James Joyce's "Araby"

Essay by Jim LeonardHigh School, 10th gradeA+, June 1996

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There are many statements in the story "Araby" that are both surprising and puzzling. The statement that perhaps gives us the most insight into the narrator's thoughts and feelings is found at the end of the story. "Gazing up into the darkness I saw myself as a creature driven and derided by vanity; and my eyes burned with anguish and anger. (32)" By breaking this statement into small pieces and key words, we can see it as a summation of the story's major themes.

At this point in the story, many emotions are swirling about in the narrator's head. His trip to the bazaar has been largely unsuccessful. He was late arriving, was unable to find a gift for Mangan's sister, felt scorned by the merchants, and suddenly found himself in a dark room. These surroundings left him feeling both derided, and with a sense that this eagerly anticipated trip had been in vain.

Many other situations caused him to feel driven and derided by vanity. His reflections of the "charitable" life of the priest who occupied the narrator's house before the narrator make us wonder if the priest led a life of vanity. His early obsession with Mangan's sister now seems in vain. "I had never spoken to her ... and yet her name was like a summons to my foolish blood. (4)" He feels ashamed and ridiculed by his earlier inability to communicate with Mangan's sister. He sees how distracted he was by his anticipation of the bazaar. He recalls that he "had hardly any patience with the serious work of life. (12)" The narrator is embarrassed by the time he had wasted, and the ease with which he became distracted. The near total worthlessness of the bazaar at the time the narrator arrives is an extreme example of vanity. Not only does the narrator feel ridiculed by the vanity involved in this situation, he also feels driven by it. The simple conversation he carries on with Mangan's sister regarding the bazaar drives him to direct all his thoughts toward the glory that will be the bazaar. A sort of irony can be found in the fact that something that he devoted all his "waking and sleeping thoughts" to could turn out so foolish and ridiculous.

The last sentence of the story contains four words that deal with the sense of sight: gazing, darkness, saw, and eyes. The story both begins and ends with darkness. The first sentence tells that the street the narrator lived on was "blind." The narrator spends a great deal of time watching Mangan's sister. He also is very careful to keep "the blind pulled down to within an inch of the sash so that I could not be seen. (4)" The narrator feels anguish and anger when he is unable to watch Mangan's sister due to his uncle's presence in the hall. Ironically, it is in the darkness that the narrator comes to see his true feelings, which again leads him to feel anger and anguish. The narrator's perception of the darkness causes him to reflect on his own isolation and loneliness.

Many other circumstances cause the narrator to feel anguish and anger. "Enduring the gossip of the tea-table (17)" causes him to clinch his fists and feel bitter. His uncle's late arrival home also added to the narrator's feelings of suffering.

When the narrator comes to the realization that vanity drives and derides him, feelings of anguish and anger overwhelm him. The narrator's experience over the weeks preceding the bazaar, coupled with the surroundings he faces leaves him with a painful empty feeling many adults find in life.