Araby – Modernist perspective
In ‘Araby’, the narrator is a young boy whose life up to this point has been simple and happy. The monotony of his life nurtures his childhood happiness and innocence, and from this state the boy is introduced to Joyce’s version of reality that has been lurking before his eyes his entire life. Through hours spent at play on North Richmond Street outside his house our narrator is conditioned into a blissful state, and a hidden crush on his friend’s sister extends this bliss into ecstasy. Our narrator begins by describing the setting in which he lives. In order to correlate the setting and Joyce’s subtextual meaning, it will be described later in the essay.
Being a modernist writer, Joyce writes with a pessimistic undertone that modernists see as the inevitable end for everyone. In ‘Araby’, he uses a young child still caught in the state of childhood innocence to show a modernist’s version of the “coming of age.” This “coming of age” is the point in everyone’s life, child or adult, when we realize that we face substantial pain and emptiness ahead.
The narrator begins the story by describing the times after supper when he and his friends would play on the streets. These nights were very gratifying for the whole group, and when the narrator’s uncle used to drive up the street, they would all hide until he was safely housed. Or at times, Mangan’s sister would come out to call him in for tea, and they would all hide until she either went in or until Mangan gave in and went inside. It was with Mangan’s sister whom the narrator finds himself in love.
He never had any real words with her, but everyday he would watch until she came out her front door across the street. The young boy would then hurry out the door after her and remain behind until they arrived at the point where they diverged, where the boy would hurry past but say nothing. This went on for months until one night while outside Mangan’s front stoop she came out and asked if he was going to Araby, a traveling bazaar that was supposed to be extraordinary. The narrator, caught in aberration, forgot how he had answered. Mangan’s sister then said that she would not be able to go due to a retreat in her convent, but the young boy promised that he would go and bring something back for her.
For the next week, our narrator was lost in excitement. The moment at which he would give her the gift held such promise in his imagination. In school and out, his concentration diminished behind thoughts of her. He stated that, “Her image accompanied me in places most hostile to romance.”(23) His body was overcome: “My eyes were often full of tears (I could not tell why) and at times a flood from my heart seemed to pour itself out into my bosom.”(23)
When the day came for him to go, he told his uncle in the morning to remember to be home in time. But as the evening arrived and the absence of his uncle stretched further into night, he grew irritated. Finally, at eight o’clock, the uncle arrived, claiming to have forgotten. The boy took the money from his uncle and left for the train station. He arrived at the makeshift stop assembled for the bazaar.
He walked into the bazaar and continued down the long corridor of shops. The boy s…..oon realized that the shops were all closed except for a few scattered about. The nearest was a booth selling porcelain vases where the young woman who ran the booth stood talking to two men. After the boy began to browse, she came up and asked if he wanted to buy anything, and he replied negatively. She then went back to her conversation, checking back on him every few moments over her shoulder.
He left after a couple minutes and walked out onto the main pathway. Down toward the end he heard a voice yell that the light was out and stared into the darkness that consumed the upper half of the bazaar where he was heading. The boy concludes the story 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.”(27)
Through the main course of the story, the narrator finds himself at the end in a hopeless state that he ignored the entire week. In fact, he sees his ‘vanity’ in all the hoopla he felt up to this day, when his hopes were strangled by reality. Joyce uses irony to portray the internalization of reality versus the veil his desire created.
In the beginning of the story, the narrator describes the neighborhood in which he resides. The houses on each side of the street faced each other with “brown imperturbable faces.”(21) At the “blind end” of the street, stood an inhabited, two-story house. Joyce sets up the setting perfectly to run parallel with his subtextual meaning. The houses that face each other have warm facades “conscious of decent lives within them.”(21) The “brown imperturbable faces” and consciousness of these facades symbolize the ignorance the young boy faced up to this point in his life. Using the cliche “ignorance is bliss” reinforces the theory modernist writers’ hold that the more we realize about our environments and ourselves, the more pessimistic and ‘realistic’ we become.
The “blind end”(21), where the street ends, stands the inhabited two-story house. Modernists also emphasize the emptiness we find in reality. Using the vacant house at the end of the narrator’s street and the dark pathway he finds himself facing at the end of the story, Joyce reveals this emptiness to the reader. Modernists tie pain and emptiness together as reality. The young boy fails to buy his love the present that he holds so dear to his heart because of outside forces he can’t control. This is where he finds his pain. These are the same forces that are also revealed to him through his vanity, and also which modernists enjoy tormenting readers with as the factor that controls their destinies.
At the end of the story, the young boy and the reader arrive at the same conclusion: that life is inevitably full of pain. This pain translates into an avoidance of others in order to escape the suffering, which leaves us feeling empty and alone in the end. The modernist solution to this end is finding pleasure, intelligence, and sanity in art. Ironically, though, artists have the highest probably of all other professions for mental instability. Therefore, Joyce creates a flawless actualization of society in the eyes of many, but his genre of literature creates a paradox for the solution that leaves the reader again searching for resolution.