Symbolism and Imagery in Araby

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Araby, like the other stories in Dubliner, ‘ has both penetrating realism and a symbolic function ‘ , as Michael Thorpe has rightly observed is his brief Introduction to Joyce in Modern Prose . Graphic and authentic picture of life in the city of Dublin in the days of the author’s childhood and early youth constitutes the solid basis of reality on which the story grows and flourishes. This reality is squalid, vulgar, meaningless petty and unpleasantly paralytic.

The Narration begins with a detailed picture of the blind street, the dull house, the books and the bicycle pump of the dead tenant, the muddy lane, the feeble street lamp, and odorous ash pits. Not only the topography, but the characters also contributes to the creation of realistic atmosphere; the shrunken Mrs. Mercer, anxious of being out late; the frivolously chatting young lady at the stall of Araby. The dirty and almost repulsive extreme of reality is presented through the picture of the market place:

‘We walk through the flaring street, jostled by drunken men and bargaining women, amid the curses of laborers, the shrills litanies of shop boys who stood on guard by the barrels of pigs’ cheeks, the nasal chanting of street singers…’

There is another level of intense and undeniable psychological realism in the line depicting the boy’s excitement and anxious expectation after Mangan’s sister has talked to him about Araby.

What innumerable follies laid waste my walking and sleeping thoughts after that evening! … I chafed against the work of school, At night in my bedroom and by day in the classroom her image came between me and the page I strove to read.’

But the real in Joyce’s story is often the symbolic manifestation of some ideal or abstraction, or a clue to a universal pattern, His Dublin, dirty and stagnant, is symbolic of human existence as a whole, just as Shakespeare’s Denmark is in Hamlet. And Araby which was actually a Grand Oriental Fete held for a week in Dublin in May, 1894,...
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