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James Joyceʼs “Araby” is a short story about the epiphinal moment in overcoming the infatuation of another person. It describes the progression of a boyʼs feelings for a girl whom he hardly knows but for whom he lusts, budding in naive curiosity and sprouting into numbing infatuation, bordering on obsession. At the end of the story, the main character acts on his thoughts and goes to a bazaar, Araby, to look for a present for his woman. Once there, upset over finding it nearly closed, he realizes his impetuousness in acting blindly on his feelings, and feels cheated and empty.

Joyceʼs narrative techniques are a bit of an anachronism in that they were rarely appreciated in his time. Though his works are thought to be dense in meaning, Joyce has graciously left the reader many bits of imagery and metaphor in “Araby” from which to appreciate the themes. In this way, “Araby” requires more the experience of epiphany than a rigorous vocabulary of literary tropes. Specifically, “Araby” juxtaposes light and dark in its narrative cocktail of emotions, such as imperfect vision to emphasize his the narratorʼs lack of awareness. He is blind to his empty soul, represented by the darkness that encapsulates his life.

Arabyʼs beginning story arc depicts the main character in a figuratively blind world, where people are insulated and formatted to view the world in certain terms. The boy lives in a blind (dead end) street amongst uninhabited houses, which are also referred to as being “blind”. The time of the year, Joyce writes, is, “the short days of winter [when] dusk fell before we had well eaten our dinner”. The season is dark, and the street is secluded. Dark imagery strictly accompanies descriptions of the boy and his environment.

Meanwhile light imagery follows descriptions of the girl. When weʼre first introduced to her, she stands in a doorway, “..waiting for us, her figure defined by the light from the half- opened door.” She is almost angelic, a heavenly being whose “dress swung as she moved her body,” sent for the sole purpose of enriching the boyʼs dreary life to which he becomes increasingly unaware: “Every morning I lay on the floor in the front parlour watching her door. The blind was pulled down to within an inch of the sash so that I could not be seen.” In this sense, the girl has a numbing effect that blinds the boy to his otherwise monotonous world.

But the boy relishes the effect. “I was thankful that I could see so little,” he says. “All my senses seemed to desire to veil themselves and, feeling that I was about to slip from them, I pressed the palms of my hands together until they trembled, murmuring: O love! O love! Many times.” His infatuation is not only numbing, but intoxicating. He imagines himself as a hero of romance, navigating the slum streets bearing his chalice, “safely through a throng of foes”.

When the author talks about the cold, gloomy rooms liberating him it shows the way he is feeling inside at this point. He is excited and feeling quite restless at the moment, trying to wait patiently for his uncle to arrive home. The anxiety he has been feeling all day finally sets below the surface. When he sees the dark room I think he feels like he can relax a little, not a great amount but just enough.

The way the light catches Magnanʼs sisterʼs neck and illuminates her hair intensifies the burning desire the boy is feeling for the girl. Everything in his life seems gloomy and dull, except for when it comes to her. Every time he sees her itʼs as if she takes away the darkness, even if it is just for a short time. I feel like the author notices details about this girl that no one else would realize. Everyone has a neck - but to him, her neck is somehow significant.

As they boy leaves for the bazaar, holding a florin tightly in his hand, he becomes anxious, fighting uncontrollable elements in the name of his angelic damsel. He takes a bumbling carriage and wades through crowds until he reaches the bazaar, only to find it largely over, with vendors unfocused and preparing to dismantle their wares. Frustrated, he looks around: “nearly all the stalls were closed and the greater part of the halls was in darkness.” In his arrival, he recognizes “a silence like that which pervades a church after a service.” This is the storyʼs emotional climax, the tipping point at which the boy, in his tears and anger, recognizes himself for the romantic fool heʼs become. “I lingered before her stall, though I knew my stay was useless,” he says. As he leaves the hall of the bazaar, the lights turn off, rendering the room completely dark, symbolizing the somber epiphany of emptiness. “Gazing up into the darkness, I saw myself a creature driven and derided by vanity; and my eyes burned with anguish and anger”.

The boy feels contempt for the very object of affection that drove his life only days ago. Seeing himself as an object derided by vanity, he resents his motivation and finds himself angry and empty. Perhaps most brilliantly, it is only once he finds himself in unavoidable darkness when the boy sees the most, and it overwhelms him. His blindness lifted, his eyes burn with anguish from the idea that heʼd been chasing his own infatuation. The juxtaposition of light and dark emphasizes this climax in a way that makes sense in the readerʼs mental picture of the story (and who doesnʼt love a good juxtaposition?).


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