Araby By James Joyce The short story, “Araby”, by James Joyce is about a lonely boy who makes a pilgrimage to an eastern-styled bazaar in hopes that it will alleviate his miserable life. Throughout the story he battles withdrawal and a lack of control. Moreover, the themes of alienation and control are inherently linked because the source of the boy’s emotional distance is his lack of control over his life. The story begins as the boy describes his neighborhood. Immediately a feeling of alienation and bleakness prevails. The street that the boy lives on is a dead-end; he is literally trapped. Furthermore, he feels ignored by the houses on his street.
Their “brown imperturbable faces make him feel excluded from the decent lives within them.” Every detail of his neighborhood seems designed to connote to him the feeling of isolation. The boy’s house, like the street he lives on, is filled with decay. It is suffocating and “musty from being long enclosed.” It is difficult for him to establish any sort of connection to it. Even the history of the house feels unkind. The house’s previous tenant, a priest, had died. He “left all his money to institutions and the furniture of the house to his sister.” It was as if he was trying to insure the boy’s boredom and solitude.
The only thing of interest that the boy can find is a bicycle-pump, which is rusty and rendered unfit to play with. Even the “wild” garden is gloomy and unaffected, containing but a lone apple tree “and a few straggling bushes.” It is hardly the sort of yard that a young boy would prefer. Like most boys, he has no voice in choosing where he lives. Yet, he is affected by his surroundings. His home and neighborhood are not the only sources of the boy’s animosity. The weather is also unkind to the boy. Not only is it cold, but the short days of winter make play more difficult under the “feeble lanterns.” He is resigned to playing in “dark muddy lanes behind the houses where [he runs] the gauntlet of the rough tribes from the cottages.” The boy cannot expect to have any control over the seasons or weather.
Nevertheless, the weather contributes to his feeling of helplessness. For the boy, one of the more dehumanizing aspects of the story is that nowhere does anyone ever refer to him by name. He is always referred to as ‘you’ or ‘boy’. This could be attributed to the fact that, on the whole, there is relatively little dialogue, and the story is rather short. However, the boy is also the narrator of the story and could have introduced himself.
After all, in the first paragraph he introduces the setting, it would not have been unreasonable for him to have mentioned his name. It seems likely then that the boy’s name was omitted deliberately. By depriving the boy of a name, Joyce effectively denies the boy any sense of identity, consequently alienating the boy from himself. The plot of the story is based around the boy attempting to go to the Araby so that he may return with a gift that will please Mangan’s sister. While in some ways Mangan’s sister offers the boy some hope, she is also a source of the boy’s alienation.
He desperately lusts for her attention and affection. His recount of his mourning ritual: “When she came out on the doorstep my heart leaped. I ran to the hall, seized my books and followed her. I kept her brown figure always in my eye.” The boy becomes so preoccupied with impressing Mangan’s sister that he begins to neglect other aspects of his life: “I wished to annihilate the tedious intervening days. I chafed against the work of school. At night in my bedroom and buy day in the classroom, her image came between me and the page I strove to read..I had hardly any patience with the serious work of life which, now that it stood between me and my desire, seemed to me child’s play, ugly monotonous child’s play.” To make things worse, he can not possibly expect to have any control over the girl’s feelings.
As it is, he can barely speak to the girl. When she finally talks to him he is “..so confused that he [does] not know what to answer.” He is so desperate for recognition and care, that when he concludes that Mangan’s sister is a potential source, he becomes fixated with her to the point of alienating himself from everything else in his life. Throughout the story virtually all adults ignore the boy. Even his uncle rarely pays any attention to him. And when he does, it seems that it is only to bore him or recite tired sayings like: “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” This is an endless source of frustration for the boy because his uncle has the greatest control over his life.
Going to the Araby is of paramount importance to the boy. While he implores this of his uncle at least four times. Each time, his uncle forgets. The boy cannot resist feeling helpless; he has put all of his hopes of happiness on going to the Araby. However, he can not even get his uncle to listen to him long enough to remember what he is talking about. A good example of the boy’s emotional distance comes from his own words: “From the front window I saw my companions playing below in the street. Their cries reached me weakened.” It is odd that he uses the word ‘companions’ to describe his friends in the street. At that point, they are clearly not his physical companions.
“They are in the street and he is in a high cold empty gloomy.” room. Regardless, ‘companions’ is fitting in a more telling way. It shows the extent of the boy’s alienation. They are his closest emotional companions, yet he can barely hear them, let alone speak with them. The journey to the Araby is a lonely one.
He spends the entire journey in the “bare carriage..of a deserted train.” At one point, it appears the boy’s solitude may be relieved when “a crowd of people pressed the carriage doors; but the porters moved them back.” It is as if the porter is in on some cruel plot to keep the isolated. When the boy finally reaches the Araby, more disenchantment is to be had. It begins at the entrance where the boy is forced to capitulate and pay more than he had planned. He “could not find any sixpenny entrance and, fearing that the bazaar would be closed, [he] passed in quickly through a turnstile.” While at the time this likely does not bother the boy, it is telling of the further inhospitality that the Araby will provide. Because he had to wait for his uncle at dinner, it is late.
By the time the boy gets inside, the Araby is closing. “Nearly all the stalls [are] closed and the greater part of the hall is..in darkness.” It is as if the bazaar would bring him too much happiness and was forced to close. Final blow of alienation comes at the Araby. As always, everyone ignores him, with the exception of the young lady whom only speaks to him “out of a sense of duty.” Even when the boy tries to eavesdrop he is alienated. While he can make out what the adults are saying, he does not know the context, and the conversation is rendered meaningless.
This compounds his alienation because, even though the conversation is inane, it is obvious that the young lady would much rather be a part of it than try to help the boy. Finally, the boy realizes that it is unlikely he can afford anything nice to bring back for Mangan’s sister. This sudden comprehension also causes the boy to recognize how futile his attempts have been. This epiphany of the meaninglessness of his actions causes his alienation to be complete. The story provides many sources for the boy’s animosity. Beginning with his home and overall environment, all the way to the adults that surround him. However, it is clear that all of these causes of the boy’s isolation have something in common. He has control over none of these factors.
While many of these considerations no boy could expect to have control over, it is the culmination of these elements that leads to the boys undeniable feeling of lack of control. From this source, his alienation arises.