its effectuponthe people who belong to it, there are descriptive words and phrasesthat add to this representational meaning.

The story opens with a description of the Dublinneighborhoodwhere the boy lives. Strikingly suggestive of a church, the image shows the ineffectuality of the Churchas a vital force in the lives ofthe inhabitants of the neighborhood-the faithful within the Church.North RichmondStreet is composed of two rows of houses with"brown imperturbable faces" (the pews) leading down to thetall "un-inhabited house" (the empty altar). The boy’s own home is set in agarden the natural state ofwhich would be like Paradise, since it contains a "central apple tree"; however, those who should havecaredfor it have allowed it to become desolate, and the central tree stands alone amid "a few straggling bushes."At dusk when the boy and hiscompanions play in the street the lamps of the street lift their "feeblelanterns"to the sky of "ever-changing violet" (timid suppliants to thefar-away heavens). Since the boy is thenarrator, the inclusion ofthese symbolic images in the description of the setting shows that theboy is sensitiveto the lack of spiritual beauty in his surroundings.Outside the main setting are images symbolic of those who donotbelong to the Church. The boy and his companions go there attimes, behind their houses, along the "dark muddylanes," to where the "rough tribes" (the infidel) dwell. Here odors arise from "the ash pits"–thoseimages symbolic to James Joyce of the moral decay of his nation.

Even the house in which the youthful main characterlives addsto the sense of moral decay. The former tenant, a priest (now dead),is shown to have been insensitiveto the spiritual needs of his people.His legacy was a collection of books that showed his confusion of thesacredwith the secular-and there is evidence that he devoted hislife to gathering "money" and "furniture."He left behind no evidenceof a life of spiritual influence.

Despite these discouraging surroundings, the boyis determined to find some evidence of the loveliness his idealistic dreams tell himshould exist within the Church.His first love becomes the focal pointof this determination. In the person of Mangan’s sister, obviouslysomewhatolder than the boy and his companions, his longings find anobject of worship. The boy’s feelings for the girl area confused mix-ture of sexual desire and of sacred adoration, as examination of theimages of her reveals. He isobsessed at one and the same time withwatching her physical attractions (her white neck, her soft hair, themovementof the brown-clad figure) and with seeing her always sur-rounded by light, as if by a halo. He imagines that hecan carry her"image" as a "chalice" through a "throng of foes"-the cursing,brawlinginfidels at the market to which he goes with his aunt. Allother sensations of life "fade from his consciousness"and he is awareonly of his adoration of the blessed "image." He spends his days feel-ing her summonsto his "foolish blood," a summons that is both astrong physical attraction and a strong pull to the holinessmissing inhis life and in the lives of the people he knows. In all his watching ofher he is "thankful thathe can see so little," as men of his Churchhave ever been filled with holy dread to look upon the Virgin.

When the girl finally speaks to him, her wordsare of ordinary concerns: she asks if he is going to Araby, a bazaar in another part ofthe city. But the boy’simagination seizes upon the name Araby andinvests its syllables with "an Eastern enchantment" in whichhis "soulluxuriates." Araby becomes a place where his soul can find the mysti-cal beauty lacking in hisown mundane Church. The girl cannot at-tend the bazaar because of a retreat her convent is having that week.Asa consequence the boy feels a summons that has symbolic over-tones of a holy crusade: he is determined to go forthto the "en-chanted" place and bring back a gift worthy to lay at the feet of his adored one.

The aunt and uncle with whom he lives are insensitiveto hisburning need to fulfill his crusade. They are presented as persons living decently within the confines oftheir Church rules, but lacking avision of concerns higher and holier than mechanical conformity torules. Theydo, finally, though, provide the florin to allow him to go to Araby. Alone, he makes his way to the place of Easternenchantment.When he arrives, he is struck by a "silence like that of a church."This is followed by anotherimage that calls up the image at the be-ginning of the story, that of the aisle leading to an altar. In this case,itis a hall leading to the booth displaying porcelain vases (chalicesfor the Eucharist), and flowered tea sets (theflowers on the altar).The great jars guarding the stall can be interpreted as symbols of themysticism standingguard over the Church.

For the boy, the girl attending the stall, likeMangan’s sister, be-comes an object of faith. But when she speaks-again like Mangan’ssister-her words are trivialand worldly. In a sudden flash of insightthe boy sees that his faith and his passion have been blind. He sees inthe"two men counting money on a salver" a symbol of the moneylen-ders in the temple. He allows the penniesto fall in his pocket. Thelights in the hall go out; his "church" is in darkness. Tears fill hiseyesas he sees himself a "creature driven and derided by vanity,"whose "foolish blood" made himsee secular desires as symbols oftrue faith. In this moment of disillusionment he feels that he himselfis at faultfor being so bemused by his ideals that he failed completelyto see the world as it is. He has discovered in hisChurch and in love(both traditional symbols of ineffably sacred loveliness) only a shoddyimitation of true beauty.Understandably his disillusionment causes him "anguish and anger."

Using Myth and Archetype

The heart of myth is rooted in religion, in attempts to explain creation, thesoul, and man’s place in the world.A discussion of myth, therefore, mustbe preceded by your discovery of its presence in a work; and for your dis-cussionto be meaningful, you must understand the origin or source of theideas you decide to ascribe to myth. (In "Araby,"we perceive the clearpresence of a reference to Christianity.)

Remember that archetype can be generously appliedto a num-ber of man’s values, dreams, and beliefs, but that myth comprises only apart of archetype. Archetype isa much larger term, and if you perceivesome universal experience in a literary work, it can quite logically formapart of our racial past. Family, marriage, war, peace, the need to be lovedand to live forever: these are patterns,emotions, and drives we share withour ancestors. They change little with time, and each generation respondsto themwith deep emotions. The presence of archetype in a work givesthat work added importance and an essay defining thearchetype, its effectand resultant added meaning will be of value to readers who may have re-sponded but have notdiscerned why.

To write an essay using myth and archetype, determinehow theirpresence influences and reveals the meaning of the work. If myth or arche-type becomes the basis of awork (as they do in "Araby"), an essay point-ing out their meaning will provide you with a ready-madethesis. Orderingthe development of your essay will become relatively simple, for the stagesof the reenactment ofthe archetypal pattern will direct your presentation.If, on the other hand, the use of myth does not form the basisof the entirework, but is only an enrichment of another pattern, your order of develop-ment will be somewhat morecomplex. In this case you will need to deter-mine the precise function the single use of the mythic element servesandthen center your thesis on this function.

The Lonely Quest of James Joyce’s "Araby"

Probably no other twentieth century short storyhas called forthmore attention than Joyce’s "Araby." Some universality of experiencemakes the story interestingto readers of all ages, for they respond in-stinctively to an experience that could have been their own. It isapart of the instinctual nature of man to long for what he feels is thelost spirituality of his world. In all agesman has believed that it ispossible to search for and find a talisman, which, if brought back, willreturn thislost spirituality. The development of theme in "Araby" re-sembles the archetypal myth of the quest fora holy talisman.

In "Araby," Joyce works from a "visionarymode of artisticcreation"-a phrase used by psychiatrist Carl Jung to describe the,’visionary" kind ofliterary creation that derives its material from"the hinterland of man’s mind-that suggests the abyss of timesepa-rating us from prehuman ages, or evokes a superhuman world of con-trasting light and darkness. It is a primordialexperience, which sur-passes man’s understanding and to which he is therefore in danger ofsuccumbing." 1 Assuredlythis describes Joyce’s handling of the mate-rial of "Araby." The quest itself and its consequences surpassthe un-derstanding of the young protagonist of the story. He can only "feel"that he undergoes the experienceof the quest and naturally is con-fused, and at the story’s conclusion, when he fails, he is anguishedand angered.His "contrasting world of light and darkness" containsboth the lost spirituality and the dream of restoringit. Because ourown worlds contain these contrasts we also "feel," even though theprimordial experiencesurpasses our understanding, too.

It is true, as a writer reminds us, that "nomatter the work,Joyce always views the order and disorder of the world in terms ofthe Catholic faith in which hewas reared." 2 In "Araby," however,there is, in addition, an overlay of Eastern mysticism. Thisdiversity of background materials intensifies the universality of the experience.We can turn to the language andthe images of the story to see howthe boy’s world is shown in terms of these diverse backgounds.

There is little that is "light" in thecomer of Dublin that formsthe world of the story, little that retains its capability to evoke spiri-tuality. NorthRichmond Street is "blind"; the houses stare at one an-other with "brown imperturbable faces."The time is winter, with itsshort days and its early dusk. Only the boy and his laughing, shoutingcompanions "glow";they are still too young to have succumbed tothe spiritual decay of the adult inhabitants of Dublin. But the boysmustplay in "dark muddy lanes," in "dark dripping gardens," near"dark odorous stables"and "ashpits." Joyce had said of Dubliners,the collection of stories from which "Araby" comes,that he intendedto "write a chapter in the moral history of my country and I choseDublin for the scene becausethat city seemed to me the centre ofparalysis." 3 The images of the story show us that the spiritual envi-ronmentof the boy is paralyzed; it is musty, dark.

Everywhere in his dark surroundings the boy seeksthe "light." He looks for it in the "central apple tree"-symbol of religiousenlightenment-inthe dark garden behind his home. The gardenshould be like Eden, but the tree is overshadowed by the desolationofthe garden, and thus has become the tree of spiritual death. Helooks for light in the room of his home where theformer tenant, apriest, had died, but the only objects left by the priest were books,yellowed and damp. Here, too,the quest has failed. No evidence ofspiritual life remains. Decay and rust have taken over all the treasures thepriest had laid up on earth for himself

Into this world of darkness appears a girl, Mangan’ssister. Be-cause of her the boy feels a surge of hope that now in her love he willfind light. Even though he has"never spoken to her, except for a fewcasual words," her name is like a "summons to all his foolishblood."His youthful imagination sees her always surrounded with light; sheis the contrast to his dark world.She becomes an image to him of allthat he seeks. That image accompanies him "even in places the mosthostileto romance": the market and the streets, among the "drunkenmen and bargaining women," amid "thecurses of labourers, the shrilllitanies of shop-boys." In this unlikely place occurs what Joyce calls an "epiphany,"which to him means "a sudden spiritual manifesta-tion," when objects or moments of inconsequential vulgaritycan betransfigured to something spiritual.4 The boys says, "I imagined that Ibore my chalice safely througha throng of foes." Plainly he has feltthe summons to cherish the holy, the "light," in this darkworld ofthose who are hostile to the sacred.

However, what he feels is beyond his understanding.His lovefor the girl is part sexual desire, part sacred adoration. He is, he says,"confused."

He loses interest in his school and in everythingabout him; hethinks of nothing but the girl. He can see her "dark house," "herbrown-clad figuretouched by lamp-light." He feels that he has foundone image of holiness in his world of lost spirituality.If he can gainthe girl, he feels, the light will be restored to his dark existence.

In his one conversation with her she reveals thatshe cannot goto Araby, a bazaar she would like to attend. She suggests that itwould be "well" for himto go. He speaks impulsively: "If I go I willbring you something." His opportunity has come. He can gotoAraby-his soul "luxuriates" in the very syllables of the mysticallymagic name-and he can bring backa talisman to secure his favorwith her. The lost light of his world will be restored. Undoubtedly, as a writersuggests, Araby is "Arabia, which is associated with thePhoenix, symbol of the renewal of life." 5

Over half the story is concerned with the delaysand frustrationsin his plans for his quest, and with his final journey to the "en-chanted" place, wherethe talisman will be procured. Significantly, he must go to Araby alone. The train is deserted; when throngs ofbuy-ers try to press their way onto the train the porters move them back,saying this "is a special train forthe bazaar." All who go on a questfor the high and the holy must go alone.

Arriving, he finds the bazaar nearly empty. Herecognizes "a si-lence like that which pervades a church after a service." The churchis empty; it isnot attended by the faithful. Two men count money ona "silver salver." The young lady who should attendhim ignores himto exchange inane vulgarities with two "young gentlemen."

Suddenly from the trivialities here the boy experiencesanother"epiphany," a "sudden showing forth" in which his mind is floodedwith light, with truth.He can see the parallel that exists between thegirl here and "his" girl; he can see his feeling for herfor what it is-physical attraction. Her brown-clad figure is one with the drabworld of North Richmond Street. Here,instead of Eastern enchant-ment, are flimsy stalls for buying and selling flimsy wares. His grailhas turned outto be only flimsy tea sets covered with artificial flow-ers. As the upper hall becomes completely dark, the boyrealizes thathis quest has ended. Gazing upward, he sees the vanity of imagininghe can carry a chalice througha dark throng of foes.

1 Carl G. Jung, Modern Man in Search of a Soid.trans. W. S. Dell and CaryF. Baynes (New York, 1933), pp. 156-157.

2 William Bysshe Stein, "Joyce’s ‘Araby’:Paradise Lost," Perspective, X11,No. 4 (Spring 1962), 215.

3 From Letters of James Joyce, Vol. II, ed. RichardEllmarm (New York,1966), p. 134.

4 James Joyce, Stephen Hero (New York, 1944), pp.210-211.

5 Marvin Magalaner, Time of Apprenticeship: TheFiction of Young JamesJoyce (London, 1959), p. 87.


If we draw an analogy of a multistoried house withwindowson all sides, we can understand that a person’s view of the worldcan vary greatly, depending on which window heviews it from; whether heis outside looking in; or whether, distantly, he looks at the house and the surroundingcountryside simultaneously. Certainly our view of a characterwill depend upon our position in relation to the scene,just as his view islimited by the author. Henry James considered the positioning of both characters and narratorcrucial to fiction, and in recent years (in fact since his detailed studiesof point of view) critics have consideredthe artist’s use of point of view the central focus for interpretation. Look at the questions point of view provokes.Does the viewpoint allow for irony? Does it limit sympathy or does it evoke greater sympathy? Does it causeattitudesto be formed? What are they? Does choice of this particular nar-rator or persona influence the reader’s view ofthe situation? How? Does itcontrol imagery and symbolism?

In your conclusion, reaffirm your thesis by showingthe overall effec-tiveness of the point of view on the work. Did the work gain much or littlefrom its use? Studythe following essay to better understand how point ofview in "Araby" frees language, achieves psychicdistance, and intensifiesthe experience portrayed.


Although James Joyce’s story "Araby"is told from the first per-son viewpoint of its young protagonist, we do not receive the impres-sion that a boytells the story. Instead, the narrator seems to be a manmatured well beyond the experience of the story. The matureman re-minisces about his youthful hopes, desires, and frustrations. Morethan if a boy’s mind had reconstructedthe events of the story for us,this particular way of telling the story enables us to perceive clearlythe tormentyouth experiences when ideals, concerning both sacredand earthly love, are destroyed by a suddenly unclouded viewof theactual world. Because the man, rather than the boy, recounts the experi-ence, an ironic view can be presentedof the institutions and personssurrounding the boy. This ironic view would be impossible for theimmature, emotionallyinvolved mind of the boy himself. Only an adult looking back at the high hopes of "foolish blood" andits resul-tant destruction could account for the ironic viewpoint. Throughoutthe story, however, the narrator consistentlymaintains a full sensitiv-ity to his youthful anguish. From first to last we sense the reality tohim of his earlieridealistic dream of beauty.

The opening paragraph, setting the scene, preparesus for theview we receive of the conflict between the loveliness of the ideal andthe drabness of the actual. Descriptivewords show the narrator’s con-sciousness of the boy’s response to beauty and the response of theneighborhood people,who are blind to beauty: North RichmondStreet is "blind"; its houses, inhabited by "decent"people, stare un-seeingly at one another-and all this is under a sky of "ever-changingviolet," in a settingof gardens marred by the "odours of ash-pits"and "dark odorous stables." The boy’s own house,which had form-erly been inhabited by a priest, is placed in a garden like that ofEden. It is a place of potentialholiness, shown to us in the irony ofthe garden’s barrenness and the priest’s worldliness: the garden hasnow onlya "central apple tree" and a "few straggling bushes"; thepriest had died and left behind himevidence of his preoccupationwith secular literature and with collecting money and furniture.

Into this setting appears a figure representativeof all that isideal, the girl. The narrator shows us in a subtly ironic manner thatin his youthful adoration ofMangan’s sister she is, confusedly, theembodiment of all his boyish dreams of the beauty of physical desireand,at the same time, the embodiment of his adoration of all that isholy. In his dark environment Mangan’s sister standsout, a figure al-ways shown outlined by light, with the power to set aflame in him azeal to conquer the uncaringand the unholy. Her image, constantlywith him, makes him feel as though he bears a holy "chalice" througha"throng of foes"-the Saturday evening throng of drunken men,bargaining women, cursing laborers, and allthe others who have noconception of the mystical beauty his young mind has created in thisworld of material ugliness.

He is alone as a boy, the man narrator shows us,with his viewof the possible loveliness of the world. Even the aunt and uncle withwhom he lives are callous tohis burning need to go to the bazaar,which looms in his imagination as a place of mystical Eastern en-chantment,to purchase a gift worthy of his loved one. Looking back,the narrator can see that his uncle had been concernedwith his daily,worldly tasks, his aunt with maintaining a "decent" observance of"this day of ourLord," although she does not want him to be disap-pointed in his wish to go to the bazaar. From the vantagepoint ofmaturity the narrator can realize that the aunt and the uncle perhaps once possessed an awareness of theromantic, an awareness that hassince been clouded by the drabness of North Richmond Street.

Like Stephen Dedalus of Joyce’s Portrait of theArtist as aYoung Man, the boy, then, must seek for the high, the inviolate, byhimself. And, also like Stephen,he finds instead the world. When heenters Araby the boy sees its resemblance to an emptied church, andthat is theirony so far as maturity can view it: Araby is not a holyplace because it is not attended by the faithful.

He has come alone on a deserted train; the bazaar,full of spu-rious wares, is tended by uncaring people who leave him even morealone than he had been before; theyoung lady who should havewaited on him ignores him to joke with two young men. The younglady’s inane remarks tothe young men have a ring in the memory ofthe mature narrator reminiscent of his adored one’s remarks. Both areconcernedwith the material, the crass.

The narrator can, with his backward look, supplyus with twoapprehensions: one, the fully remembered, and thus fully felt, anguishof a too sudden realization ofthe disparity between a youthful dreamof the mystic beauty of the world and his actual world; and two, theironyimplicit in a view that can see the dream itself as a "vanity."


In his brief but complex story, "Araby,"James Joyce concen-trates on character rather than on plot to reveal the ironies inherentin self-deception. Onone level "Araby" is a story of initiation, of aboy’s quest for the ideal. The quest ends in failurebut results in aninner awareness and a first step into manhood. On another level thestory consists of a grown man’sremembered experience, for the storyis told in retrospect by a man who looks back to a particular momentof intensemeaning and insight. As such, the boy’s experience is notrestricted to youth’s encounter with first love. Rather,it is a portrayalof a continuing problem all through life: the incompatibility of theideal, of the dream as onewishes it to be, with the bleakness of real-ity. This double focus-the boy who first experiences, and the manwhohas not forgotten-provides for the dramatic rendering of astory of first love told by a narrator who, with hiswider, adult vision,can employ the sophisticated use of irony and symbolic imagery nec-essary to reveal the story’smeaning.

The boy’s character is indirectly suggested inthe opening scenesof the story. He has grown up in the backwash of a dying city. Sym-bolic images show him to bean individual who is sensitive to the factthat his city’s vitality has ebbed and left a residue of empty piety,thefaintest echoes of romance, and only symbolic memories of an activeconcern for God and fellow men. Althoughthe young boy cannot ap-prehend it intellectually, he feels that the street, the town, and Irelanditself have becomeingrown, self-satisfied, and unimaginative. It is a

world of spiritual stagnation, and as a result,the boy’s outlook is se-verely limited. He is ignorant and therefore innocent. Lonely, imagin-ative, and isolated,he lacks the understanding necessary for evalua-tion and perspective. He is at first as blind as his world, butJoyceprepares us for his eventual perceptive awakening by tempering hisblindness with an unconscious rejectionof the spiritual stagnation ofhis world.

The boy’s manner of thought is also made clearin the openingscenes. Religion controls the lives of the inhabitants of North Richmond Street, but it is a dyingreligion and receives only lip service.The boy, however, entering the new experience of first love, finds hisvocabularywithin the experiences of his religious training and the ro-mantic novels he has read. The result is an idealisticand confused in-terpretation of love based on quasireligious terms and the imagery ofromance. This convergenceof two great myths, the Christian with itssymbols of hope and sacrifice and the Oriental or romantic with itsfragilesymbols of heroism and escape, merge to form in his mind anillusory world of mystical and ideal beauty. This convergence,whichcreates an epiphany for the boy as he accompanies his aunt throughthe market place, lets us experience withsudden illumination the tex-ture and content of his mind. We see the futility and stubbornness ofhis quest. Butdespite all the evidence of the dead house on a deadstreet in a dying city the boy determines to bear his "chalicesafelythrough a throng of foes." He is blindly interpreting the world in theimages of his dreams: shop boysselling pigs’ cheeks cry out in "shrilllitanies"; Mangan’s sister is saintly; her name evokes in him"strangeprayers and praises." The boy is extraordinarily lovesick, and fromhis innocent idealism andstubbornness, we realized that he cannotkeep the dream. He must wake to the demands of the world aroundhim andreact. Thus the first half of the story foreshadows (as the manlater realizes) the boy’s awakening and disillusionment.

The account of the boy’s futile quest emphasizesboth his lonelyidealism and his ability to achieve the perspectives he now has. Thequest ends when he arrives atthe bazaar and realizes with slow, tor-tured clarity that Araby is not at all what he imagined. It is tawdryanddark and thrives on the profit motive and the eternal lure itsname evokes in men. The boy realizes that he hasplaced all his loveand hope in a world that does not exist except in his imagination. Hefeels angry and betrayedand realizes his self-deception. He feels he is"a creature driven and derided by vanity" and the vanityis his own.

The man, remembering this startling experiencefrom his boy-hood, recalls the moment he realized that living the dream was lost asa possibility. That sense ofloss is intensified, for its dimension growsas we realize that the desire to, live the dream will continue throughadulthood.

At no other point in the story is characterizationas brilliant asat the end. Joyce draws his protagonist with strokes designed to let usrecognize in "the creaturedriven and derided by vanity" both a boywho is initiated into knowledge through a loss of innocence and amanwho fully realizes the incompatibility between the beautiful andinnocent world of the imagination and the veryreal world of fact. In"Araby," Joyce uses character to embody the theme of his story.