Themes of Alienation and Control in James Joyce's Araby

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Alienation of “Araby”

Although “Araby” is a fairly short story, author James Joyce does a remarkable job of discussing some very deep issues within it. On the surface it appears to be a story of a boy's trip to the market to get a gift for the girl he has a crush on. Yet deeper down it is about a lonely boy who makes a pilgrimage to an eastern-styled bazaar in hopes that it will somehow alleviate his miserable life. James Joyce’s uses the boy in “Araby” to expose a story of isolation and lack of control. These themes of alienation and control are ultimately linked because it will be seen that the source of the boy's emotional distance is his lack of control over his life.

The story begins as the boy describes his neighborhood. Immediately feelings of isolation and hopelessness begin to set in. The street that the boy lives on is a dead end, right from the beginning he is trapped. In addition, he feels ignored by the houses on his street. Their brown imperturbable faces make him feel excluded from the decent lives within them. The street becomes a representation of the boy’s self, uninhabited and detached, with the houses personified, and arguably more alive than the residents (Gray). Every detail of his neighborhood seems designed to inflict him with the feeling of isolation. The boy's house, like the street he lives on, is filled with decay. It is suffocating and “musty from being long enclosed.” It is difficult for him to establish any sort of connection to it. Even the history of the house feels unkind. The house's previous tenant, a priest, had died while living there. He “left all his money to institutions and the furniture of the house to his sister (Norton Anthology 2236).” It was as if he was trying to insure the boy's boredom and solitude. The only thing of interest that the boy can find is a bicycle pump, which is rusty and rendered unfit to play with. Even the “wild” garden is gloomy and desolate, containing but a lone apple tree and a few straggling bushes. It is hardly the sort of yard that a young boy would want. Like most boys, he has no voice in choosing where he lives, yet his surroundings have a powerful effect on him.

His home and neighborhood are not the only sources of the boy's animosity. The weather is also unkind to the boy. Not only is it cold, but the short days of winter make play more difficult under the “feeb...

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... is not at all that he imagined. It is dismal and dark and thrives on the profit motive and the eternal lure its name evokes in men. The boy realizes that he has placed all his love and hope in a world that does not exist except in his imagination. He feels angry and betrayed and realizes his self-deception. He feels he is “a creature driven and derided by vanity” and the vanity is his own (Sample Essays).

The story provides many sources for the boy's animosity. Beginning with his home and overall environment, and reaching all the way to the adults that surround him. However, it is clear that all of these causes of the boy's isolation have something in common, he has control over none of these factors. While many of these circumstances no one can expect to have control over, it is the culmination of all these elements that lead to the boy’s undeniable feeling of lack of control.

Works Cited

The Norton Anthology of English Literature. New York: W.W. Norton & Company. 2000

Classic Notes on Dubliners. Grade Saver. 2003.

Sample Essays Analyzing James Joyce's Short Story “Araby”.

Gray, Wallace. Notes for James Joyce's “Araby”. World Wide Dubliners.

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