James Joyce's Araby

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University of Zurich English Department

HS 2012

Diane Picitto Christa Schönfelder Textual Analysis Course

James Joyce’s Araby: Criticism of Society

Nadja Müller Altwingete 6, 8524 Buch bei Frauenfeld 052 740 42 40

March 2013

Diane Picitto, Christa Schönfelder Rewrite Textual Analysis: Essay HS12 James Joyce’s Araby: Criticism of Society

Nadja Müller 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 Schönfelder Rewrite Textual Analysis: Essay HS12

Nadja Müller 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...
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