Professor Al Samarrai
20th Century English Literature
29 April 2007
Araby: Escaping Reality through Fantasy
Reality is often bleak. It is only natural when the bleakness becomes too much to bear, that fantasies of escape are born. These are latched onto, basked in, and consumed until they take over the senses and drive the spirit to the edge of feeling. Then, they hurl their owners into despair, for fantasy, in the very end, will slam into the harsh wall of reality, and dissolve, causing despair. In James Joyce's Dubliners, this particular theme: escape from reality through fantasy ultimately resulting in despair, is the major theme in Araby, the third story of the collection. In this paper, I hope to examine this theme closely and attempt to explain: * The reasons that led the young protagonist of Araby to yearn for escape, * The method of the boy's escape,
* And the outcome of his attempt to escape.
Nearly everything happens because of a reason, so it is worthwhile to first discover the reasons that pushed Joyce's young protagonist to wish for escape. The need for escape is born, as I see it, from two main contradictory issues: The protagonist's self that contains "life", and his surroundings that are lifeless'. What I mean exactly when I say that the young boy's self has life' is that he possesses spirituality and beauty. His surroundings, on the other hand, are deprived of this spirituality and the beauty that comes with it. The young boy in Araby is well aware of these two- even if only subconsciously- as is quite clear from his description of the environment around him and his own thoughts and actions throughout his narration of the story. From the very beginning of the story, the places in North Richmond' Street- where the protagonist lives- are shown to us as lifeless and lacking in the spiritual aspect. The very first line in the story describes North Richmond Street' as "quiet" (Joyce 21). There is an "uninhibited house of two storeys" (Joyce 21) that stands alone and away from the rest of the occupied houses. Yet there is no difference between the vacant detached house and the ones containing residents, for the boy describes the latter houses as "gazing at one another with brown imperturbable faces" (Joyce 21). Whether vacant or occupied means nothing, both- the uninhibited by the fact that it's empty, the occupied by their unexcitable state- are devoid of life. From afar, the houses are quiet and stoic, from close, they are poor and surrounded with dirt, mud and foul odours, as the protagonist points out in his narration. Then, to drive the point home, there is the description of the house in which the young protagonist himself lives. Books are scattered in the waste room, which is "littered" the young boy says, "with old useless papers" (Joyce 21). Literature, a by-product of spirituality, is literary equated with trash. The air of all the rooms in the house is thick and suffocating, indeed in their lifelessness, to the young protagonist. To make matters worse, this lifelessness isn't restricted to the housing areas; it is extended to the whole city of Dublin. Throughout the young boy's journey to the bazaar, there are numerous signs of the loss of spirituality in Dublin. The protagonist rides a third-class carriage of a deserted train that crept slowly "among ruinous houses and over the twinkling river" (Joyce 26). Among the lifeless ruins, for the train is part of them, and over the beautiful river, oblivious to the beauty and spirit-enriching part of nature below, or perhaps ignoring it because it has no place in the ugliness above. Even when the young protagonist reaches the bazaar, it is already almost empty and most of the place is shrouded in the darkness. The boy likens it to "a silence that which pervades a church after a service." (Joyce 26), which is suitable, as the hollowness of the silence that follows a time of worship and prayer is amplified by the preceding...
Cited: Joyce, James. Dubliners. London: Penguin Books, 1992.
Joyce, James. "Araby." The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Eds. M. H. Abrams and
Stephen Greenblatt. 7th ed. Vol. 2. London: W W Norton & Co Inc, 2000. 2236-2240.
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