Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Joyce's “Araby” A Study Guide

Type of Work and Year of Publication
.......James Joyce's “Araby” is a short story centering on an Irish adolescent emerging from boyhood fantasies into the harsh realities of everyday life in his country. Joyce based this coming-of-age tale, which he wrote in 1905, on his own experiences while growing up in Dublin in the late nineteenth century. The London firm of Grant Richards Ltd. published the story in 1914 in Dubliners, a collection of fifteen of Joyce's stories.
Background and Setting
.......James Joyce based "Araby" on his own experiences as an adolescent resident of Dublin in 1894, when Ireland was chafing under British rule. Like the fictional narrator of "Araby," Joyce lived on North Richmond Street (No. 17) in the central part of the city. And like the narrator, he was undergoing a period of self-discovery. However, unlike the narrator of "Araby," Joyce was not an orphan.
.......In "Araby" and other stories in Dubliners, Joyce presents Dublin as a bleak city struggling against oppressive forces. Winter scenes of boys at play take place near the dead end of North Richmond Street and in nearby lanes, as indicated in the first and third paragraphs. The climactic scene takes place in South Dublin, across the River Liffey from central Dublin, at a bazaar in a large building. Such a bazaar—billed as “Araby: a Grand Oriental Fête” (or as “A Grand Oriental Fête: Araby in Dublin”) was actually held in Dublin between May 14 and May 19, 1894, to benefit a local hospital. 

Point of View
.......An adolescent boy narrates the story in first-person point of view. He does not identify himself. But to readers familiar with the life and works of Joyce, it becomes clear that he represents the author. Joyce based characters, places, and events in the story on recollections from his boyhood, although he altered reality from time to time. For example, Joyce was not an orphan, as is the narrator. 
Narrator: Boy of about twelve who becomes infatuated with the sister of his friend, Mangan. Although she hardly notices him and converses with him only once, he fantasizes about her and tells her he will buy her a gift if he attends a bazaar called Araby. He seems to regard her as noble and pure of heart, like a maiden in a tale of chivalry. His trip to the bazaar to find her the gift then becomes something of a knight's quest on behalf of his lady fair. 
Mangan: Boy about the same age as the narrator. He is a companion and neighbor of the narrator. 
Other Neighbor Boys: Companions of the narrator.
Mangan's Sister: Girl to whom the narrator is attracted. 
Narrator's Uncle, Aunt: Relatives who are rearing the narrator. The uncle, a drinker, addresses the narrator as "boy" (paragraph 14), suggesting that he is not close to his nephew.
Mrs. Mercer: Widow of a pawnbroker. She visits the narrator's home to collect used stamps to support what the narrator terms "a pious cause."
Schoolmaster: Narrator's teacher.
Stall Attendant: Young Englishwoman who sells vases, tea sets, and similar wares at the Araby bazaar. To the narrator, the fact that she is English diminishes the Middle Eastern atmosphere of the Araby bazaar. 
Two Englishmen: Young men with whom the stall attendant flirts. 
Dubliners: Pedestrians, shop boys, laborers, drunks.
Porters at Train Station
Attendant at Bazaar Turnstile

Plot Summary

.......The year is 1894. The place is North Richmond Street in Ireland's largest city, Dublin. The street dead-ends at an empty house of two stories, says the unidentified narrator, a boy of about twelve who lives on the street with his uncle and aunt. A priest was once a tenant in the house they occupy. After he died, the narrator explored his quarters. He reports that
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. Among these I found a few paper-covered books, the pages of which were curled and damp: The Abbot, by Walter Scott, The Devout Communicant, and The Memoirs of Vidocq. I liked the last best because its leaves were yellow.
.......The narrator says the priest was a good man, for he bequeathed his money to institutions and his furniture to his sister. 
.......In winter, the narrator and his friends, including a boy named Mangan, play in the street and in the muddy lanes along and behind the houses. If the narrator's uncle turns into the street, everyone hides until he enters his house. If Mangan's sister comes out and calls her brother to tea, everyone keeps in the shadows. If she stands there and waits, the boys reveal themselves and Mangan answers her call. The narrator always observes her closely, for he is strongly attracted to her even though he hardly knows her.
.......On school mornings, he waits for her to come out, then grabs his school books and follows her until their paths diverge. She is constantly in his thoughts even though they had never had a conversation. One rainy evening in the kitchen of the priest's empty quarters, he presses his hands together as if to pray and says, “O love! O love!”
.......Finally, a day comes when she speaks to him. She asks whether he is going to the Araby bazaar Saturday evening, noting that she herself wants to go but cannot because she must attend a retreat scheduled at her convent. He tells her that if he goes to the bazaar, he will bring back something for her.
.......During the next several days, having received permission from his aunt to attend the event, all he can think about is the bazaar and Mangan's sister. On Saturday morning, he reminds his uncle that he will be attending the bazaar that evening. The uncle, who is in the hallway looking for a hat brush, curtly replies, "Yes, boy, I know."
.......After the narrator returns from school, he sits downstairs staring at a clock, waiting for his uncle to come home and give him money for the bazaar. Irritated by the ticking of the clock, he goes to the highest part of the dwelling and looks out at the Mangan girl's house while neighbor boys are playing in the street. For fully an hour, he stands there thinking of her, imagining he sees her in front of her house—her curved neck, her dress, her hand on the railing.
.......When he returns downstairs, his uncle has still not returned home. But Mrs. Mercer is there sitting at the fire. She is a pawnbroker's widow who collects used stamps for a charitable cause. She is also waiting for the narrator's uncle, but the narrator does not say why. It may be that the uncle owes her money or has promised to give her stamps. While dinner awaits his return, Mrs. Mercer gossips with the narrator's aunt over tea. Just after eight o'clock, Mrs. Mercer says she can wait no longer and leaves.
.......“I'm afraid you may put off your bazaar for this night of Our Lord,” the narrator's aunt says. 
.......At nine, the narrator hears his uncle come through the door. He is talking to himself, which means he has been drinking. When the narrator asks him for money for the bazaar, the uncle says people are going to bed by this time. But the aunt presses him on behalf of the boy. The uncle then gives the boy a florin and asks him whether he has heard of "The Arab's Farewell to His Steed." In a hurry, the boy leaves while the uncle prepares to recite the first few lines of the poem to his wife. 
.......The narrator takes an empty third-class train across the river to the site of the bazaar. When he walks down the street to the bazaar building, it is nearing ten o'clock. He pays his way and walks through a turnstile only to discover that most of the stalls are already closed. In front of a curtain at one stall, Cafe Chantant, two men are counting money. When the narrator finds a stall that is still open, he goes inside and looks over a display of tea sets and porcelain vases. 
.......A young lady is talking with two gentlemen. All have English accents. She comes over and asks the narrator whether he wishes to make a purchase. Her tone is perfunctory; she exhibits little enthusiasm. “No, thank you,” he says. He lingers a moment, then walks away. The lights of the gallery in the upper part of the building go out. Of this moment, the narrator tells the reader:
.......“Gazing up into the darkness I saw myself as a creature driven and derided by vanity; and my eyes burned with anguish and anger.” 

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