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James Joyce – Araby Essay, Research Paper

With reference to ‘Araby’, discuss the importance of

Joyce’s narrative technique.

Pay particular reference to:

? Point of view

? Imagery

? Everyday Detail

Narrative Technique is the way in which an author tells a story in prose or verse, looking at the specific grammatical usages. Araby, by James Joyce was the eleventh story written that later formed the compilation of The Dubliners. Joyce’s narrative techniques in this short story are profound, and present in detail the banal daily life in Dublin, and the fight to escape this lifestyle. In doing so, Joyce is effective in bringing out his own point of view, one of the prosaic, the uninspiring and unrelenting monotony of Dublin, using the unnamed boy in the story as a medium to express this. Although it is told from the first person viewpoint, we do not receive the impression that a boy tells the story. Instead, the narrator seems to be a man, matured far beyond the scope of the story. The mature man reminisces about his youthful hopes, desires, and frustrations, far more than if a boy’s mind had reconstructed the events of the story for us. This particular way of telling the story enables us to perceive the torment youth experiences when ideals are destroyed by a suddenly unclouded view of the actual world. Because the man, rather than the boy, recounts the experience, an ironic view could be presented of the people surrounding the boy. Joyce’s particular attention to detail also heightens the sense of realism, making this, as a narrative technique, particularly effective as the consequence this has on the reader is to make him or her believe what is written; one of the principle differences making the works of Joyce different from many of the other writers at the time.

The first point to note is the title of the short story, which is fundamental to understand the meaning of Araby, and the importance of Joyce as a detailed writer. Araby is a romantic term for the Middle East, and was a popular word throughout the nineteenth century, being used to express the romantic view of the east that was particularly fashionable at the time. The title also suggests that the story is about a type of Romantic Irony, as the boy has a romantic view of the world, and does not see that it could simply be like the mundane life of Dublin, or possibly even worse. The east was not the romantic place that the boy hoped, but the sense of the exotic and glamour of foreign culture is what attracted the boy to this idea. In the first page of the story, Joyce carefully describes the boy’s neighbourhood and surroundings in three paragraphs. Using real names such as “North Richmond Street” and “Christian Brothers’ School”, Joyce adds a great sense of reality, enabling readers to almost map out the community in which he lives. Joyce then leads the reader to the late priest’s drawing room, eloping with a detailed description of the room, appealing to our senses. Joyce successfully enables the reader to smell the musty air of the room, see the littered kitchen and touch the curled and damp books found in the kitchen. “Air, musty from having been long enclosed”. In this description, the reader is exposed to a depressing scene of entrapment and paralysis, with the word “enclosed” suggesting that not even the air can escape the room in which we are. The description goes on, including words such as “yellow”, “rusty” and “damp”, all pertaining to an image of decay, age and paralysis, characterising Dublin life. The story takes place in a cold “winter” at “dusk”. The use of these words help to emphasise once more the sense of paralysis; the cold affects movement as does dusk, as it is the start of darkness, which increases the difficulty of seeing. Through the protagonist, readers can also see the “sombre” houses and “violet” sky, feel the coldness of the weather, smell the odour arouse from the “ashpits” and hear music made from shaking of the buckled harness of a horse. This realistic setting of time and place enables the reader to identify with the characters of the story. It is unusual for a reader to connect so well to a character, and this is primarily created through the development of a physical understanding of the character; we almost feel exactly what he does. It is this extremely direct approach to narration that makes Joyce’s narrative technique most successful.

Furthermore, the point of view used by James Joyce also enhances this authenticity. Araby was written from the first person viewpoint. This viewpoint enables the reader to identify more readily with the feelings of the boy. The narrator is probably not James Joyce himself but an assumed identity in order to tell the story and express his own views. In this case he did not use the viewpoint of his own as an adult but the viewpoint of a child, and it is often perceived by many critics that it could actually have been Joyce as a child. Joyce deliberately chose the first person narrative technique as this story is about a boy who secretly admired a girl living nearby. Without the omniscient viewpoint, the reader could have no understanding of the girl’s impression or feelings about the boy. With this technique, readers only know what the boy thinks of the girl but not what she thinks of him. In this way, the readers may find it more interesting as they can identify themselves more with the boy and it may help them to recall their own experience of admiring somebody secretly. “While she spoke she turned a silver bracelet round and round her wrist.” Here we see Joyce’s attention to detail once more; this creates the effect that the boy is observing the girl very closely indeed, heightening the sense of realism, and his admiration for her. James Joyce depicts the boy mainly through what he does as well as what he doesn’t do. The boy looked at her secretly, “We watched her from our shadow peer up and down the street.” Once more, the use of the word “shadow” suggests that they are dormant and watching from a paralysed stance – they can’t move out from the shadow, like they can’t move from Dublin. Even in ‘love’ therefore, they are paralysed, and have to operate in ‘secret’. “Every morning I lay on the front parlour watching her door. The blind was pulled down to within an inch of the sash so that I could not be seen.” He followed the girl secretly. “When she came out of the doorstep my heart leaped. I ran to the hall, seized my books and followed her … when we came near the point at which our ways diverged, I quickened my pace and passed her. This happened morning after morning.” The fact that he did this morning after morning, not only suggests his adoration, but also his inability to act on his feelings. He has been so hampered by Dublin life that he cannot even move to speak to her. He couldn’t even talk to her. “I had never spoken to her, except for a few casual words, and yet her name was like a summons to all my foolish blood.” “I did not know whether I would ever speak to her or not or, if I spoke to her, how I could tell her my confused adoration.” The boy is therefore completely bereft of the ability to act, he has been so paralysed that this girl takes over control of his body, and he becomes paralysed himself. It is the girl who finally takes the initiative to speak to him one day, again suggesting that he is not in control of his own life, but she is. The conversation was unusually short and brief and due to his timidity and nervousness the boy could not even remember what his response was. “When she addressed the first words to me I was so confused that I did not know what to answer. She asked me was I going to Araby. I forgot whether I answered yes or no.” Joyce’s vivid description of the timidity of the boy heightens the sense of realism, he did not remember a simple reply like “yes” or “no”. The fact that Joyce has made this confusion a real part of the boy expands once more on the realism of the colourless Dublin life.


Maybe because of his poor family background, the boy was cautious over the use of money. To him, a florin was a great sum of money so he had to hold it “tightly” in his hand. The word “tightly” is extremely effective as it suggests constraint and unrelenting life, one that holds on to what they have, and nothing more. He went to the bazaar in a “third-class carriage of a deserted train”. He definitely considers himself to be lower class, suggesting a sense of segregation from society, a form of alienation. It is this sense of difference that emphasises the paralysis that the boy experiences, showing the variety of methods Joyce uses to express this common theme. At the gate, he wanted to find a “sixpenny entrance”. Besides the lack of experience in a relationship, perhaps his poverty is also part of the reason for his timidity. He even thought that he could gain the love of the girl by buying material things for her. He said, “If I go … I will bring you something.” Despite promising the girl that he would buy her something, he did not have enough money and so the realisation that he is only a boy, and cannot do everything that he wants to do hits him. “Gazing up into the darkness I saw myself as a creature driven and derided by vanity; and my eyes burned with anguish and anger.” The word “gazing” suggests an irrelevant and thoughtless stare, perhaps correlated with hopelessness; he is not looking, but “gazing”. By looking into “darkness” the boy sees himself suggesting that he is in the dark, he is mysterious and paralysed by this darkness. The connotations of the animalistic, with words “creature” suggest inhumanity and difference, and finally the word “burned” emphasises the pain he is experiencing through his own paralysis. James Joyce is able to convey to the reader that the boy had come to the point of enlightenment and disillusionment. The hope is no longer there, he becomes aware of the banality, but can do nothing to alter this awareness.


However, Joyce inhibits the telling of the character of the girl by a third person narrator with the ‘I’ viewpoint, meaning the reader has to see her character through the eyes of the boy. Readers are not told whether the girl had the same passionate feelings over the boy or not, but in the eyes of the boy “She was waiting for us” on the doorstep and she took the initiative to speak to the boy “At last she spoke to me”. This clever use of narration raises doubts in the readers mind whether the feelings are reciprocated, with the feeling probably leans towards the idea that they are not. To the boy, the girl is an image rather, than a real person. Due to this first person narrative technique, we have no idea of what kind of person she is as very little is revealed about her character as she has no interaction with other characters in the story. She adopts an image of an angel or a goddess in the story, as most of time when she “appears” before him, the darkness around him lights up. “The light from the lamp opposite our door caught the white curve of her neck, lit up her hair that rested there.” This personification of the lamp almost suggests it was looking for her; how it lit up her hair and “rested there”, as if it too, in his eyes, made a conscious decision to look upon her. It is also particularly interesting to note that before her appearance, Joyce tries to create an atmosphere which is cold, dull or quiet, discoloured and odorous, but when she first appears in the story, her image not only lights up his heart but also the surroundings. “Her figure defined by the light from the half-opened door … her dress swung as she moved her body, and the soft rope of her hair tossed from side to side.” The unpleasant surrounding is a deliberate attempt to make a contrast before and after her appearance.


Perhaps Joyce’s most important narrative technique is the metaphor comparing the image of the girl with the image of the Araby bazaar. His attempt to draw parallels between these two images suggests that they are of similar nature. The boy’s confused adoration of the girl and groundless fascination of the bazaar was out of his blindness and ignorance. In fact, there were only some ‘English’ people selling cheap products instead of Arabs selling exotic objects. “I remarked their English accents and listened vaguely to their conversation.” This is perhaps evidence once more of the theme of ‘invasion’. Instead of the exotic Arabs, he witnesses an English colonial talking about completely commonplace things. It was not the kind of enchanting exotic bazaar he had been dreaming of, and the disillusionment of the bazaar perhaps hints that he had the same disillusionment of his love to the girl. “Gazing up into the darkness I saw myself as a creature driven and vanity; and my eyes burned with anguish and anger”. The image of “darkness” could also be seen as a metaphor comparing his blind love and fascination, with the surrounding.

The disillusionment serves as the climax of the story and it does not come until the end, keeping the readers’ suspension for a long while. Joyce’s facilitation of a sudden twist at the end of the story and the abrupt ending not only marks the end of the story but also the end of a relationship for the reader. As the story is written in the ‘I’ view point, the readers have identified themselves with the protagonist, and as Joyce intended it, the enlightenment of the boy also marks the enlightenment of the readers. Joyce’s skilful use of literary and narrative techniques, using an interesting concept of using the first person to describe other things and people, and also the perceived feelings of other people, is particularly effective in developing a strong relationship between the reader and the boy. This has the effect of ensuring that the reader can plainly see the irony presented through the boy to in satirise Dublin life. Joyce’s narrative technique is therefore vitally important, and without it the story would not achieve what Joyce intended it to, ensuring that the reader absorbs what is being said into their daily life, and recognising the prosaic, crippling paralysis of being a young boy, in an unhurried and unexotic city.



The Dubliners, James Joyce – UK Penguin Edition

York Notes Advanced on The Dubliners

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