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A review and analysis of "Araby", a short story contained in the collection "The Dubliners" by James Joyce


It has become clear to me that contained within the tale of “Araby” by James Joyce is what can be called somewhat of an uncommon viewpoint but one that I feel is especially relevant if one is to understand Joyce’s writings to the fullest extent. This uncommon viewpoint is Joyce’s understanding and feeling towards the very events that make up every single person’s lives.

Let us look for example at a story that has come to command a very high degree of regards and respect over the course of human existence. I have chosen the story of Jesus to aid in the illustration of Joyce’s viewpoints. Let us see what we have in this story. This is the story of what is believed to be the son of God. He was born to a woman that was not known to have any living counterpart. He was born in a manger in Bethlehem and because of a lack of a presence of any respectable father, it came to be believed that he was the son of God. The story continues that this man traveled the land enacting righteous deeds. One day, Jesus was conspired against because of a fear of his powers. I am not sure of the particulars in this certain case but it was decided that Jesus was to be killed through crucifixion. There he hung on the cross until he was dead. Then, miraculously as it was said that was foretold, Jesus arose from the grave and ascended into the kingdom of heaven, having, as is understood, died for the sins of us mortal human beings.

Except for the end of it, this does not seem like so much of a remarkable story. And it is one that can easily be understood. Let us break it down. First, we have a child born to a woman who was believed to be divinely impregnated. Yes. That is what is supposed to have happened. Or, perhaps more likely, drunkenly impregnated by a dirt bag who then, surprise, surprise, fled the scene. This is a very typical scenario. The woman would never admit to this however, and when someone suggested that her blessing was the work of God, wouldn’t it be easy for her to go along with it? So now we have a divine child who grows up and travels around, doing favors for people. Well, let’s take a look at the day and age in which this man lived. People were, although this may be possibly an unfair generalization, somewhat susceptible to any crackpot idea that might be thrown at them. This was not the golden age of intelligence and the only thing that this Jesus might need to acquire a following would be a couple of magic tricks, “discovering” a coin in someone’s ear or some other such trick for example. Then because, as I mentioned, this was not exactly the Golden Age of intelligence, someone a little less than “golden” might denounce Jesus’ magic tricks as dangerous, witchcraft or some related nonsense, the punishment of which could have been crucifixion (they experimented with all sorts of punishment in those days). Then, three days later, a couple of fellows, drunk and stupid, see someone they think looks like Jesus climb up a mountain and ascend into heaven. Instead maybe he climbs into the clouds where they can't see him, lights a fire because he can’t see and decides to camp for the night.

You may be wondering when I am going to get to the point and it is now. The story of Jesus could be (I am not saying it is) an example of everyday events in the life of certain human beings blown out of proportion. There is no one alive that can verify the story of Jesus but over the years, given that the tale has passed from one generation to another, and given that we are a species that is prone to embellishing the stories that we tell, his exploits might be a little bit less than they are told to be.

Joyce, I believe, has come to like the idea that normal activities have the potential to become the subject of myths and legends. For if they can, and have been proven to be, than doesn’t that imply that the everyday things that happen, really everything that happens, are all divine in nature? It seems that even the little things, picking your nose, going to pick up some tampons at the Mobil Mart, or anything that one does on a given day, are just as worthy of note as any heroic feat that is the subject of myths and legends.

In Araby, Joyce tells the story of a young fellow in love with his friend’s sister. Despite the poetic nature of such a story, for love itself can make every day events seem as divine messages from above and seems to beg embellishment, there is contained within his descriptions of the young boys love even deeper and holier messages.

“On Saturday evenings when my aunt went marketing I had to go and carry some parcels. We walked through the flaring streets, jostled by the drunken men and bargaining women, amid the curses of laborers, the shrill litanies of shop boys who stood on guard by the barrels of pigs’ cheeks, the nasal chanting of street-singers, who sang a come-all-you about O’Donovan Rossa, or a ballad about the troubles in our native land. These noises converged on a single sensation of life for me: I imagined that I bore my chalice safely through a throng of foes.”

The last part of this makes clear my point, and James’, better than I ever could. What is this other than a normal street scene (in the time of whenever this was written)? The events here have been elevated by their very make up. This scene is deeper for the narrator than just that. The love that he feels is embodied in those parcels. They are not just simple store bought items. They are symbols of his one love. And he is the gladiator, fighting his way through throngs of “foes” to deliver his “chalice” to safety. The chalice is his damsel in distress. Whether the trouble is the jostling of drunken men that simply stumble into him looking for support or the bargaining women that get up close and personal to hawk their wares or the singers that tempt him to join into their good graces, the narrator resists, must resist, for his well being and the well being of his chalice, his damsel in distress. The events have taken an undertone of Herculean legends. And events such as this happen everywhere, everyday.

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Let us use the descriptive qualities of everyday things that Joyce has included in “Araby” as a mode of understanding further the precious and divine schemata of everyday life.

“An uninhabited house of two storeys stood at the blind end, detached from its neighbors in a square. The other houses on the street, conscious of decent lives within them, gazed at one another with imperturbable faces.”

In these sentences, whether it is an example of the painstakingly descriptive writing that Joyce practices or not, there is more than just a unique look at a town block. Joyce has attached an identity to each of the houses. They are not just one of many structures that are the make up of an urban landscape. No longer are they just houses. They are now silent purveyors. They are overseers of the events of everyday and watchful protectors of their domain and their inhabitants. One could say they are just houses on a block, built by surly workmen as shelter for those that can afford such. When put in such a context as Joyce has, doesn’t it seem easy to see houses on a block as more than that?

“The space of sky above us was the colour of ever-changing violet and towards it the lamps of the street lifted their feeble lanterns.”

Surely there is no reaching going on. The lamp posts of the street are inanimate objects. They have no life or concept of what is beautiful. Or do they? It can easily be understood if one was to describe a lamp post as a mythical monster, towering above the streets in its attempts to touch and be one with the most beautiful lamp of all, the evening sky.

“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 odors arose from the ashpits, to the dark odorous stables where a coachman smoothed and combed the horse or shook music from the buckled harness.”

This bit of writing is just chock full of embellishments that are not very far from the truth but could be seen as so much more if one had the right kind of eyes. First of all, the boys “career” does not seem like very much of a career, at least not one in any universally accepted utilization of the word. Career as defined by Websters New World Dictionary “One’s advancement or achievement in a particular vocation; a lifework; profession; occupation” connotes a meaning that might be fulfilled if running around the neighborhood is one’s profession but one that does not seem to fit the words original intentions. Only if the writers intention was to give an everyday activity a new meaning, a glorified meaning, would the word work.

Along the same lines is the use of the word gauntlet to describe the path of the playing boys. For although they are running through what might be seen as unpleasant scenery, it is hardly a gauntlet, a word that brings to mind braving the beatings of a line of assailants as a way of punishment or initiation. Doesn’t it seem feasible that if Joyce attached the label of gauntlet to the boys run, it could have been done on more than one occasion by other writers and historians? If this is true, doesn’t it seem feasible that perhaps the tales of gauntlets that are regaled as valiant deeds in mythic stories and legends were nothing more than a man running through his neighborhood? It seems safe to say that the boys “gauntlet” has been affixed with more of a divine meaning if one thinks about it in this context.

Additionally, let us direct our attention to the “music” that comes from the buckled harness. The random shaking of whatever bells or anything else on the harness that collides with something else and causes a noise might be only called music in the loosest sense of the term. Music suggests planning and orchestration but does not conjure up images of pieces of things knocking together and producing random sounds. But they could, depending on who it was that heard those random sounds.

To end, I wanted to pose the question of whether the idea of holding the everyday events in our life in higher regard than what they appear to be is really that far-fetched? Isn’t it something that the egotistical little person inside of us all wanted to believe anyway? Don’t deny it. Everything can be special if we look at it right. It seems that if we hold everything in high regard, we would take more time to contemplate what our actions would amount to in the future. We would begin to ask ourselves whether the myth that could occur that is based around what we do today really the type of thing that we want to become mythic. A second look is never a bad idea.

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