Araby by James Joyce

Araby by James Joyce

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"Anyone still capable of wondering aloud whether the last word on Joyce has not already been published
demonstrates an ignorance of the scope of the problem comparable to assuming that the Model T Ford is the last
word in locomotive possibilities" (Benstock 1). This quote of Bernard Benstock serves as evidence to the
complexity and the brilliance of James Joyce's works. In fact, some would say that his works were too brilliant
and complex, as it took ten years for his collection of short stories, Dubliners, to be published because his
publishing company refused to print it. As one critic said, "It is difficult to speak of Dubliners because these are
realistic short stories…" (Jaloux 69). These stories first met resistance, but then were acclaimed as "genius" and
"clear hard prose." One story, Araby, was singled out by two renowned critics as the best of the collection
(Atherton 39). Joyce was notorious for using common themes in his stories and leaving them for the reader to
find and interpret. The dream of escape by the lead character, a partial foundation upon real life, and frustration
are all prevailing themes in Araby. Of all the themes employed by Joyce in Araby, none were so basic to the
story's meaning as the dream of escape (Atherton 13). This theme not only appears in his short stories, but in his
major works as well. In Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, the leading character's name is a suggestion of
escape, with Dedalus, of course, referring to the ancient Greek inventor who fashioned wings from wax and flew
away. This theme is considered to be the most important of the story because escaping from the mundane reality
he lives in is the whole premise behind the boy's visit to the Araby circus. None of the events that transpired in
the telling of this story would have occurred had it not been for the boy's drive to escape his surroundings, even if
it were only for one night. Although there has been no argument about the dream of escape, many disagreements
have risen over what causes this dream. The seemingly oppressive nature of his surroundings and the constant
feeling of being trapped are certainly motivations for the boy to dream of escape. In the story, he lives in a house
more or less devoid of love. Both the boy and his aunt fear the uncle, and Joyce implies that he drinks heavily
and the boy knows it. The house is somewhat bare, because they cannot afford to furnish it, and behind the

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house was a row of slum cottages of which the children who dwelled in them were referred to as "the rough
tribes"(Atherton 40). All of these inglorious contributions to the atmosphere surrounding the young boy make it
impossible not to dream of escape. When he finally heard of the Araby circus and the possible escape it could
provide him, there was nothing he could do to get the thought out of his head. As he states in the story, "I could
not call my wandering thoughts together. I had hardly any patience with the serious work of life, it…seemed to
me…ugly monotonous child's play" (Joyce 37). Another thing Joyce relied on in his stories was their partial
foundation on real life. Although it is obvious he had a vivid imagination, he used his own life experiences in his
work. Araby is certainly no exception. From May 14th to 19th, 1894, in Dublin, there is evidence of a bazaar by
the name of Araby that benefited a local hospital. At the time, Joyce would have been twelve years old, and then
or shortly after, he resided at 17 Richmond Street North, invariably the same house described in the story
(Atherton 40). Similar incidences occurred during the boy's trip to the Araby circus. For instance, Joyce's
reference to not finding a sixpenny entrance, which, being half the price of admission, is what a child would
expect to go in for. This suggests remembrance of an actual event and not just the motion of events as they
would occur in someone's mind that had not experienced it. The final thing that upholds the sense of realism is the
exact recollection of how much money is left in his pocket, and the implied realization that the boy knows he
cannot buy anything or else he won't have enough money left for the train ride home (Atherton 46). One thing
that has always bothered readers of Joyce's works is the reason he relied so heavily on using his own
experiences as foundations for his stories. There have been numerous suggestions as to why he did this, but the
most promising reason is to fill in the gaps in his life, especially in dealing with his childhood (Atherton 40). When
considering the family situation in this story compared to Joyce's at the time, he was in fact living with both of his
parents along with three brothers and six sisters. The portrayal of himself living with a childless aunt and uncle is a
testament to the loneliness he felt living with nine siblings, and the lack of specialized attention from his father and
mother. The deadness of the house emphasized by Joyce altering his family situation in the story helps to convey
the atmosphere of decadence he aimed at (Atherton 45). The final prevailing theme of Araby is the frustration of
the boy. Frustration was a part of everyday life for the boy in the story. Every morning, he would suffer the
frustration of an infatuation with a girl he later realized he would never have. Every evening he dealt with the
frustration of a self-serving uncle of whom both he and his aunt were afraid. Then comes the frustration of his
uncle arriving home late on the night he is to visit Araby and delaying him further with jokes that were not funny
(Joyce 39). The ultimate display of frustration in this story comes in the end, after the boy arrives at the circus to
find that most of the booths are already closed, and that he will have to go home empty-handed. As was alluded
to earlier, the dream of escape comes back into play with the theme of frustration, as he is most frustrated
because his one chance of escape has been denied. Joyce uses all of the previous frustration endured by the boy
as a springboard for the epiphany he realized in the end. Before the boy had accepted all of the frustration that
had come with his life, and after the destruction of what was supposed to be his magical escape at Araby circus,
all that frustration turns into anger and darkness. The fact that the boy has now turned to anger suggests a
determination emerging in him to find his escape, and as only Joyce can, he leaves the reader to determine
whether that goal would have been reached down the road (Atherton 46-7). Joyce's Araby was arguably one of
the best of his short stories, and it included all of the elements typical in his writing; taking common themes and
leaving everything else to the reader's imagination. The three common themes used in Araby, dream of escape,
partial foundation on real life, and frustration, all leave a lot to the imagination. Joyce has a sixth sense of knowing
just how far to develop each theme in order to create endless possibilities of discussion, which is why his works
have stood up to the scrutiny of countless critics and new angles of discussion are being introduced all the time.
WORKS CITED Atherton, J. S. "Araby." James Joyce's Dubliners. Ed. Clive Hart. New York: The Viking
Press, 1969. 39-47. Benstock, Bernard. Introduction. Critical Essays on James Joyce. By Bernard Benstock.
Boston: G. K. Hall & Company, 1985. 1. Jaloux, Edmond. "A French View of Dubliners." James Joyce The
Critical Heritage. Ed. Robert H. Deming. New York: Barnes and Noble, Inc., 1970. 69-70. Joyce, James.
Dubliners. New York: Parkway Printing Company, 1926. 33-41. ARABY ENC1102 Section 54 February 23,

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