Dream Versus Reality: Setting and Atmosphere in James Joyce's "Araby"

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Convinced that the Dublin of the 1900's was a center of spiri-tual paralysis, James Joyce loosely but thematically tied together hisstories in Dubliners by means of their common setting. Each of thestories consists of a portrait in which Dublin contributes in some wayto the dehumanizing experience of modem life. The boy in the story"Araby" is intensely subject to the city's dark, hopeless conformity,and his tragic yearning toward the exotic in the face of drab, uglyreality forms the center of the story.

On its simplest level, "Araby" is a story about a boy's first love.On a deeper level, however, it is a story about the world in which helives-a world inimical to ideals and dreams. This deeper level is in-troduced and developed in several scenes: the opening description ofthe boy's street, his house, his relationship to his aunt and uncle, theinformation about the priest and his belongings, the boy's two trips-his walks through Dublin shopping and his subsequent ride toAraby.

North Richmond Street is described metaphorically and presentsthe reader with his first view of the boy's world. The street is "blind"; it is a dead end, yet its inhabitants are smugly complacent; the housesreflect the attitudes of their inhabitants. The houses are "imperturba-ble" in the "quiet," the "cold," the "dark muddy lanes" and "darkdripping gardens." The first use of situational irony is introducedhere, because anyone who is aware, who is not spiritually blinded orasleep, would feel oppressed and endangered by North RichmondStreet. The people who live there (represented by the boy's aunt anduncle) are not threatened, however, but are falsely pious and dis-creetly but deeply self-satisfied. Their prejudice is dramatized by theaunt's hopes that Araby, the bazaar the boy wants to visit, is not14some Freemason affair," and by old Mrs. Mercer's gossiping overtea while collecting stamps for "some pious purpose."

The background or world of blindness extends from a generalview of...
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