The short fictional story “Araby”, is a 20th-century piece of writing by the author James Joyce. In this piece, Joyce utilizes many techniques which develop the plot and as well the intricacy of his writing. In “Araby” Joyce employs the work of imagery as his main device and he uses it to allow a greater interpretation of his work, through detailed descriptions of a character’s environment, and subtle, yet impactful nuances describing a character’s body language. A common element observed in “Araby” is the imagery of light and darkness which Joyce uses to illustrate the issue the unnamed protagonist is facing throughout the storyline. His repetitive descriptions of light and darkness and as well sight and blindness, allow one to be more captivated, and as well highlight the key elements he is trying to explore throughout the text.
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Joyce utilizes the imagery of light and darkness in “Araby” to describe the environment of the setting, and as well these images describe the protagonist’s mindset. A common element related to the aspect of light is that the when light used in literature, it is a symbol which represents hope and possibility. In comparison, darkness represents despair and uncertainty. In this fable, both of these elements are heavily used to describe the protagonist’s pursuit of love, and his infatuation with his friend Mangan’s sister. The beginning of the story, we see the narrator in a dark environment within the descriptions of his neighbourhood and home. When the narrator begins to speak of Mangan’s sister, his world becomes consumed with images of light, and his surroundings become a world of dreams and infatuation.
“She was waiting for us, her figure defined by the light from the half-opened door.” (Joyce 288)
This is seen as the narrator’s beginning of his infatuation with Mangan’s sister. He sees the silhouette of her body by “the light from the half-opened door” and after, he seems to falls in love. All of his thoughts become directed towards this girl, and everything he is doing in his daily life seems like “ugly monotonous, child’s play” (Joyce 289) Essentially, he has become blinded by this light which the girl radiates and does not even realize that his chances with an older girl is almost impossible. To add to his immaturity, he fails to learn the girl’s name.
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Joyce uses the imagery of darkness to represent the protagonist’s hopelessness in reference to his futile love. In “Araby” darkness is most commonly associated with the narrator’s confusion, despair, and his inability to understand how the real world works. Joyce’s use of darkness in the text is found mainly in the boy’s environment. He describes the homes in the boy’s neighbourhood as “brown imperturbable faces” (Joyce 287) and his own home having “gloomy rooms” (Joyce 287). The boy and his comrades live in this dark world “the career of our play brought us through the dark muddy lanes” (Joyce 287) where they play in “dark dripping gardens” (Joyce 287) and “dark odorous stables” (Joyce 287). Joyce uses Mangan’s sister as a stark contrast to the boy’s world and describes her as a “figure defined by light” (Joyce 288). She is the depiction of light in this story, as she is the hope that the boy finds within his love for her. The narrator describes his love for her to be so strong, that her image is always in his thoughts. “At night in my bedroom and by day in the classroom her image came between me, and the page I strove to read” (Joyce 290).
Joyce utilized imagery of darkness in the final part of the narrative, when the boy nears the bazaar. The significance of Araby, the bazaar is that the narrator believes that if he attends the bazaar and returns with a gift, he will gain her love and the light she radiates to aid his dark world. When the boy arrives at the bazaar, he expects it to be alive, filled with light, and the bustling of people looking to buy wares. In his disappointment, the boy is confronted with the reality of the situation. “Nearly all the stalls were closed and the greater part of the hall was in darkness” (Joyce 291). In this representation of darkness, Joyce reveals that the boy’s quest was a failure, and that his epiphany is his realization that his love is merely a figment of his imagination. “I lingered before her stall, though I knew my stay was useless, to make my interest in her wares seem more real” (Joyce 292).
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A moment of epiphany occurs in the last phrases of “Araby”.
“Gazing up into the darkness I saw myself as a creature driven and derided by vanity; and my eyes burned with anguish and anger.” (Joyce 292)
Leading up to this moment, the narrator believed that the bazaar was a place of exotic trade and fantasy. “The syllables of the word Araby were call to me through the silence in which my soul luxuriated and cast of Eastern enchantment over me” (Joyce 289). He overhears others speaking, and suddenly realizes that he has misinterpreted that the bazaar is merely a commercial venue to purchase items. He also realizes that if he buys the girl something or if he does not, she will not care, likewise his infatuation is meaningless. Joyce’s use of light and darkness throughout the narrative build on the tension the narrator creates through his thoughts about his love and hopes, and in fact allows an audience to have an epiphany themselves. The epiphany itself is found in his transition from love to despair, and his new ability to discern from the “ideal” versus the “real”. In connection to imagery, Joyce uses light as the boys “ideal” reality and the darkness as the boys “real” reality.