Affections behind the Disillusion in James Joyce’s Araby

     Araby, a short story in James Joyce’s early work Dubliners, depicts a bitter story – the narrator, a boy, who falls in love with his friend’s sister, promises to bring her something from the bazaar Araby. Yet he fails, only to find all he has done is proved in vain. “Gazing up into the darkness I saw myself as a creature driven and derided by vanity; and my eyes burned with anguish and anger” thought the boy in the end. (Joyce 1)

     The story begins with the abandoned, isolated house situated on the blind street, which once belonged to a devout priest that had been dead, leaving the empty house and the Eden-like garden deserted. The dusk arrives before dinner time, and all these scenes portrays a bleak winter’s coming, which also presages the proceeding storyline that might not end in happiness. The protagonist has a strong affection for the sister of his friend Mangan; however, he dares not to approach her, not to mention talking to her. All he could do is just watch her secretly and meanwhile prevent himself from her sight.

     Not only is she enchanting and mysterious, but she also distracts him from his own, haunting upon his mind. As a teenager being confused of such complicated, heart-throbbing feelings, his eyes are frequently filled with tears, and the flood of his affection is nowhere to drain away but could only pour itself out inside his mind. Despite the fact that her beautiful figure and shadow irresistibly arouse his desire, he restrains his overflowing feelings and mutters a few pieces of words only to himself.

     Eventually, he has an opportunity to speak to her, and their short conversation revolves around Araby, the bazaar as well as the title of the story. She says she couldn’t go to Araby, and consequently he promises to bring something back. From that moment on, his dreams and his thoughts are occupied all over by this commitment and he can’t chase both her and Araby out of his mind. Even he is in class, on which a good student ought to focus himself, rather than pay attention to the teacher, he thinks of her, Araby and their promise, and his soul wanders. Simultaneously, he finds himself exhausted of the standard school life. All he wants is to leave the school and to head for Araby. He regards school as a children’s play, and above all, he has to complete the commitment between him and her; thus he begins to recognize himself as an adult.

     Eager as he appears to fulfill the promise, nonetheless, others seemingly don’t care about it at all. He has told his family that he would go to Araby in advance, but they do not really pay attentions to him. Finally, with only sixpenny in his pocket and reluctantly tolerating the postponed journey, he arrives at Araby, yet unfortunately he finds the bazaar is about to closed. At the end of the story, he obtains nothing in return but a realization that he’s just like a creature “driven and derided by vanity” with anguish and anger burning in his eyes.

     The story ends with epiphany, a writing technique Joyce used frequently, which means a sudden realization by the protagonist himself. Through the whole plot we learn that his enthusiasm for Araby actually stems from Mangan’s sister. He eventually realizes that all he has done derives not from his own will but is driven by vanity; that is, he tries hard to satisfy her so as to achieve himself. Nevertheless, the crucial truth turns him from high hope into deep disappointment, frustrating his own imagination of love at the same time.

     Tracing back to the early 20th century, the back ground of the story, we learn that Araby had once really existed – it originates from the Grand Oriental Fête held in Dublin in May, 1894. In this story it is not solely a bazaar, but also a boy’s imagination of an oriental, mysterious and fascinating world and the beautiful, fantastic attraction of the girl he has a crush on. However, we could just chase along the protagonist’s stream of consciousness floating and we couldn’t get to know how Mangan’s sister actually thinks of him.

     Throughout the story, the settings change from the blind street to the Araby bazaar in darkness. The “blind” virtually refers to not only the cul-de-sac where the protagonist dwells but also the blindness of him. Not until he fails to keep the promise does he really learn all he has done is simply manipulated by the blind love that actually gives him nothing in reward. The darkness in the last scene, on the other hand, has two different kinds of imagery: the disillusion of the boy’s affection and the frustration of his own imagination of maturation. The more he considers himself growing mature, the more frustrated he feels.

     Despite appearing to end up in disillusion, Araby awakes the protagonist to some degree. Although the naïve boy’s thought is shattered by the cruel truth, he has got to have learned a lesson as well. He has turned from a boy lingering on the edge of childhood and adulthood, to an indignant man that comes to realizing the true meaning of maturity consists in the loss of childhood. In some ways, he does really grow up.

     Plain as the language seems in the short story, it illustrates the childlike affection, the purity of a boy, the mental change from childhood to adulthood, the frustration and disappointment of the recognition of himself as a grown-up, and the disillusion of both. Behind the story there’s also a lesson worthy of considering – adolescents’ mental struggle between maturity and immaturity.


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