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Reviewing The Araby By James Joyce English Literature Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 1160 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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The story of “Araby” by James Joyce is about the awakening of a boy in seeing how different the world is, compared to how he would like to see it. Children are dreamers; their imaginations allow them to play out fantasies in their minds. Unfortunately, with maturation, youth is crushed by the contrasting realities of the world. Throughout this fascinating short story it is well worth the effort to trace imagery of darkness through the perspective of the young boy as well as his experiences that bring light to the story.

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The setting of the story begins at dusk and continues through the evening during a winter in Ireland.  “The space of sky above us was the colour of ever-changing violet and towards it the lamps of the street lifted their feeble lanterns. The cold air stung us and we played till our bodies glowed. Our shouts echoed in the silent street” (Joyce). The image of the sky, as an ever changing violet, described a setting of a peaceful sunset. The use of ‘feeble lanterns’ as the lighting of the street described the dull energy of the neighborhood. The cold air and the silence of the neighborhood disturbed by echoes of children’s’ play hint the reader the setting of a peaceful neighborhood.

“The career of our play brought us through the dark muddy lanes behind the houses where we ran the gauntlet of the rough tribes from the cottages, to the back doors of the dark dripping gardens where odors arose from the ash pits, to the dark odorous stables where a coachman smoothed and combed the horse or shook music from the buckled harness. When we returned to the street light from the kitchen windows had filled the areas” (Joyce).

Joyce wanted us to look at the characters physical environment and think of it as a cold harsh place. This is evident by Joyce in his constant reference to dark to describe the characters environment. The career of daily child play led the children to expeditions of their neighborhood; their adventures took them through dark muddy trails, across murky wet gardens, and to shadowy odorous stables. Although the author was describing the surroundings of the neighborhood, darkness was used to portray every niche. The gloomy neighborhood was the setting and the home of a young boy who is infatuated with the sister of his neighbor, Mangan.  The darkness was used to make the boy’s reality believable through vivid precise descriptions. Joyce used dark and gloomy references to create the mood or atmosphere, and then changed it to bright light references when discussing Mangan’s sister. 

“.. Mangan’s sister came out on the doorstep to call her brother in to his tea we watched her from our shadow peer up and down the street. We waited to see whether she would remain or go in and, if she remained, we left our shadow and walked up to Mangan’s steps resignedly. She was waiting for us, her figure defined by the light from the half-opened door” (Joyce).

Joyce refers to light when discussing Mangan’s sister as to give her this heavenly-figure glow; despite the darkness of the surroundings. The young boy saw the sister as if she was glowing in every setting. As the children always watched her from the dark shadows while she called for her brother, they would have to leave their shadows in order for them to walk up to her doorsteps. The bright light depiction creates a fairy tale, hence of his love for her.

“One evening I went into the back drawing-room in which the priest had died. It was a dark rainy evening and there was no sound in the house. Through one of the broken panes I heard the rain impinge upon the earth, the fine incessant needles of water playing in the sodden beds. Some distant lamp or lighted window gleamed below me. I was thankful that I could see so little. All my senses seemed to desire to veil themselves and, feeling that I was about to slip from them, I pressed the palms of my hands together until they trembled, murmuring: “O love! O love!” many times” (Joyce).

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The callow boy called Mangan’s sister his love in a holy-like setting. The room in which the priest had died on a pitch black rainy night, the boy was muttering, “O love! O love!” (Joyce), many times while he squeezed the palms of his hands together as if he was praying to the dim light beneath him. The light from the window was a symbol for his love, of Mangan’s sister. Not only was the young boy fantasizing to be in love with this girl, he secretly worshipped the light she brings to his life. Mangan’s sister was seen as a holy figure by the young boy.

“The light from the lamp opposite our door caught the white curve of her neck, lit up her hair that rested there and, falling, lit up the hand upon the railing” (Joyce). The boy fantasizes to see the girl’s hair as if it was luminous in the light, giving her a holy presence. After she told him she couldn’t go to Araby, “The syllables of the word Araby were called to me through the silence in which my soul luxuriated and cast an Eastern enchantment over me” (Joyce). He felt that her words were an enchantment calling him to go to the bazaar and he was to bring her back something.

The ending of the story was filled with images of darkness and light. James Joyce uses the lights of the bazaar to illustrate the boy’s confrontation with reality.  The boy got to the bazaar late and the lights are almost all off because the bazaar was closed.  This is significant because the boy wanted the bazaar to be bright and open, but in fact it was dark and closed.  The story ended with: “Gazing up into the darkness I saw myself as a creature driven and derided by vanity; and my eyes burned with anguish and anger” (Joyce). James Joyce symbolized the boy’s feelings with devil-like anger for the purpose of another holy description to glorifying Mangan’s sister.

For the boy, Mangan’s sister becomes an object of faith. To describe what the boy saw, images of light and dark show the reader his feelings about the girl. When she was in his thoughts, to contrast the dark surroundings the description of light and the color white showed her to be glowing as a holy-crusade. However, when he arrived at the bazaar and it was already closing, his disillusionment made him feel that he himself was at fault. By being so bemused by his ideals, he failed to see the world as it is. Symbolically, the closed bazaar indicated the snuffing out of the narrator’s hopes as he is confronted with the reality of his passion and actions. Light and darkness are therefore symbols of the chief opposition in this tale; the boy was blinded by the light of his desire however eventually came to see the darkness of reality.


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