Araby is one of the fifteen short stories that feature in Dubliners, an autobiographical collection of Joyce, seeking to portray the life of the Irish commoners of his time in crude, utterly realistic details.
Background and Setting
Written in 1905, Araby is reminiscent of much of the details of Joyceâs adolescent years while growing up in the late 19th century Dublin. The story contains Joyceâs observation of Dublin as a bleak and dismal city (chiefly poignant in descriptions as a âsilent streetâ or âdark muddy lanesâ). In fact, it glaringly points out the truth that though Dublin boasted of being an urban locale, yet it was mostly unsophisticated. Other autobiographical features are:
- The same place of residence (as Joyce also lived on North Richmond Street, in Dublin like his protagonist)
- Similar self-awakening
- Location of the climactic scene being a bazaar called âAraby; a Grand Oriental Fete (in actuality such a bazaar was organized in Dublin in 1984 from May 14 to May 19).
A Summary of the Plot
A boy of about twelve years comes to live with his aunt and uncle at a place called North Richmond Street in Dublin, Ireland. Incidentally, he comes across âsome paper covered booksâ that had belonged to the houseâs former tenant, a priest. In winter, the boy plays with his friends in the street, and it is the sister of one such friend (referred to as Manganâs sister throughout), who captures his naÃ¯ve heart and soul.
This attraction grows on him such that it begins to mold his day to day actions; he unfailingly waits for her every day before school and ritualistically follows her, unseen till their paths separate. In his so-long arid heart, this first blooming of passion assumes an overwhelming form; he begins to regard it as something sacred and lofty ( a chalice, prayer), chiefly when he finds himself being disposed to a wholly unromantic, âhostileâ situations (the flaring streets).
Finally, when she asks him if he is going to a bazaar called Araby on Saturday evening, he is so dazed by her gesture that words fail him. Nonetheless, he assures her of bringing a gift if he visits the place. For the next few days, visiting the bazaar becomes his lifeâs ultimate mission with the âsyllablesâ of the word Araby representing a mysterious spell of the exotic East.
On Saturday morning, he is disappointed when despite repeated reminders, his uncle returns late at 9 oâclock. Ultimately taking a florin, he mounts an empty third-class compartment to take her to his cherished place. Upon arrival, he is dismayed when he encounters that most of the shops have closed. However, one stall, âCafÃ© Chantantâ is still open and as he goes over to glance at a certain display, a young lady inquires rather disinterestedly if he wants to buy anything. Soon after the lights go out, leaving the upper hall completely dark. As he is a passive spectator to the dissolution of his hopes by unrelenting âvanity,â he cannot help feeling angry.
Definition of the Word “Araby”
Firstly, Araby is the name of the bazaar ( âAraby: a Grand Oriental FÃªte”) that in reality used to be held in Dublin. Secondly, to the protagonist, it stands for the mysterious Middle East, an all-pervading charm that seems to aid him in the realization of his unspoken passion.
- Epiphany: Epiphanies according to Joyce, relate to personal moments of trivial or profound revelations that enable the characters to gain a better understanding of their hostile situations and thereby adopt reconciliation with it. The adjustment inevitably leads the character to feel bitter and defeated. In Araby, all that the boy presumes of achieving in the âbazaarâ fade into nothingness when he encounters âfloweredâ teacups, English accents and deliberate disregard. Consequently, he is left feeling wretched, being able to grasp the disparity between illusion and reality.
- The mundane reality of Dublin society: In Araby, right from the passing mention of the boy and his friendâs hiding âin the shadowâ till his uncle is seen âsafely housed,â to his accompanying his aunt for shopping on âSaturday evenings,â (when he would invariably be âjostledâ by âdrunken men and bargaining womenâ), his uncleâs late arrival â all unmistakably voice the repetitiveness and boredom of life in Dublin.
- The sparkle of youthful passion: Despite a gray undertone, Araby successfully depicts the spontaneous overflow of emotions of an immature heart. The lines, âmy heart leapt,â or the more explicit, âher name was like a summon to all my foolish blood,â evoke a picture of an untainted passion that is common to most teenagers. And simultaneously, it embodies an unintended escape – a breaking free from everyday life to a land of the unknown.
- Mental conflict: The boy in the story faces a conflicting situation when goaded by passion, he is led to observe the limited display at the bazaar and the uninviting ambiance tends to create repulsion towards the same. Initially, when he exclaims, âAll my senses â many times,â he seems to struggle against having sensual feelings towards Mangan’s sister mentally.
The boy: The narrator in Araby embodies all those young boyâs who get smitten by the bug of intense love at a crucial phase of growing up. The boy falls in love madly, yearns to reach adulthood (disregarding his school work as âchildâs playâ) and finally stumbles upon the crude reality of life.
Manganâs sister: Joyce presents this character in two ways. On the one hand, she stands for the enchanted images of the East while on the other hand; she is also a âbrown figureâ reflecting the brown buildings where both live.
Some of the partial characters who help in reaffirming the depressing reality of life areÂ the boyâs uncle, the schoolmaster, the stall attendant and the two Englishmen.
Mood of the Story
As long as the narratorâs description concerns Manganâs sister, the mood is hopeful but as his journey becomes futile, it becomes pessimistic and dark.
The use of words such as âanguish,â âblind,ââquiet,â âvanityâ help to establish the mood of the story. In fact, throughout the story, Joyce adheres to this diction to arrive at the disappointing conclusion of the story.
Dusk and Darkness: The author mentions âduskâ and “darkness” at various points of the story such as, âdusk fell before we had well eaten our dinners,â or the fact that soon after the boy reaches the bazaar, the building is enveloped in total darkness. Thus dusk and darkness symbolize the half-life and the failed expectations of the protagonist.
Chalice: Chalice is the cup that Christ drank from at the last supper. Here it symbolizes the boyâs passion, protected from the oppressing clutches of society.
Blind Street: Perhaps this stands for the fact that the dreams of the boys would ultimately have no fruitful end.
Brown: The color symbolizes dullness associated with life in Dublin.
Garden of the Priest: Evokes the picture of the Garden of Eden and is a crucial inclusion since, like Adam, the boyâs failure too indicates his loss of innocence.
The other houses on the streetâ¦gazed at one other with brown imperturbable faces: Brings to mind the sorry picture of modern survival that is isolated and grim.
Araby as a Modern Short Story
The characteristic features of Modernism that are found in the story are:
- Subject matter based on mundane life: Neither does Araby deal with the celebration of boyâs epiphany nor does his unfurling of emotions occurs amidst beautiful circumstances. Most importantly, the âboyâ is unnamed throughout and so remains his lady love.
- Shifting point of view: The story begins with the boy as a third person omniscient narrator, but as the story reaches its climax, we have a first person narrator who is keenly expressive of his altered mental state. Notice the first line and the last line of the story.
- The central character as an isolated individual: Araby essentially focuses on the alienation of the main character, the boy who is shown to struggle between the real, familiar, commonplace life and the lofty, beautiful, magical life.
- An ending that can have multiple interpretations: The protagonist does not gain any satisfying realization regarding his new love; rather the reader is invited to form his estimation of the boyâs âwretchednessâ which may be due to his depressing experience at the Bazaar and also perhaps due to his disillusionment concerning Manganâs sister.
Figures of Speech Used
Retreat alludes to a period of seclusion in Roman Catholicism that is done to improve oneâs mortal life.
Garden of the priest alludes to the Garden of Eden
Chalice alludes to Christâs last supper
The line, âRemembering with difficulty why I had comeâ points out that all the hopes that the boy had carefully nurtured all along meet a dead end on encountering the drabness of the bazaar.
Paragraph 1: The âhousesâ are said to have âbrownâ faces
Paragraph 6: âSensesâ are said to have âdesires.â
Paragraph 5: the narratorâs âbodyâ is compared to a âharpâ and his âwordsâ and âgesturesâ to fingers.
Paragraph 5: The shouts of the shop boys are compared to Christian prayers or litanies.