Essay on Escape, Religion, and Coming of Age in Joyce's Araby

Essay on Escape, Religion, and Coming of Age in Joyce's Araby

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Steeped in religious imagery, James Joyce’s “Araby” is an examination of an anonymous boy’s search for freedom amid the crushing drudgery of his bleak Dublin neighborhood. Frustrated by the dreariness of daily life, the narrator is unnamed, as are most of supporting characters, rendered nameless by the cold austerity of their lives. He finds his only chance for escape through his rising infatuation with a neighborhood girl, known as Mangan’s sister. Representing the alluring promise of change and excitement, the narrator is eager to win her affections, traveling to the exotic Araby bazaar to buy her a gift. However, his efforts are frustrated by a series of obstacles, and his desire for escape is ultimately unfulfilled. Joyce’s use of religious symbolism subverts the language of piety as it describes a young man’s lustful infatuation for an unattainable love, and likens religion to imprisonment. What begins as a coming of age story concludes in a religious allegory that leaves the narrator crushed by his inability to change his circumstances, reinforcing the drudgery of Dublin life.
At the beginning of the story the narrator describes his neighborhood as “being blind,” populated by rows of houses that “gazed at one another with brown imperturbable faces.” His description of “a quiet street except at the hour when the Christian Brothers' School set the boys free,” immediately suggests the sense of tedium and imprisonment. Through the use of religious imagery, Catholic tradition surrounds every aspect of the narrator’s life. It can be found from his tedious hours spent in class to his leisure time at home, where Joyce emphasizes the impact of Catholicism in the narrator’s daily affairs. The previous tenant of his family home was a p...

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...ts and see a world beyond his own, only to be punished for his desire. As Eve led Adam astray, so did the narrator’s love for Mangan’s sister.
It is this folly of youthful pride which ultimately overcomes the narrator, who cannot see past the wound to accept his disappointment. In the end, the religious framework of his upbringing betrays him, restrained by the rigors of these traditions. Joyce uses Catholic symbolism to belie the narrator’s coming of age, turning devotional language and imagery into a source of discontent. In this way Joyce uses the church as a form of imprisonment, a system of traditions that reinforce the anonymous toil of Dublin life, and leave the narrator without chance for escape.

Works Cited
Joyce, James. “Dubliners: Araby.” November 5th, 2012. Web. January 19th. <>.

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