Symbolism In Araby, by James Joyce
Length: 1293 words (3.7 double-spaced pages)
Symbols of Religion in his short story Araby
Alongside the dawn of the twentieth century appeared an author by the name of James Joyce. Joyce introduced the idea that language can be manipulated and transformed into a new original meaning. 'Some critics considered the work a masterpiece, though many readers found it incomprehensible' (The Literature 1). Joyce’s stories were not welcomed with open, inviting arms; instead they were undesired by publishers and his books were immensely misunderstood by the majority who gave them a glance. “Ulysses was barred from the United States as obscene for 15 years, and was seized by U.S Postal Authorities in 1918 and 1930” (Ockerbloom 1). “He has no conception of the word obedience, and he bends the knee neither to God nor man” (Collins 1). James Joyce depicted his rebellious view about the Catholic Church in his writing particularly in the story “Araby”.
Joyce through his writings displayed mockery and a straightforward rebellion against the church and their beliefs. But surprisingly Joyce was introduced to the ideas of religion at an early age. At the age of six he began his religion enlightenment as he attended Clongowes Wood College whom emphasized Jesuit beliefs. During this time in Joyce’s life he was picked on by the other students attending this college. In one incident “A boy had snatched his glasses and stood on them but a priest believed that Joyce had done it himself to avoid lessons and gave him a ‘pandying’” (O'Brien 1). Events like this were probably the fuel to the fire of his dislike towards religion. “The Jesuits he called in his adult life a ‘heartless order that bears the name of Jesus by antiphrasis’” (O'Brien 1). Later, at around eleven years old, he transferred over to the Belvedere College in Dublin. (Ebook 1) After his graduation at Dublin he determined that he knew an adequate amount of of the Jesuit religion, he officially rejected it (Gray 1). “After some religious experiences he lost his faith, then his patriotism, and held up those with whom he formerly worshipped to ridicule, and his country and her aspirations to contempt” (Collins 1). “Joyce was a humanist. A Renaissance man. Man is the center. God is in man. Anyone who looks elsewhere is just an ignorant sheep” (Sheila 1).
Joyce’s dislike towards religion was blatantly demonstrated in his story ‘Araby’. Although Araby is obviously a story about an adolescent boy infatuation with a friend’s sister; a more in depth look can reveal an obscure theme.
“Careful examination of the religious symbolism found in Joyce uncovers a story with deeper meaning; the story of a young man torn between his religious beliefs and his feelings”(Symbolism 1). Unlike some of his previous works, Araby “displays his disaffection and loss of faith with the Church” (Ebook 1).
Within the first few words of the story ‘Araby’ there is already apparent religious representation. “North Richmond Street, being blind, was a quiet street except at the hour when the Christian Brothers’ School set the boys free” (Dubliners 29). This could mean that everything is quiet and that the only commotion brought into this calm street is when the Christian boys are released from the watchful eye of the church (Symbolism 1). In the second paragraph the reader is shown through words the location were a priest had dead and informed of the current conditions of this room. “Air, musty from having been long enclosed, hung in all the rooms, and the waste room behind the kitchen was littered with old useless papers. The priest’s old room smells like a jail cell. The air is a prisoner of the room. It smells like stagnation.” I believe that the description of the priest’s room may be a faint message of the feelings lingering inside of Joyce’s mind about the church. The feeling that the church has remained the same although the times and objects around it have been altered. This could be signifying that maybe he felt the church needed to be revolutionized. As you read deeper into the story, more religious symbolism is revealed. “I imagined that I bore my chalice safely through a throng of foes (31)” (Symbolism 1). A chalice is a very holy symbolism within the church and with Joyce’s using the chalice in this sentence symbolizes that he may be comparing her to a sacred symbol as well. “Her name sprang to my lips at moments in strange prayers and praises which I myself did not understand(31)”. With her name being present during prayer supports his view of her sacredness and displays that is invades on of the times most precious to the church. He then imagines himself the instrument of her love, “My body was like a harp and her words and gestures were like fingers running upon the wires (31)”(Symbolism 1). The harp, being an instrument associated with religious rituals, illustrate that the boys is linking his admiration for the girl with spiritual worship. When the boy returns to the room that the priest died, ““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 (31)” (Symbolism 1). During this sentence there is a indication that “The boy is confused about his feelings of guilt caused by his religion and his feelings towards the girl.” The boy decides to let all of his built up emotions spring out of him, freeing himself of his inner turmoil. As he is pressing his hand together he is imitating the motion performed when someone is praying to their god. Religious groups would not look kindly upon this use of hand movement, which to them should only be used in the presence of or in deliverance of a message to god.
“Joyce write in a time when open criticism of the church was ill advised. He seemed to be saying that to be truly free is to be free of religious restrictions” (Symbolism 1). In my opinion, I think the associations and symbols that he placed throughout his works were necessary to carry out his messages within the story. He recognized the tools he could use to tear into the readers emotions. Joyce used subjects and scenarios so close and sensitive to his readers or critics. As a result, in some cases, despite how much they disagreed with his story within in first few chapters; when they set the book down to reflect they would form a true connection with Joyce’s characters. “Numerous and varied interpretations of his work abound; critics have provided religious, feminist, sociopolitical, historical, sexual, and autobiographical perspectives on his fiction” (Ebook 1).
Word Count: 1134
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