Araby James Joyce, an icon of the modernist era had many works that were moving away from the classical styles of literature put before him. Joyce is known for leading his characters towards some kind of personal insight and on the surface, Araby seems to be only about a boy learning about the truth of capitalism. As you dive deep in to his words and meaning however, it is apparent that Joyce’s message is not as black and white as it appears on the surface. This story is also about the relationship between men and women.
It is about how women are capable of influencing a man’s actions/behaviors and why men feel as if they need to exert their “dominance” over women. Joyce purposely makes the protagonist a young boy who chases after an older girl. He does this to elevate the status of the girl and portray her as larger than the boy. He is basically saying early in the story that woman has some kind of superiority over man. The beginning of the story is innocent enough, the boy explains how he plays in the street with his best friend (Mangan) and hides from his uncle so he doesn’t have to go in.
This is where the girl is introduced. Neither she nor the boy has a name hinting that they are representative of all men and women. The boy is absolutely infatuated with the girl and it is apparent in the paragraphs right after she is introduced. He watches her from afar, has a certain routine so that he passes her every morning, and even imagines victory due to his love as he walks through his marketplace. She is the focal point of all his thoughts and it is shown that he is helpless to her influence when he utters “O love!
O love! ” over and over in private. He is but a helpless romantic during this point of the story driven by his undeserving love for this girl. Their only conversation is a brief, but huge one and what she says and how she acts says all. She plays with her bracelet, signifying the importance of materialistic items in her life and communicating that she would love something from Araby by saying how she would love to go but can’t. The boy bites the bait hard and is hooked immediately to be drug around by the idea of pleasing the girl.
Her influence over him increases exponentially after this as he says that he cannot think of anything except her. He can’t sleep, can’t think, can’t read, can’t focus in class and is consumed with the hope that this magical bazaar would grant him the key to the girl’s heart. All these things are clear signs that the girl holds control over him because he has lost all motivation for anything besides pleasing her. The story stays like this, with him obsessing over her until he actually gets to the bazaar as it is closing and his hopes start to fade.
Araby is supposed to be this enchanted place with wonderful people and remarkable, exotic items but the boy finds that there is nothing but commonplace junk that he could get from his own marketplace. On top of that, he is met by a very distasteful sales clerk who seems very uninterested in him. In most analyses, this is the point of the boy’s insight to the nature of capitalism and realizes that not everything is as pretty as it appears on the surface. This is a very important lesson but it is not the only change that occurs in the boy.
The last line of the story is “Gazing up into the darkness I saw myself as a creature driven and derided by vanity; and my eyes burned with anguish and anger. ” Joyce definitely did not use passive words to describe the boy’s hurt but chooses a powerful, emotionally charged set of words that paints a very precise, borderline frightening image. He describes the boy as a creature, as if he has lost his humanity and been stripped down to a raw, instinctual beast. A desperate, pissed off animal driven by his feeling of worthlessness with eyes burning from anger and a feeling of deep heartache.
These are not words usually used to describe an epiphany about the nature of the world. These are words used to describe the feelings of losing something great, of getting your heart smashed, chewed up and spit out. These are words describing a feeling that this boy will never again want to feel. He realizes that he has opened himself up to be hurt and he was undeniably crushed by his inability to get something that would please the girl his heart yearns for. Joyce was a master of idioms and word choice. He was easily one of the great writers of his time and will always be recognized as such.
He is known for writing about how stages in life affect a person as a whole and Araby is no different. Being a great writer of his time he is also a creation of the era he lived in. During his life men believed that they were superior to women, that woman were weak and that they needed a man to support them. It was believed that women were home to weak emotions and men only had time for strong ones making them better than women. To say that Joyce wrote a story in which he acknowledges that women have some kind upper hand on men may seem inept but he does a good job of answering why men behaved and felt this way.
His reason is that men cannot cope with these “weak” emotions so they shut them out. The boy in the story “Araby” is met with his first heartbreak due to the fact that he can’t please the girl that he so desperately desires and immediately becomes this inhuman creature full of anguish. In a time where men are supposed to be the bread-winners; strong confident figures that controls their household, these feelings are unacceptable. It is why men must exhibit nothing but “strong” emotions and exude their dominance over women, for the fear of being emotionally shattered in the face of them.