James Joyce’s Story “Araby” Analysis

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James Joyce is a well-known novelist from the modernist period, and his 14 Dubliners stories, including Araby, are considered to be a groundbreaking revolution in fiction (Brunsdale 4). Araby specifically falls into the category of childhood narratives. It tells the story of a young boy who is deeply infatuated with his friend’s sister, marking his first experience with love. The boy sets out to buy her a gift from a local bazaar in order to impress her. However, the story concludes with the boy realizing a profound revelation about sexuality that shatters his romantic ideals of love. This pivotal moment occurs when the saleswoman, who symbolizes society, disappoints the boy and dismantles his illusionary perception of love.

The emphasis on gloominess, connected to the dark souls of certain adult characters, points towards social criticism. These characters, the uncle and the marketer, can be seen as representing society as a whole. The text repeatedly references darkness and uses metaphors associated with it to express this gloominess. As a result, the mention of “light,” symbolizing the purity of a child’s soul, is infrequent in the text.

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In this essay, it will be argued that Joyce criticizes society through the discussion of the text’s epiphany and its theme of darkness and light. The figurative language in the text, particularly the metaphor of light and the mention of darkness, defines the last sentence (230: “Gazing up into the darkness I saw myself as creature driven and derided by vanity; and my eyes burned with anguish and anger.”), where the epiphany takes place. The epiphany occurs when the marketer rejects the boy.

At the point of purchasing a gift for his friend Mangan’s sister, the boy is on the verge of asserting his sexuality, but is offended by the vendor. The saleswoman finds the gentlemen’s “unromantic” flirtations to be the only interesting thing. This reveals to the boy that his perception of love is inadequate. Despite the pain it causes him, he accepts the “truth” of the epiphany, realizing that love is not as romantic as he had envisioned. Feeling hurt and angry, the boy blames the saleswoman for shattering his idealized view of love. As a result, he describes his eyes as burning with anguish and anger.

This passage suggests that Joyce’s extreme reaction may indicate his anger towards the epiphany provoked by the saleswoman’s action, or society’s exposure of children to sexual epiphanies. The phrase “Gazing up into the darkness” in the final sentence signifies that the boy is now alone with his rage, as darkness surrounds him. However, Brewster Ghiselin argues that Dubliners focuses on protecting the soul from environmental destruction (Brunsdale 188-189).

Thus, the boy attempted to maintain his purity and innocence, symbolized by his “light” or untainted soul. However, his subconscious cannot forget the disturbing event that occurred. The realization of his sexuality, brought about by the vendor’s actions, compromised his innocence to some extent. This is why Joyce is frustrated with the saleswoman and society as a whole. The metaphor of light representing youth’s innocence can be seen in phrases such as “we played till our bodies glowed” and perhaps even “our shouts echoed in the silent street,” conveying the energy of the children at play (226 my emphases).

Hence, the pure soul of the boy can be associated with the metaphor of light, while the marketer can be linked to “darkness”, which symbolizes depravity. In conclusion, this scene possibly offers an indirect critique of society. Therefore, one interpretation could be that the vendor’s action, which triggers the epiphany, represents the depravity of society (the “darkness”) as a whole. The vendor makes the boy, who may symbolize children or the younger generation, bitter and weakens the innocence of his/their young spirit/s (“their lights”) by exposing him/them to epiphanies that harm their innocence.

The theme of darkness is repeatedly mentioned, highlighting the overall somber tone of the text. This can be seen as a critique of society, as the child is left alone in the dark twice – first by the uncle and then by the vendor. Thus, the darkness symbolizes the unkind treatment the child receives from adults. This frustration with adults can be seen as a reflection of society’s overall shortcomings.

There are two instances where the boy is disappointed by the adults: Firstly, the uncle fails to come home early to give the boy money, causing the child to go to the market late at night. The uncle does not apologize for this and instead starts reciting a piece. He is somewhat paralyzed because he cannot find a way to justify being late to the boy. The reason for this may be that he has a dark soul, as he is part of the spoiled society.

The boy is rejected by the saleswoman at the market who does not assist him in buying something. Her annoyance at his presence represents her metaphorical “darkness” or dark soul, symbolic of her egotism and sexuality. She is more interested in the gentlemen than the boy and repels him. The indifference of the uncle and the marketer can also be connected to this “darkness”, which the boy experiences both when he left home and when he left the bazaar.

The first text passage provides examples of the absence of an excuse on the uncle’s part, manifesting both literally with “the hall was in darkness” and metaphorically with the terms “alone” and “bare” (229). Furthermore, instances of darkness are mentioned after the rejection by the marketer, including phrases such as “the light was out,” “the hall was now completely dark,” and “gazing up into the darkness” (230). These examples further illustrate how the uncle and marketer’s indifference, representative of the spoiled society, stems from their black souls, which can be connected to the concept of darkness.

The boy experiences darkness in both a literal and physical sense as a result of the harmful attitudes of adults. This darkness slowly infects and tarnishes his innocent soul. The story as a whole focuses on themes of emptiness, solitude, loneliness, shadow, and darkness. Throughout the text, there is a repetition of the motif of darkness, with references to dark muddy lanes, dark dripping gardens, shadow, dark rainy evening, and ultimately, a dark house. This darkness ultimately consumes the boy when he realizes that he is alone and deserted.

Once more, the text indirectly criticizes the corrupt society by reflecting the “darkness” onto the adults and society itself. James Joyce, who once said “I chose Dublin for the scene because that city seemed to me the center of paralysis,” and Donald T. Torchiana, who claims that Joyce is connecting the paralysis of Dubliners to all of Ireland, amplify the existence of a deeper meaning in the text (Head 39) (Brunsdale 199).

Diane Picitto and Christa Schonfelder rewrite Nadja Muller’s essay from HS12, discussing how mature individuals, society in general, and even the entire country of Ireland have failed their younger generation. The theme of darkness and light, a crucial element in James Joyce’s Araby, along with the stage of epiphany, serve as markers for indirect criticism of society. The boy in the story acknowledges and embraces his epiphany, internalizing the moral he has learned. Unfortunately, this realization tarnishes his previously pure soul.

Furthermore, the boy is enveloped in darkness at the conclusion of the narrative, with a noticeable absence of light. This recurring presence of darkness throughout the text contributes to its overall somber tone, culminating in the ultimate reference to “darkness.” This darkness symbolizes the corrupting influence of adults and society on children, suggesting a broader condemnation of societal values. This critique may be attributed to Joyce’s tendency to challenge social norms, as exemplified by the censorship of his works due to “social taboos” (Head 46).

James Joyce used ambiguity extensively in order to express his opinions and feelings through indirect criticism, thus avoiding the risk of imprisonment (46). Furthermore, he had an additional motive for utilizing ambiguity: he once stated that he included numerous enigmas and puzzles in his works to ensure his immortality and keep professors occupied for centuries (Brunsdale 185).

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