“Araby” by James Joyce is a Realistic Short Story with Symbolic Overtones

“Araby” is one of the fifteen short stories that together make up Joyce’s collection, Dubliners {Published 1914}. It is the most typical of Joyce’s short stories and is told from the perspective of a boy just on the verge of adolescence in that it is more like prose – lyric or psychological mood – poem. It relies more on symbolic suggestions than on straight forward narration. It is essentially poetic in tone and texture in spite of the occasional jarring notes provided by its shabby realistic setting. Read More Short Stories Realism and romantic vision coexist in it and form its very stuff. It is much more than a mere story; it is a vivid waiting – waiting with baited breath for the realization of an ideal that remains ever elusive. Its symbolic design more than the rigid frame work of a conventional short story befits the mysterious working of an adolescent heart experiencing the first impulse of love that ends in utter frustration. Symbolically the boy’s failure in love suggests the universal non-realization of the human ideal. Araby concentrates on character rather than on plot to reveal the ironies within self-deception.
James Joyce
“Araby” is more a remembrance than a tale. The author here recalls the days of his boyhood when he lived with his uncle and aunt in North Richmond Street of Dublin. The street was blind and looked very gloomy. The "blind," "cold ... .. silent" street is lined up by  the houses "gazed at one an-other with brown imperturbable faces." It is a street of fixed, decaying conformity and false piety. The boys played in the dark muddy lanes behind the houses, with ashpits and stables around them. But, even in this drab surrounding hostile to romance the author developed an irresistible attraction for his friend Mangan’s sister though he had no direct communication with her. She had somehow cast a spell on his mind and absorbed all his attention. He could not make out whether it was love or anything else. Whenever he could see her he felt an inexplicably pleasurable sensation. Such a fascination can be seen in Stephen’s adolescence imprints in A Portrait. She used to wait with the door half opened to call her brother as the boys played in the street. The author stood by the railings and watched her with a throbbing heart. Every morning before school the boy lies on the floor in the front parlor peeking out through a crack in the blind of the door, watching and waiting for the girl next door to emerge from her house and walk to school. Then he used to follow her on her way to the school. He was shy enough to talk with her. But, as he looked at her or her name sprang to his lips he was immeasurably thrilled. Whether in the busy streets or noisy market crowded with the drunkards and the street singers she never ceased haunt his mind. He was eager for a touch or a word from her. Read More Short Stories His body and soul had become keenly responsive to her words and gesture’s. In his mind she is both a saint to be worshipped and a woman to be desired.

 One rainy evening when the boy was alone in a secluded room he was completely seized by the passion of love and was on the verge of losing his awareness of the world around. “All my senses seemed to desire to veil themselves and, feeling that I was about to slip from them. I pressed the palms of my hand together until they trembled murmuring: “O love! O love! Many times”. One day he had a talk with her on Araby, the oriental fair. Coming to know that she would be missing the pleasure of going to Araby the boy promised to bring a gift for her from there. Since then the thought of Araby and the promised gift for her wholly occupied his mind. 

The word ‘Araby’ seemed to become synonymous with his ideal of love. Araby no longer meant to him simply a sort of special market. Araby became to him a symbol for a place of mystic charms and romance. On the appointed day he waited for his uncle to come back home and give him money. But as, ill luck would have it, his uncle returned as tale as nine o’clock. So when the boy reached Araby the stalls were almost closed and the hall was mostly dark. One or two stalls were opened where he heard dull conversation and prosaic noise produced by the counting of money. He could not buy anything for the girl and left the place in utter disgust. Read More Short Stories His long cherished dream was shattered; his expectation was belied. The discrepancy between the Araby of his vision and the Araby of his actual experience was terribly shocking to him. Farther it can be told, as in many stories of adolescence; the protagonist of  Araby  suffers both isolation and alienation. He never shares his feelings concerning Mangan’s sister with anyone. He isolates himself from his friends, who seem terribly young to him once his crush begins, and from his family, who seem caught up in their own world. Mangan’s sister is also completely unaware of the narrator’s feelings for her. Consequently, when he suddenly realizes how foolish he has been, his anger at himself is intensified by his alienation from everyone and the resulting feeling of isolation.

The boy’s experience of Araby has incalculable symbolic significance. It suggests the universal frustration of human heart longing for an ideal that always eludes grasp. Indeed, Joyce’s  Araby  presents “man’s universal and universally frustrated search for the ideal”. The dream of the boy remained unrealized. It was not an isolated instance of non-fulfillment of dream. It is a universal experience that the real falls for the short of the ideal. This symbolic overtone definitely lends richness to the theme of the  Short Story. On one level Araby is a Story of initiation, of a boy's quest for the ideal. Read More Short Stories The quest ends in failure but results in an inner awareness and a first step into manhood. On another level the story consists of a grown man's remembered experience, for a man who looks back to a particular moment of intense meaning and insight tells the story in retrospect. As such, the boy's experience is not restricted to youth's encounter with first love. Rather, it is a portrayal of a continuing problem all through life: the incompatibility of the ideal, of the dream as one wishes it to be, with the bleakness of reality.
Thus, “Araby” within the limited scope of a short story not only brings out the mysterious working of a love-smitten adolescent heart but also suggests the universal persuit of an ideal and waiting with throbbing heart for its fulfillment that never comes.   

  Try to Answer these Questions:

1. Identify and discuss the numerous religious symbols in the story. /Catholicism in “Araby” .
2.  “Araby” is a story of a journey from innocence to experience through multiple epiphanies: discuss.
3. Joyce’s use of a first-person narrative in “Araby.”
4. Examine the scene in which the narrator describes accompanying his aunt to the market. How does this brief passage further enhance the themes in the story?
5. Discuss the three books that are left by the previous occupant of the narrator’s house: “The Abbot, by Walter Scott, The Devout Communicant, and The Memoirs of Vidocq.” What does each represent in the story?
6. Compare and contrast Joyce’s portrayal of Irish life with that of a contemporary writer, such as Roddy Doyle in Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha.

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