Araby by James Joyce

Bethany Herold

Professor Peter Cassidy

LIT 222 C00

19 April 2015

Araby by James Joyce

Araby, like much of the modernist prose, is filled with hidden meanings and metaphors meant to convey the lack of satisfaction modernist writers had with mainstream society. Shadowing an adolescent boy’s first love, James Joyce illustrates the difficulty that accompanies the pursuit romance, and the fact that love and the pursuit of happiness is not always a fairy tale. This short story challenges the idealism of life that was accepted during the modernist period, and dares its readers to think outside the box of modern society.

The tale begins with a vivid metaphor, describing the street as “being blind,” or a dead end. (Damrosch et al 2218). This may suggest that these working class youths are also destined to reach a dead end, living meaningless lives with a predestined future laid before them. A solemn tone is quick to follow, as it is conveyed that “a priest, had died in the back drawing-room.” (Damrosch et al 2218). This also alludes to the fact that the family does not have much money, as they were required to rent out the room in the first place. The boy in the story, who remains nameless throughout, lives a far from perfect life. An orphan, he lives with his extended relatives, namely an uncle and aunt. The uncle is not conveyed as a pleasant man, and when he comes down the muddy North Richmond Street, the children are prompted to “[hide] in the shadow.” (Damrosch et al 2219). Aphotic themes persist as the story continues; the season is winter, and the initial settings are moist streets with “dark muddy lanes” and “ashpit[s].” (Damrosch et al 2219).

A glimmer of light fills the boy’s dark life though, as he is deeply entranced by his friend’s sister. He awaits her exit every morning, watching her door closely for the moment she sets foot outside. He immediately “[runs] to the hall, [seizes] his books and [follows] her.” (Damrosch et al 2219). Though he lacks the courage to speak to her, her mere presence envelopes his being. It’s enough to get him through his mediocre days, as he finds himself thinking of her even while he frequents plain places such as the markets or a classroom. This girl is more than a symbol of love, she is the embodiment of deeper thinking brought upon by the modernist perspective, and is a chance to escape the depressing realities of the life that is expected of him. The youth’s hope and optimistic thinking are a great inspiration, leaving one to worry that these dreams may soon be shattered by the harsh realities of life.

Finally, the boy’s prayers are answered as “at last she [speaks] to [him].” (Damrosch et al 2220). She inquires if he is visiting the bazaar known as Araby. As the girl can not attend herself, he promises to visit on her behalf and return with a gift. This brief but precious conversation only furthers his passions, and he can barely make it through the simple tasks of the days leading up to Araby. As he finally reaches the afternoon of the bazaar, he is caught looking out his window on his friends below. He hears their playful banter as “weakened and indistinct,” because he is so caught up in the wonder of his fantasy. Under different circumstances, perhaps he would have joined them. However his lust for this new found pleasure outweighed childish games. The dreams and hope that this girl inspired in him become a symbol for the beauty of things outside of the ordinary. They contrast the harsh life of the industrial world, and are a taste of the hope the modernist writers intended to inspire through their stories.

The night of the bazaar, his uncle returns later than normal, having forgotten about the promise to lend the boy money. The boy cannot leave with out it, and waits anxiously. While waiting, he is forced to endure the visit of a Mrs. Mercer, and the “gossip of the tea-table” that accompanied her visit. (Damrosch et al 2220). This adult world that is forced upon him is a mere foreshadowing of the life that he was bound to face as a working class man. This imagery is only strengthened by his delayed uncle finally coming home in a drunken stupor. This is a symbol of how the modernist writers felt like the common people were at the whims of the “bigger men,” or those well to do. Perhaps they felt like children in the eyes if the powerful men, and felt jaded after being let down and thrown aside multiple times. The boy finally arrives at Araby late in the evening, and is filled with disappointment when he realizes that “nearly all the stalls were closed.” (Damrosch et al 2221). Finding one open that sells porcelain vases and flowered tea sets, he is heartbroken upon the realization that the money in his pocket is not enough to pay for the beautiful jars. He had unknowingly underestimated the cost of his happiness, and was left defeated.

Writing this during a period where society became very materialistic, it would make sense that Joyce was implying the lack of happiness that accompanied the populous that was considered “working class.” So disheartened by his lack of money, the boy gives up, allowing the “pennies to fall against the sixpence in [his] pocket.” (Damrosch et al 2222). The boy becomes hopeless here, seeing himself as a “creature driven and derided by vanity.” (Damrosch et al 2222). The harsh reality sets in, and he becomes aware that he promised the girl a feat outside of his means. Dreams shattered, he embraces the joyless life set before him, avoiding optimism so he will not be let down again. This idea of happiness being driven by wealth is an idea that is as real today as it was in the early 1900s. The overall depressing tone and harsh realities exposed convey the modernist writers’ disenchantment with materialistic pursuits, showing how it can poison even the purest pleasure known to mankind: love.

Works Cited

Damrosch, David, Kevin J. H. Dettmar, Susan J. Wolfson, and Peter J. Manning. The Longman Anthology of British Literature. 5th ed. Vol. 2C. Boston: Longman, 2012. Print.


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