Welcome to the third week of Read With Me: Dubliners. This week we read the story, ‘Araby’, and the corresponding essay by J.S. Atherton in Clive Hearts essay collection, James Joyce’s Dubliners.
In this story…
This is the final story to centre around the life of a young boy, presumably the same young boy of the previous two stories. In this sense, perhaps this is the final of the childhood stories. It is not certain whether this boy is the same as the previous two, but for ease, we will assume that to be the case.
As with the previous stories, Joyce does a brilliant job of describing the location. By using the technique of personification to describe the houses of the street looking, or not looking, at one another Dublin feels like a living, breathing thing, not just a city. J.S. Atherton draws our attention to the fact that the majority of Joyce’s geography is taken from life, and so it is possible to visit many of the locations in his novels.
What I especially enjoy about Joyce’s Dublin is that while he displays a love for this city, he never glosses over it. His description balances the darkness of the city alongside the light. How he does this in this particular story is through the reminder of death. The boy notes that in his house a priest died, which, as Atherton, suggests is symbolic of the decay of the church. This is a topic that has been frequent referenced thus far in the collection.
When the boy visits Araby, a bazaar of wares where he promises to but a girl a gift, he comments on the silence of the market.
“I recognised a silence like that which pervades a church”—p. 32.
Joyce presents the commence of Araby as a type of religion, as it is afforded a similar sort of sanctity. By offering a comparison between religion and commerce, Joyce is either elevating commerce or degrading religion. Given the previous commentary on religion, it would not be a stretch to favour the latter interpretation. It is a stark contrast with the hustle and bustle usually associated with commerce and thus makes Araby in particular stand apart from this common depiction.
Despite his promise to the girl and waiting all day to get to Araby, our narrator does not end up making a purchase. This encapsulates the sense of ‘vivid waiting’ that Ezra Pound sees in this story. Ultimately it is a story about waiting. He is waiting to buy a gift for a girl he has feelings for. You could argue that this is another exchange he never makes, as he has nothing to offer and therefore cannot receive anything in return. He waits to go to Araby, only to fail to make the most of it. All these moments of waiting tie back to the theme of escape. He wishes to escape his mundane street for Araby, ‘an exotic place of beauty and freedom’ [Atherton]. He is waiting to break free of his boyhood, to become a man, through his relationship with the girl. However, as with the previous stories all hopes of escape end in futility, as our narrator fails to achieve his desire, which renders him impotent.
What about you… Are you reading along with Dubliners, and if so, what did you think?
Dates for your diary:
‘Eveline’ on the 24th of April.
‘After the Race’ on the 1st of May.
‘Two Gallants’ on the 8th of May.