This is a brief analysis & literary commentary covering the following passage. It concerns itself with internal and external comparisons, but does not address the mechanics of the passage's placement within the text. Feel free to copy/re-credit/improve.

What innumerable follies laid waste my waking and sleeping thoughts after that evening! I wished to annihilate the tedious intervening days. I chafed against the work of school. At night in my bedroom and by day in the classroom her image came between me and the page I strove to read. The syllables of the word Araby were called to me through the silence in which my soul luxuriated and cast an Eastern enchantment over me. I asked for leave to go to the bazaar on Saturday night. My aunt was surprised, and hoped it was not some Freemason affair. I answered few questions in class. I watched my master's face pass from amiability to sternness; he hoped I was not beginning to idle. I could not call my wandering thoughts together. 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.

The dominant feature in this passage seems to be a self-contrasting examination of the narrator's highly ironic self-repression. This is an expression of a common Joyce theme; the narrator has been born into an established industrial society which, by nature, tend to enforce its own brand of oppressive conformism. Faced by inherently conflicting messages, desires and fears about expressing real emotion, the boy is pressured into inaction.

This passage serves as one of the most overt expressions of the theme of paralysis in the Dubliners short stories examined thus far. Reliance on clear and simple phrases about narrator's wish to "annihilate the tedious intervening days" and describing the "innumerable follies wasting his waking hours", coupled with the image of the girl's face between him and the pages of his books create an impression reminiscent of the old man's 'thought orbits' described in An Encounter. By becoming fixated on a fantasy image the narrator's thoughts have become trapped in a endless loop, and the longer his focus remains on his fantasy, the less chance he has to effect and correct his reality in any meaningful fashion. The image of the girl has in a sense become an opiate, lulling him into a false sense of expectation, while at the same time precluding the possibility that his dreams will reach fruition.

This following phrase, the last of the passage, seems the one of the most telling: "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 The psychological distance between this sentiment and that expressed earlier in the story is astounding; just a short while earlier, the narrator described the "career of his play", and how "The cold stung he and his friends and {they} played till {their} bodies glowed." Play, which originally seemed to render enjoyable the worst of conditions now is compared to the dreary monotony of the narrator?s ceaseless anticipation. Joyce's use of contrasting vocabulary also helps to bring out this change in the narrator; before, the "career of play" was enjoyable work, but now "the serious work of life" is compared to dull play. In his attempt to win the girl, and (In a sense) become a respectable young adult, the narrator has to firmly reject that which was once a source of joy for him, repressing a major aspect of his persona.

Another fundamental irony present within this paragraph is created through the divide between the narrator's apparent movement towards maturity and the way this newfound 'maturation' seems to affect his worldview. Although the narrator has adopted a condescending attitude towards "child's play", he has unconsciously retreated further into his own fantasy. He describes how "The syllables of the word Araby were called to me through the silence in which my soul luxuriated and cast an Eastern enchantment over me.", and how the image of the girl "came between me and the page I strove to read." Rather then simply replacing the boy's previous perception of reality, this new focus seems self-destructive; he now "chafed against" his work at school, and attracted the disapproval of both his aunt and his schoolmaster. He is no more grown up then before, and not only does he refuse to enter the 'adult world', but he has abandoned his healthy childhood unrealities for ones that can only cause him pain.

Ultimately, the narrator's new fantasies may be destructive because, unlike his childhood games, they are not of his own making. Elsewhere in the story, the descriptions of prayers and religious rituals bringing up images of the girl, as well as his almost Obsessive-Compulsive chanting of 'O love' seem to indicate an almost dogmatic approach towards her; does he want a relationship for the right reasons, or simply because it is something that as been portrayed as validating, a reaffirmation of his place in society? Perhaps it is fortunate that the narrator's new delusions contribute to his repression; only when enough weight is put on him does he realize the true nature of his situation.

This was a grade 12 assingment from a little while ago.
"All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy," remarks the uncle in James Joyce's "Araby," speaking to the smitten young boy who wishes to visit a festival in town for the sake of the girl he is in love with. The Uncle's quote relates to the surroundings of a relatively "dull" working class environment. Not only does the old house in which the boy lives in seems gloomy, but the entire neighborhood does as well. The people in the town are greatly effected by the "dull" atmosphere, and the setting in "Araby" accurately reflects the moods and changes of the boy, the house, and other individuals in the story.

The young boy experiences a heavy crush for a girl he hardly knows and becomes overwhelmed by her, perhaps because his usual surroundings appear so gloomy and depressing. The urban setting is described as muddy and somber, with "dark dripping gardens" and "straggling bushes." The ambiance of the old neighborhood is solemn and morose, and only do the youthful boys who play in the streets after school appear to give any light contrast to the scene. The place seems constricting to the boy who narrates the story, and his emotions that develop for the girl makes him cry at times, perhaps because she is to him what his colorless world needs. In one passage he explains that, "her image accompanied me even in places most hostile to romance." His love also appears contrasting to the dark setting. In his innocent youth and his overwhelming emotion of love he is defiant to his surroundings. As the boy's feelings grow so does his distaste for his environment; once he speaks to the girl and learns of Araby, the boy remarks, "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." The serious and disheartening world surrounding the boy makes his heart and his hope defiantly grow.

Also, the house the boy inhabits shares the dull setting of the area, and at times it even appears to hold the boy captive within its walls. At one time he looks longingly out an upstairs window toward both his happy friends playing in the street and the house in which his love lives. At this point he is out of reach of both his friends and his love, and his sadness is reflected by the cold and gloomy house. He anticipates the Araby festival, wishing to break free from the dismal house and enter a lighter, happier world. What the boy does not yet realize is the truth about his much too hopeful hopes, and in this sense the boy is blind, just as the house is "blind" where it stands, "detached from its neighbors in the square ground."

The other characters in the story are effected by the setting as well. The boy's aunt and uncle are inhabitants of the dull world, but in their age they lack some of the resilience that the young boy still holds. However, on the night of Araby, they realize the boy is eager to visit the bazaar and they allow him to go. They understand his hopes, and obviously realize that without play, "Jack" can become quite dull. When the boy does go the festival late in the evening, he encounters a cold and somewhat rude sales girl, who discourages him to buy anything. The dark and uninviting scene makes a deeper impression on the boy, and he realizes that all his hopes can easily be dashed. The darkness of the night and the people "deride" him and drive him away, leaving only perhaps a feeble fragment of any emotion of love.

The setting leaves a heavy impression on the boy and sadly overrides everything in the end. The boy's final epiphany is actually his youth succumbing to the reality of the true world he lives in, though it is unfortunate considering how harshly this hits him. The defiant youthfulness in the boy is at first sparked by the dullness of the neighborhood, the house, and the older people surrounding him, but in the end his love perishes, returning him to the stale darkness of a festival closed and ended.

Ar"a*by (#), n.

The country of Arabia.

[Archaic & Poetic]


© Webster 1913.

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