Dubliners: “Araby” By James Joyce
The short story, “Araby” by James Joyce, presents a narrative about the life of an unnamed boy who is infatuated by his friend’s sister. As a demonstration of his love for her, the boy seeks out to buy his sweetheart a gift as the Araby bazaar, which he considers as the best shop to get this gift. Using the various characters in the story, the author puts his message regarding immature idealism and desire, which is subjected to disappointment.
The use of setting in the short story, “Araby” in James Joyce’s Dubliners has been receive a considerable amount of contest regarding the connotation and meaning that it provides its readers (Doloff 113-115). This is, specifically, in relation to bringing out the theme of love in the story. While some believe that the setting in “Araby” has been used to present love as being ideal (Müller 1-36), others argue that the setting has been used to illustrate love as being pragmatic. The former believe that the narrative regards a story about a desire for an ideal love, whereas the latter hold the notion that the boy’s infatuation presents a negative romantic irony (Ehrlich 309-331).
This paper examines the use of setting in James Joyce’s short story, “Araby”. Specifically, the paper examines how the setting has been used to reinforce the different themes and characters in the story, as well as, bring out the idea of dream versus reality. The paper argues the setting in the short story, “Araby”, brings out the theme of love as both ideal and pragmatic.
- Background Information
The stories presented in Dubliners are based on James Joyce’s conviction that Dublin, in the years around the 1900’s, was characterized by extreme devout paralysis (Ehrlich 309-331). For that reason, all the stories presented in his book shared a common setting, which was the old Dublin. In most work of literature, the setting defines the atmosphere or the tone of the narrative. Not only does a narrative’s setting set the tone for the story being told, it also gives the narrative its resultant connotation and effect on readers. The short story, “Araby” is devoted to the use of setting to bring out various themes in the story, as well as, build on the characters in the book. Arguably, without the narrative’s setting, the story would not carry the meaning and significance that it does, and for that reason, would not have been a story at all (Doloff 113-115). Primarily, the setting presented in “Araby” portrays Dublin as a place where individuals are presented with an array of dehumanizing experiences.
- Place Setting
Just like in all the other stories in the novel, Dubliners, the place setting of “Araby” is in Dublin, Ireland. Specifically, the story is set in the quiet North Richmond Street in Dublin. The most part of the story takes place at the narrator’s home, which is integrated with the scenes in various parts of his neighborhood (Ehrlich 309-331). The Araby bazaar is the second location setting used in the narrative, and it is in this setting that the readers are introduced to the different themes of the story.
- Time Setting
The time setting presented in “Araby”, is between the late 19th century and the early 20th century. This can be picked from the small descriptions of the boy’s world, which are associated with the character of the Dublin society during this time.
- Presentation of Setting
The setting in “Araby” is presented in two main ways including dream versus reality and darkness versus light. This presentation assists in the development of the various themes in the story, as well as, the character development.
- Dream versus Reality
In the story, the boy, who is also the central character of the narrative is presented as person who is hopeful for a world of fantasy. His life in ‘reality’ is presented as being drab, ugly, and free from love (Doloff 113-115). For that reason, he yearns for a different life from the one he is living. In the story, the author explains a young boy’s world that is inimical to his ideals and dreams. To, further, illustrate the boy’s dreams and desires, the author provides a comparison of the boy’s differing views about his real world, as well as, the world in which he hopes to live. The real world is defined as being loveless, dark, and isolated, and it is a world, which the boy is striving to escape from. His dream world, however, is brought out as being vibrant and full of love, a love that he intends to share with the girl of his dreams (Müller 1-36). The contrast between these two worlds is further illustrated when the boy’s disappointment occurs, as he is forced to face reality, and awaken to the world around him.
- Darkness versus Light
In the story, “Araby”, the author utilizes imagery of darkness and light, obscurely, to illustrate the boys dreams and reality (Ehrlich 309-331). The usage of darkness, as well as, other gloomy references creates the overall mood of the boy’s life and world. His real life is dull and boring, hence the need for a dark description to help the readers believe his story much better. Contrastingly, light is used by the author as a definition of what the boy considers as his ideal life. Observably, light is used in the boy’s description of Mangan’s sister, with whom he has been infatuated with. For that reason, light is used for the creation of the boy’s fairytale world, a world of dreams and illusions (Müller 1-36). Whereas darkness is used to describe a worldly, dull atmosphere, light is used to describe a heavenly and joyful atmosphere, which the boy longs for.
- Impact of the Use of Setting (Arguments)
The immediate effect of the use of setting in the short story is that it illustrates the difference between idealism and realism. Additionally, the readers are introduced to a character that survives on his tawdry superficiality, and, in turn, ends up suffering for it. In essence, literalists agree that the impact of the story to readers involves the provision of a contrast between dreams and reality (Doloff 113-115). However, the connotation of this contrast cannot be established as they cannot agree on whether or not love is presented as a good thing. Spiritual paralysis, which further builds on the concept of dream versus reality is also illustrated in the narrative and assists in explaining the contrasting ways in which love is presented by the author.
Literalists who believe that love is brought out as something that is ideal in the story, explain that the setting in the story embodies a form of spiritual paralysis whereby the ideal, which is love, cannot be attained (Ehrlich 309-331). The setting of the boy’s world defies the fulfillment of his love, as he does not receive the love he has for his friend’s sister back. The argument here is that the boy’s realistic world prevents him from achieving his ideal state of life. The setting, in such a case, is presented in the view of darkness versus light. The dark tone presents the boy’s real life, whereas the light tone presents his ideal dream.
Opposers of the argument, also the supporters of the presentation of love in a pragmatic nature, argue that love is represented as an empty and futile flirtation. They argue that, the boy’s immature infatuation regarding love, prevented him from living his ideal life, as he kept hoping for something that he knew very well he could not achieve (Ehrlich 309-331). In essence, love is presented as a state of disillusionment where people cannot separate the ideal from the real. In this argument, the boy attained his ideal life when he finally grows up and receives gratification for true life and true living (Müller 1-36). In this case, the setting is used with special relation to dreams versus reality, whereby there is emphasis on living the real life as opposed to a hopeless dream.
After a careful analysis of the opposing arguments regarding the real nature of love as brought out in the novel, I have come to the conclusion that love if neither ideal or pragmatic. This is because, throughout the novel, the concept of love is presented from the perception of the boy, and for that reason cannot be concluded as having any tangible effect on an individual. Accordingly, the theme of love as brought out in “Araby” can be both pragmatic or ideal, depending on the lone of thought that one chooses to take.
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