Jason S. Levinson, ASA
A Case Study into James Joyce's Enigmatic Past:
He elegantly personifies the homes on North Richmond Street as “conscious of decent lives within them” which “gazed at one another with brown imperturbable faces.” And the street itself “blind” (Joyce Pg. 328). These first few lines of the short fiction tale “Araby” indicate exactly what the story entails. What desperately awaits the reader, in James Joyce’s discovering tale of a young boy who comes to terms with his repressively strict yet illusory living environment, is a true reflection of the Authors own experiences as a Dubliner. The narration is intertwined with thoughts of escapism from a forever mundane existence which lacks form and emotional freedom. Whether the transparent symbolism, which balances this reflection, is strictly of religious reference or of purely psychological creed is not the discussion at hand. In fact, it is merely a coming of age tale with a religious undertone as Joyce never disappoints to tie his perspective on religion and life into his fiction. Araby begins by describing the town of Dublin, Ireland as quite forlorn and despairing; a place that is not necessarily filled with adventure and spontaneity, as through the narrators subjective eyes. “When we met in the street the houses had grown somber…towards it (the sky) the lamps of the street lifted their feeble lanterns. (Joyce Pg. 328)” With key words such as “somber” and “feeble” in the first few paragraphs alone, Joyce sets up a mood for the later plot. This description shows that the boy is not too fond of his surroundings in fact, undermining them. Traditionally this fictional plot may be best described as man verse society although, while relating Araby to Joyce we come to discover it may actually be man verses himself. The boy announces “the career of our play brought us through the dark muddy lanes…to the back doors of the dark dripping gardens” (Joyce Pg. 328). In one line alone the word “dark” becomes repetitive. Undeniably the author wishes to describe Dublin as the least of favorable places for a child’s youth. This may set up an indication into a piece of personal reference by Joyce. The boy, whose name Joyce chooses to remain anonymous, is apparently struggling with the community he resides in just as Joyce had done. This struggle may be felt on a strictly psychological level; the boy feels trapped among various characters he comes into contact with throughout his daily routine; his guardians, the school master, the drunken men, bargaining women and shop boys of the market; and the English speaking girl of the bazaar. These characters all form a negative impression on his perspective of the community. The young boy recalls “my aunt hoped it was not some freemason affair” in response to his inquiry for leave to attend the Bazaar (Joyce Pg. 330). Freemasons are members of an underground brotherhood that were thought to be of extreme adversary to the ideals of the church (Griffin). During school the boy quotes “I watched my masters face pass from amiability to sternness” describing the strict, forceful education provided in Dublin (Joyce Pg 330). This may be a simple reflection of the various foes Joyce has dealt with during his time in Ireland. For example, Richard Ellman, a famous biographer of Joyce, notes that Joyce was, at one point, a slight alcoholic and had gotten in an altercation once in a bar in St. Stephens Green (Ellman 162). He also adds that while living with a man by the man of Oliver Gogarty, he was violently threatened with a pistol (Ellman 175). For Joyce, these are only a few of some of the harsh experiences living within Dublin. On the other hand, in Araby one character seems to contrast these emotions. An older, curiously mysterious girl, the sister of a close friend Mangan, seems to...
Bibliography: Ellmann, Richard. James Joyce. Oxford University Press, 1959, revised edition 1983. ISBN 0-19-503381-7
Hunter, J. Paul. The Norton Anthology of Literature. W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. 2006. (Pg. 391) Biography Short: James Joyce
McCourt, John (May 2001). The Years of Bloom: James Joyce in Trieste, 1904-1920. The Lilliput Press. ISBN 1901866718.
Solomon, Robert C. (ed.) (2005). Existentialism (2nd ed.). New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-517463-1.
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