Joycean epiphany: one of those often subtle but definitive moments after which life is never quite the same again. All of us, or a majority of us, have felt it. We discuss it so often as a literary effect that we forget how accurately it depicts human beings’ experience with change.
To some extent this translates to the way we shape our memories; editing as we go and forgetting some details . Just like in James Joyce’s short story Araby, a grown man remembering a single night with a mixture of scorn and tenderness, a night when his childhood and adolescence naivety is shed and replaced with anguish.
Araby is an ideal depiction of a transformation from childhood innocence to the reality of life and its multiple facets. Narrated in first-person, a young boy is infatuated by the intense feelings he has for a girl, Mangan’s sister. At the end of this story, the boy realizes that all this was a fantasy and he has had a lot of things about life wrong. The story takes readers through a rapid, but well developed journey that begins with utter innocence and ends with painful self-realization.
Literary Analysis: The Themes of Change, Transformation, and Coming of Age
Though subtly, the story’s first instance of change or disparity with the normal shows through the boy’s awakening on life, which differs, and is incompatible with the state of his environment.
The narrator describes the North Richmond street and the house where the narrator grew up vividly.
“… being blind… The other houses of the street, conscious of decent lives within them, gazed at one another with brown imperturbable faces.”
The neighborhood is characterized by a decaying, but fixed conformity as well as a false deference. In the house where the narrator lives, there is a feeling of a past that is lost but at the same time, an air of the dead present.
Remaining items belonging to a priest who lived here are still around in the back drawing room, even though he died a while back. Despite this feeling of decay and conformity, the young boy still manages to experience the infatuation and dreams of first romance and a confused idealism on love; a coming of age in a setting that stands the test of time to remain the same.
Before heading to school, the boy peeps through a crack waiting for Mangan’s sister to emerge and it is only after that he gets his books and rushes to follow her slowly and silently. He is a typical young boy, shy and nervous when around a girl he’s attracted to. Following and thinking about her, the boy is filled with feelings of desire as he says,
Her name sprang to my lips at moments in strange prayers and praises which I myself did not understand… But my body was like a harp and her words and gestures were like fingers running upon the wires
In the back drawing room one evening, he clasps his palms, murmuring, “O love! O love!” which suggests the intensity of the desire and infatuation he harbors for the girl. At this point, the story begins to reveal the coming epiphany as the narrator describes his constant thoughts for her even when she is not around. He describes,
“These noises con-verged in a single sensation of life for me: I imagined that I bore my chalice safely through a throng of foes.”
The looming transformation is isolation from family and friends after the girl talks to him and she is all he can think about, and his trip to Araby to get her something. The boy’s transformation to alienation deepens because neither his uncle nor aunt seem to comprehend his anguish caused by love. At this point, the story partially shifts from love and romance, to the reality of the narrator’s world.
The hallmark of transformations in the story occurs at the Bazaar. The story progresses to an inevitable epiphany characterized by an awakening and subsequent disappointment. There is a conclusive atmosphere of being in the dark, ranging from the girl who’s unaware of the boy’s love, a family unconscious of the narrator’s recent anguish, and a young boy blinded by his perception of love.
Change arrives when he becomes more aware of his environment and reality of his feelings towards the girl, along with other things which he treated with naivety. First, he identifies the “silence like that which pervades a church after a service” as he arrives at the bazaar. And now that he is there, the bazaar does not meet his expectations.
He recognizes such minor details as the sound of “the fall of the coins.” The sight of a shop lady flirting with two gentlemen and utterly disinterested in him heightens his disinterest. He realizes that the Bazaar, just like other things he was once looked forward to, is uninteresting and tawdry.
As the story ends, Joyce uses a variety of descriptions to signify the gradual loss of hope, revelation of reality, and transformation. He says, “I knew my stay was useless… I allowed the two pennies to fall against the sixpence in my pocket. I heard a voice call from one end of the gallery that the light was out. The upper part of the hall was now completely dark.”
What are your thoughts or questions on Araby by James Joyce? Let me know in the comment section.