Araby Short Story by James Joyce

Araby Short Story by James Joyce


After a close examination of the short story “Araby” by James Joyce, several instances of religious symbolism seem to be intertwined throughout the story. The story unfolds from the viewpoint of a young child while simultaneously raising moral questions representative of a much more mature Joyce. This enlightened perspective allows for some very intricate examples of symbolism. Although the symbolism can be observed on two very different levels, the primary goal of this essay shall be to explore the symbolism as seen through the eyes of Joyce as an adult.

This symbolism is painted with religious overtones that evidently stem from Joyce’s adolescence. Through the use of symbolism, James Joyce raises many questions concerning his childhood, while also telling the story of a young boy’s journey from romance to despair and disillusionment brought about by a young girl’s unintentional taunts.


“Araby”, in its simplest form is the story of a young boy’s first experience concerning infatuation with the opposite sex. Although, lurking under this inconspicuous facade are questions that plagued Joyce throughout his life. These questions primarily concern Joyce’s rearing in Catholicism and the beliefs the church encouraged in opposition to his true feelings. This moral dilemma is expressed through symbolism that occurs in several interactions between the story’s central character and the world around him. In the opening line of the story, Joyce describes the street he lives on as “being blind”(Vesterman 7).

This lack of sight indicates that the street is a dead end. He goes on to describe the houses occupying its sides as “gazed(ing) at one another with brown imperturbable faces”(Vesterman 7). These houses reflect the attitudes of their inhabitants, who seem satisfied and content with their lives. The unchanging people seem as though they are strictly Catholic and extremely set in their ways. These people represent everything that the boy questions because, naturally, he is apprehensive in accepting completely the lifestyle that these people exhibit. After all, there must be a world beyond North Richmond Street.


The former tenant of the boy’s house was a priest. The boy describes the rooms in the house, as well as the room the priest died in, saying, “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”(Vesterman 8). This gloominess represents what Joyce probably would have felt like if he had remained on North Richmond all his life. Joyce describes the boys playing in the street, which is symbolic of the children’s lack to conform to the spiritual confines of the church, unlike the adults who are trapped in North Richmond. This point is conveyed further by the aunt and uncle’s lack of enthusiasm concerning the boys’ trip to Araby.


There seems to be an eerie shadow cast on the boy’s trials and tribulations throughout the story by his lack of clarity concerning the grand scheme of life. Joyce often describes many things in the boy’s life as being dark. He has the boy say that “The career of our play brought us through the dark muddy lanes,” and he introduces a landscape of “dark odorous stables” and “the


dark dripping gardens”(Vesterman 7). These murky descriptions convey how dark the boy’s world seems, and that he is seeking out some sort of light. The first search for light materializes in the boy’s description of the “central apple tree” in the gardens behind his home. The apple tree in the garden could be interpreted to serve as Eden’s garden and the bareness of the back yard garden seems to reflect the bareness in his own Garden of Eden.


The next example of downfalls the boy associates with religion are the possessions left by the priest. A few yellowed books, donations to institutions, furniture, and a rusty bicycle pump, represent all that the priest left on earth with one special exception: no evidence of a spiritual legacy remains. The central theme associated with what the priest has left behind is that all the items have rusted or in some way have been tarnished. The decay of the priest’s possessions raises another important religious question: Is religion, in fact, the real possession that is everlasting? This uncertainty further confuses the boy and fuels his desire to seek light in his world of darkness.


The introduction of Mangan’s sister marks the beginning of what eventually becomes the young boy’s light. In an attempt to free himself from his world of darkness and despair, the boy seeks to secure a relationship of some sort with the girl. When Mangan’s sister emerges from the house to call her brother in from playing, the boy waits to see if she remains outside or returns inside. “If she remained,” he said, “we left our shadow and walked up to Mangan’s steps resignedly. She was waiting for us, her figure defined from the light of the half-opened door.” His descriptions of the girl allow the reader to gain a sense of his adoration for her, which could serve to represent the altar that he seeks.


The young boy goes on to say, “Her dress swung as she moved her body and the soft rope of her hair tossed from side to side.” He relates their participation in the daily ritual of “lay(ing) on the floor in the front parlor watching her door”(Vesterman 7-8), further elaborating, “When she came out on the front doorstep my heart leaped”(8). The young girl is undoubtedly his object of affection, and perhaps perfection. The boy’s constant infatuation keeps him from concentrating on school or his neighborhood friends, referring to their actions now as “child’s play, ugly monotonous child’s play”(9).


The climax of the story occurs when the boy finally has a conversation with the girl and learns that she would like to go to Araby, a bazaar. In a lapse of judgment, the boy proclaims that “If I go I will bring you something”(8). This trip will be his “pilgrimage” to the Promised Land; it will be the way the boy will win the girl’s affection and in turn, find the light. The next few lines of the story are primarily concerned with delays and obstacles the boy must overcome. These delays further fuel the boy’s flaming desire to retrieve something from the bazaar so that he may receive from Mangan’s sister a mutual feeling of affection.


The falling action of the story occurs when the boy begins his trip to Araby. Upon embarkment, the boy encounters a series of events that eventually results in his epiphany. The train to Araby is deserted and thus sets up his initial feelings of contempt for his own loneliness


When the young character eventually arrives at Araby, a certain chain of events unfold allowing the young boy to see the vanity of his ways. As the boy arrives at Araby, he finds that it is deserted. To him, the ideas of what Araby was supposed to be and what Araby actually is are conflicting. There are three people at the bazaar, two men counting money and a female co-worker they are flirting with. The young woman approaches the boy and asks if he wishes to buy anything. He asserts that she seems to speak to him “out of a sense of duty”(10). A few seconds later the boy realizes the similarities that exist between his infatuation with the girl and his experience at Araby, the last lines of the story illustrate this point to perfection and allows the reader to experience the epiphany with the boy; “Gazing up into the darkness I saw myself as a creature driven and derided by vanity: and my eyes burned with anguish and anger (11)”.



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