University of Zurich English Department HS 2012 Diane Picitto Christa Schonfelder Textual Analysis Course James Joyce’s Araby: Criticism of Society Nadja Muller Altwingete 6, 8524 Buch bei Frauenfeld 052 740 42 40 March 2013 Diane Picitto, Christa Schonfelder Rewrite Textual Analysis: Essay HS12 James Joyce’s Araby: Criticism of Society Nadja Muller 01. 03. 2013 James Joyce is one of the best known novelists of the modernist period and his 14 Dubliners stories, of which one has the title Araby, are “the epitome of a revolution in the use of fiction” (Head i).
Furthermore, Araby belongs to the childhood narratives (Brunsdale 4). Thus, the story is about a boy who is in love with the sister of a friend, and it seems to be his first love. He then wants to buy her a gift on the bazaar, to rejoice her. Finally, the story ends with the boy having an illumination about sexuality, which threatens his illusion about love. This epiphany/illumination happens when the saleswoman, which can be seen as a ‘representative’ for society, lets the boy down and destroys his romantic ideal of love at that moment.
This could point towards social criticism, which later on will be discussed. Another indication for social criticism can be found on Joyce’s emphasis on gloominess by connecting it to the adults and their dark souls – the uncle and the marketer –, which probably stand for society as a whole. The gloominess of the text is expressed literally by the repetition of the theme of darkness and by the metaphors of the latter. This is also the reason why the mention of “light”, of which the meaning can be interpreted as the pure soul of a child, is rarely emerging throughout the text.
By discussing the text’s epiphany ant its theme of darkness and light, this essay will argue that Joyce’s purpose is to criticize society. The metaphor of light and primarily the mention of darkness define the figurative language in the text, and especially in 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 state of epiphany occurs. The epiphany emerges when the marketer rejects the boy.
The boy is on the point of “asserting his sexuality by buying the gift” (Head 51) for his friend’s (Mangan) sister and the vendor offends him at that moment. For the saleswoman the “unromantic” coquetting with the gentlemen is the only interesting thing. This shows the boy the inadequate picture of love he has. At that stage, he accepts the ‘truth’ at pains. He is conscious of the epiphany and its moral, which is that love is not as romantic as he had imagined. The boy feels hurt and is mad at the marketer because she destroyed his ideal of love. The result is that the boy tells us: “my eyes burned with anguish and anger”.
This 1 Diane Picitto, Christa Schonfelder Rewrite Textual Analysis: Essay HS12 Nadja Muller 01. 03. 2013 extreme reaction can be an indication that, in fact, it is Joyce’s rage about the epiphany, which is provoked by the saleswoman’s action, or, generally, about society and how they expose children to sexual epiphanies. In the last sentence the phrase “Gazing up into the darkness” appears. The boy is now alone with his rage. Darkness encases him finally. However, Brewster Ghiselin argues that Dubliners is about protecting the soul from destruction by environment (Brunsdale 188-189).
Thus, the boy tried to uphold his innocence of a child – a metaphor for that is “his light” or pure soul –, but his subconsciousness cannot forget what has happened. The boy’s epiphany about sexuality, which was caused by the vendor’s action, destroyed to a certain extent his innocence (“his light”). So, that is why Joyce is mad at the saleswoman, respectively, at society. The light being reflected in the innocence of the youth can be found as metaphor in the text: “we played till our bodies glowed” and perhaps also “our shouts echoed in the silent street”, which represents the energy of the playing children (226 my emphases).
Hence, the pure soul of the boy can be merged with the metaphor of light and the marketer with “darkness”, respectively depravity. To conclude, this scene shows probably an indirect critique on society. Thus, an interpretation might be that the vendor’s action, which provokes the epiphany, can be seen as representative for the depravity of society (the “darkness”) on the whole and that she/it makes the boy, which could represent the children or the younger generation, bitter and weakens the naivety of his/their young spirit/s (“their lights”) through exposing him/them to epiphanies, which harm his/their innocence.
The repeatedly mention of the theme of darkness shows the general gloominess of the text, which, again, can be interpreted as criticism on society. That is because the boy is in a way left alone twice in the darkness by the uncle and then by the vendor. Thus, the gloominess is connected to the adults and refers to their unkind manner towards the child. So, the annoyance over the adults can, again, be a reflection of the annoyance over society as a whole.
There are two situations where the boy is disappointed by the adults: Firstly, the uncle forgot to come home early to give the boy money, so the child had to go to the market in the middle of the night. The uncle does not apologise for it and instead begins reciting a piece. He is in a way paralysed because he cannot bring 2 Diane Picitto, Christa Schonfelder Rewrite Textual Analysis: Essay HS12 Nadja Muller 01. 03. 2013 himself to advance an excuse for being late to the boy. The reason therefore could be that he has a too dark soul, as he belongs to the spoilt society.
Secondly, the boy arrives at the market and is rejected by the saleswoman. She does not give him assistance to buy something but is instead annoyed by his presence. In this situation the vendor’s vanity represents metaphorically – as already mentioned – the “darkness”, respectively, her dark soul. The woman is paralysed through her egotism and sexuality. She is more interested in the gentlemen than in the boy and consequently, repels him. To conclude, the indifference of the uncle and the marketer can be connected to the “darkness”, to which the boy is exposed to twice (e. g. after having left home and after having left the bazaar).
Examples for that can be found literally in the first text passage, after the boy has had to undergo the absence of an excuse on the part of the uncle: “the hall was in darkness” and figuratively as metaphor through the terms “alone” and “bare” (229). In addition, examples of “darkness” are mentioned after the boy has had to experience the rejection by the marketer: “the light was out”, “the hall was now completely dark” and “gazing up into the darkness” (230). More precisely, the uncle’s and marketer’s (generally speaking, the spoilt society’s) indifference arose from their black souls, which is connected to the “darkness”.
Thus, the boy is involved in the ”darkness” literally and physically, because the attitudes of the adults hurt him and infect bit by bit his pure soul of a child with their “darkness”. In general, the whole story has an “emphasis on emptiness, […], solitude, loneliness, shadow, darkness […]” (Head 48). Throughout the whole text the repetition of the theme of darkness is visible: “dark muddy lanes”, “dark dripping gardens”, “shadow” (226), and “dark rainy evening” (227) and finally “dark house” (228). This darkness overtakes the boy at the end, when he realises that he is alone and abandoned.
So, again, the boy will sooner or later be spoilt by the depraved society, which is indirectly criticised throughout the text by reflecting the “darkness” on the adults, on society. The existence of a deeper significance of the text is amplified by James Joyce, who himself once said “I chose Dublin for the scene because that city seemed to me the centre of paralysis” (Head 39) and by Donald T. Torchiana, who states that Joyce is “linking the paralysis of Dubliners to all Ireland” (Brunsdale 199). The 3
Diane Picitto, Christa Schonfelder Rewrite Textual Analysis: Essay HS12 Nadja Muller 01. 03. 2013 mature people, respectively society or Dublin or even whole Ireland, are paralysed and have let their younger generation down. In conclusion, the representation of the theme of darkness and light, which is a very important device in James Joyce’s Araby, and the stage of epiphany are indicators for indirect criticism on society. Considering the epiphany, the boy is conscious of it and accepts the moral he has learned. Consequently, his pure soul is to a certain extent spoilt.
In addition, at the end of the story the boy is surrounded by “darkness” and “light” is not strongly represented, whereas the indirect and direct mention of darkness is omnipresent. That is the reason why the text is generally dire and why it ends with “darkness”. This darkness is connected to the adults/society, which might show that society is spoilt and has a bad influence on the children, which would then be a general critique on society. This can be explained as follows: James Joyce’s works were often censored for reason of “social taboos” (Head 46).
He had the possibility to express his opinion and fellings by indirect criticism, so that he did no run the risk of being imprisoned (46). However, James Joyce had an additional purpose for using ambiguity intensively. He one day said that “I’ve put in so many enigmas and puzzles that it will keep the professors busy for centuries […] that’s the only way of insuring ones immortality” (Brunsdale 185).  4 Diane Picitto, Christa Schonfelder Rewrite Textual Analysis: Essay HS12 Works cited Book Abrams, M. H. and Geoffrey Galt Harpham, eds. A Glossary of Literary Terms. Eigth edition.
Boston: Thomson, Wadsworth, 2005. Bronfen, Elisabeth. “The Time of the Tale”. Textual Analysis lecture. English Department, University of Zurich. 13 November 2012. Brunsdale, Mitzi M. James Joyce: A Study of the Short Fiction. Michigan: University of Michigan, Press 1993. Furniss, Tom and Michael Bath. Reading Poetry: An Introduction. 2nd ed. Harlow: Pearson Education, 2007. Head, Dominic. The Modernist Short Story: A Study in Theory and Practice. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992. Rimmon-Kenan, Schlomith. Narrative Fiction: Contemporary Poetics. 2nd ed. London: Routledge, 2002. Nadja Muller 01. 03. 2013 5
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