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In James Joyce’s “Araby”, readers are taken on a young boy’s quest of discovery. The beginning of the short story paints a picture of Dublin, a place described as rather dark and lonely. This is a ‘coming of age’ tale, peering into the mind of a young boy teetering on the edge of boyhood and adulthood. The main theme of this story shows readers the struggles of a young boy on a journey of discovery of reality versus fantasy, as well as darkness versus light. The story, being mostly pessimistic or indifferent, shows a shift from darkness to light as Mangan’s sister enters and exits the picture. This is a journey of a young boy seeking light, regarding its form, in an otherwise dark existence.
From early on in the story, we see Dublin as a dark and somewhat isolated place. The first line reads, “NORTH RICHMOND STREET, being blind, was a quiet street except at the hour when the Christian Brothers’ School set the boys free” (Paragraph 1). The narrator goes on to say, “When short days of winter came dusk fell before we had well eaten our dinners. When we met in the streets the houses had grown sombre … the lamps of the street lifted their feeble lanterns” (Paragraph 3). A clear picture of what Dublin looked and felt like to the boy is portrayed throughout the story. The darkness and isolation he experiences lays the foundation for his yearning for excitement and adventure, which gets lost in what is reality and fantasy. The boy’s infatuation with Mangan’s sister pulls him even further into this fantasy. When describing how he would watch her, he says “She was waiting for us, her figure defined by the light from the half-opened door” (Paragraph 3). The interactions with Mangan’s sister, whether direct or indirect, begin the boy’s yearning for light in his dark world.
There are many figures of speech present in “Araby”. Alliteration can be seen with the text “… to the back doors of the dark dripping gardens” (Paragraph 3). This grabs the attention of the reader to focus on the dark images being described. Another example of alliteration is shown in “… a big hall girdled at half its height by a gallery” (Paragraph 17). When reading this line, the alliteration stops readers for just a moment to take in the description of the bazaar. As the narrator describes the dark stables the boys encounter, a metaphor is used as the coachman says he “shook music from the buckled harness” (Paragraph 3) of the horses. While describing his confused adoration of Mangan’s sister, he uses a simile when he says “but my body was like a harp and her words and gestures were like fingers running upon the wires” (Paragraph 6). Personification is seen in “All my senses seemed to desire to veil themselves” (Paragraph 6). Last, a hyperbole is used with the text, “After an intolerable delay the train moved out of the station slowly. It crept onward …” (Paragraph 16). Because of the boy’s strong desire and rush to get to Araby and the impatience he was experiencing, he felt as though the train was creeping along when, in reality, we know it wasn’t.
Keeping a rather solemn and dark tone throughout the story, the narrator deviates from this only when Mangan’s sister is introduced. As long as the narrator is focused on her, the mood stays optimistic and bright. She becomes his emotional escape from his dull existence; his journey to Araby becomes his physical escape. Once he arrives at Araby, he is greeted with disappointment and the mood of the story becomes once again dark. As the bazaar is coming to an end, so is his excitement for something different than Dublin, as well as his infatuation of Mangan’s sister. Irony is present when the narrator talks about the lights going out as the bazaar is closing. As the lights turn off, the figurative light in his head turns on. For the first time since his infatuation with Mangan’s sister, he is starting to see things clearly. He recognizes the unrequited obsession he has with her just and the fact that it took him all the way to Araby in an attempt to impress her. The first person point-of-view is interesting in that it goes back and forth between that of a young boy and that of a man looking back on a memory. A young boy wouldn’t have the ability to put into words, “Gazing up into the darkness I saw myself as a creature driven and derided by vanity; and my eyes burned with anguish and anger” (Paragraph 21). This portrays a much older, wiser version of the boy looking back on such a significant time in a young boy’s life.
The boy’s journey toward Araby and love represent his journey from boyhood to adulthood, and all the confusions and frustrations that entails. He gets lost along the way and is seemingly unable to distinguish fantasy from reality. In the last sentence of the story, the boy experiences an epiphany. He realizes that he has been foolish to pursue a girl he knew very little about and to think that he could buy her love with a gift from the bazaar. In being driven by vanity, as he says in the last line, his journey gave him more than he could’ve imagined: a taste of reality. He also experiences disappointment in getting to Araby and realizing it is not the exotic place he had in his dreams. He cannot merely escape Dublin or his life, for that matter. He must learn to accept where he lives and who he is as a growing adolescent boy. As readers, we see the narrator’s disillusionment of his quest as he takes in what Araby has to offer and realizes what it symbolizes: that just as North Richmond Street is a blind end, or dead end, so is Dublin.
Joyce, James. “Araby”. Dubliners. 1914. Project Gutenberg. 2012. Web. 26 January 2014.
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