Assessing the foreshadowings of conflict

Love: An Illusion

Joyce’s “Araby” uses metaphor and symbolism to denote passage of the protagonist from dullness to optimism and then, to vanquishing of that light. This symbolism serves as background to Joyce’s message that love is illusory, merely an infatuation that serves as endeavor to dispel the mendacity of everyday ugliness, and that its reality is merely another form of ‘blackness’.

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Gloominess saturates the story. There is mention of a priest’s death, dark evening, dank streets, and rain amongst other depressing characteristics. The boys play in “in dark drippy gardens” near “ashpits” and “dark odorous stables,” and North Richmond Street is described as “blind.” The term “darkness, in fact, seems to pervade this story, whilst the background characters seem shallow, self-centered, puny people who populate the place consisting of small-minded clergy as well as unpleasant father-figures who manipulate the women and children. There is also an allusion to drunkenness. The author describes his uncle’s lateness as “I heard him talking to himself and heard the hallstand rocking when it had received the weight of his overcoat. I could interpret these signs” (Joyce *). All of these are unmistakable allusions to Joyce’s own childhood populated as it was with crassness, religious fanaticism, small-mindedness, and gloom (Coulthard, 1994).

The girl, the antagonist in the narrative, becomes his beacon. The protagonist expresses that “Her image accompanied me even in places the most hostile to romance. On Saturday evenings when my aunt went marketing I had to go to carry some of the parcels. We walked through the flaring streets, jostled by drunken men and bargaining women I imagined that I bore my chalice safely through a throng of foes. Her name sprang to my lips at moments in strange prayers and praises which I myself did not understand.” (Joyce *); the girl, in other words, would serve as light to dispel the darkness. He describes himself as a harp and the girl’s words and gestures as fingers running across the strings of that harp, saving him from that darkness and creating music in his life. The Araby fair becomes his resolution of salvation; it is the trip — the destination — that will serve as instrument to winning him the girl’s love.

There are foreshadowings of conflict. The uncle, unexpectedly, comes home late, and forgets to give him money; the stalls are closed; and the place is silent and dark. The climax arrives with the boy failing to buy his vase — he has little money to acquire it. He realizes that this infatuation for Mangan’s sister is an illusion, and simply a wistful idea that serves as escape from his discontentment: “I lingered before her stall, though I knew my stay was useless, to make my interest in her wares seem more real. Then I turned away slowly and walked down the middle of the bazaar” (Joyce *). He allows the coin to fall from his pocket, and in a denouement that indicates Joyce’s message, he hears a voice calling “the lights are out” casting the upper part of the hall in utter darkness.

Norris (1995) sees the story in a more positive light as indicating merely a momentary shift towards disappointment but that ‘light’ will return at the end of the day. To me it seems as though Joyce wishes to indicate that the ‘runt of the litter’ may never have an opportunity to bathe in this light. Were the boy older or more attractive, the saleslady might have engaged him in conversation, too, and he might have received the vase; or were he to have possessed more money, he might have possessed his objective. As it is, James might be saying, the brunt of humanity is compelled to live in darkness, whilst only a few can afford to shatter that light. The majority remain in anonymity, as the primary characters of the story are, constricted to live out their days in some gloomy Dublin town, at best to be called “Mangan’s sister’ and to end the plot, as the protagonist does, as imagining themselves to be merely some “creatures” suffocated by limitation.

As it is, at the end of the day, the boy cannot afford to kindle his light, and infatuation remains another cast coin. The town remains ‘dark’ and gloomy. Puny and drunk individuals will continue to populate the boy’s existence. Small-minded religion and dying shabby priests will always remain a backdrop. Symbolism portrays the theme that love is an illusion that serves as endeavor to dispel the mendacity of everyday ugliness; its reality is merely another form of ’emptiness’.


Coulthard, a.R. “Joyce’s Araby.” Explicator 52.2 (1994): 97. Literary Reference Center Plus. EBSCO. Web. 19 Jan. 2011.

Joyce, J. “Araby ” the Norton Intro to Literature 10th edition Ed. Booth & Mays *. 503-507.

Norris, Margot. “Blind streets and seeing houses: Araby’s dim glass revisited.” Studies in Short Fiction 32.3 (1995): 309. Literary Reference Center Plus. EBSCO. Web. 19 Jan. 2011.

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