Rick's Reviews > Araby

Araby by James Joyce
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M_50x66
's review
Aug 19, 10

bookshelves: short-fiction, 2010-short
Read in August, 2010

The unnamed protagonist in "Araby" is a boy who is just starting to come into his sexual identity. Through his first-person narration, we are immersed at the start of the story in the drab life that people live on North Richmond Street, which seems to be illuminated only by the verve and imagination of the children who, despite the growing darkness that comes during the winter months, insist on playing "until [their:] bodies glowed." Even though the conditions of this neighbourhood leave much to be desired, the children’s play is infused with their almost magical way of perceiving the world, which the narrator dutifully conveys to the reader:
“ Our shouts echoed in the silent street. The career of our play brought us through the dark muddy lanes behind the houses where we ran the gauntlet of the rough tribes from the cottages, to the back doors of the dark dripping gardens where odours arose from the ashpits, to the dark odorous stables where a coachman smoothed and combed the horse or shook music from the buckled harness. ”

[1:]

But though these boys "career" around the neighbourhood in a very childlike way, they are also aware of and interested in the adult world, as represented by their spying on the narrator’s uncle as he comes home from work and, more importantly, on Mangan’s sister, whose dress “swung as she moved” and whose “soft rope of hair tossed from side to side.” These boys are on the brink of sexual awareness and, awed by the mystery of the opposite sex, are hungry for knowledge.

On one rainy evening, the boy secludes himself in a soundless, dark drawing-room and gives his feelings for her full release: "I pressed the palms of my hands together until they trembled, murmuring: O love! O love! many times." This scene is the culmination of the narrator’s increasingly romantic idealization of Mangan’s sister. By the time he actually speaks to her, he has built up such an unrealistic idea of her that he can barely put sentences together: “When she addressed the first words to me I was so confused that I did not know what to answer. She asked me if I was going to Araby. I forget whether I answered yes or no.” But the narrator recovers splendidly: when Mangan’s sister dolefully states that she will not be able to go to Araby, he gallantly offers to bring something back for her.

The narrator now cannot wait to go to the Araby bazaar and procure for his beloved some grand gift that will endear him to her. And though his aunt frets, hoping that it is not “some Freemason affair,” and though his uncle, perhaps intoxicated, perhaps stingy, arrives so late from work and equivocates so much that he almost keeps the narrator from being able to go, the intrepid narrator heads out of the house, tightly clenching a florin, in spite of the late hour, toward the bazaar.

But the Araby market turns out not to be the most fantastic place he had hoped it would be. It is late; most of the stalls are closed. The only sound is "the fall of coins" as men count their money. Worst of all, however, is the vision of sexuality -- of his future -- that he receives when he stops at one of the few remaining open stalls. The young woman minding the stall is engaged in a conversation with two young men. Though he is potentially a customer, she only grudgingly and briefly waits on him before returning to her frivolous conversation. His idealized vision of Araby is destroyed, along with his idealized vision of Mangan’s sister: and of love. With shame and anger rising within him, he exits the bazaar.
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