Alienation of "Araby"
Although "Araby" is a fairly short story, author James Joyce does a remarkable job of discussing some very deep issues within it. On the surface it appears to be a story of a boy's trip to the market to get a gift for the girl he has a crush on. Yet deeper down it is about a lonely boy who makes a pilgrimage to an eastern-styled bazaar in hopes that it will somehow alleviate his miserable life. James Joyce's uses the boy in "Araby" to expose a story of isolation and lack of control. These themes of alienation and control are ultimately linked because it will be seen that the source of the boy's emotional distance is his lack of control over his life.
The story begins as the boy describes his neighborhood. Immediately feelings of isolation and hopelessness begin to set in. The street that the boy lives on is a dead end, right from the beginning he is trapped. In addition, he feels ignored by the houses on his street. Their brown imperturbable faces make him feel excluded from the decent lives within them. The street becomes a representation of the boy's self, uninhabited and detached, with the houses personified, and arguably more alive than the residents (Gray). Every detail of his neighborhood seems designed to inflict him with the feeling of isolation. The boy's house, like the street he lives on, is filled with decay. It is suffocating and "musty from being long enclosed." It is difficult for him to establish any sort of connection to it. Even the history of the house feels unkind. The house's previous tenant, a priest, had died while living there. He "left all his money to institutions and the furniture of the house to his sister (Norton Anthology 2236)." It was as if he was trying to insure the boy's boredom and solitude. The only thing of interest that the boy can find is a bicycle pump, which is rusty and rendered unfit to play with. Even the "wild" garden is gloomy and desolate, containing but a lone apple tree and a few straggling bushes. It is hardly the sort of yard that a young boy would want. Like most boys, he has no voice in choosing where he lives, yet his surroundings have a powerful effect on him.
His home and neighborhood are not the only sources of the boy's animosity. The weather is also unkind to the boy. Not only is it cold, but the short days of winter make play more difficult under the "feeble lanterns." Only the boy and his laughing, shouting companions "glow"; they are still too young to have succumbed to the decay of their neighborhood. But the boys must play in "dark muddy lanes," in "dark dripping gardens," near "dark odorous stables" and "ash pits" (Sample Essays). The boy cannot expect to have any control over the seasons or weather. Nevertheless, this bitterness contributes to his feeling of vulnerability.
One of the more dehumanizing aspects of the story is that nowhere does anyone ever refer to the boy by name. He is always referred to as you or boy. This could be attributed to the fact that, on the whole, there is relatively little dialogue, and the story is rather short. However, the boy is also the narrator of the story and could have easily introduced himself. After all, in the first paragraph he introduces his setting, it would not have been unreasonable for him to have mentioned his name. It seems likely then that the boy's name was omitted deliberately. By depriving the boy of a name, he is denied any sense of identity, consequently alienating him even further.
The plot of the story is based around the boy attempting to go to the bazaar, Araby so that he may return with a gift that will please Mangan's sister. While in some ways Mangan's sister offers the boy some hope, she is also a major source of the his alienation. He desperately lusts for her attention and affection. His recount of his mourning ritual: "When she came out on the doorstep my heart leaped. I ran to the hall, seized my books and followed her....
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