Exile and Illusions
In “Araby” James Joyce portrays his childhood as a dark, hopeless and poverty stricken one. Which would lead one to believe that this was how Joyce himself grew up, which is somewhat true. In fact Joyce was born into a fairly prosperous family of Irish merchants, although like all Irish Catholics of the time, “the Joyces inherited a tradition of legal and cultural repression.”(Bloom) As time wore on the Anglo-Irish aristocracy took its toll on his family’s wealth taking away all of his fathers land as well as his career. This slide in social standing seemed to have discouraged Joyce’s creativity, as symbolized in his short story “Araby”. Joyce believed he was a victim of circumstance, and saw his Irish homeland as a prison because of that circumstance.
Joyce ‘s creativity was discouraged in a few different ways, we will examine the two major culprits, the church and religious symbolism, as well as the social restrictions he had to contend with. First let us discuss the religious symbolism implied throughout the story. In the opening paragraphs Joyce talks about the Priest whom had died where the narrator himself now lives. The home where the narrator had found a smut book, as well as the Priest’s will and paperwork of charitable contributions, since when does a Priest make enough money to have an extensive will, wonders the narrator? I also believe the Araby bazaar was a symbol of the church as Cleanth Brooks stated in Understanding Fiction, 1947 “The quest for the father, for the church, has been thwarted by reality. The bazaar turns out to be just as cold, as dark, and as man-made as the gloomy house of the dead priest on his own street.”(Fitzgerald) The dreary and sordid life Joyce recollects, does not only comes from his religious disappointments but also from his social shortcomings as well.
Joyce felt that he was a marginal man, a victim of circumstances. The Anglo-Irish aristocracy as stated earlier took his family from well off, to poverty in the matter of a few years. Joyce in the story tells of this extreme poverty through his usage of negative words or phrases. He tells of “an uninhabited house of two storeys that stood at the blind end of his street.”(Paragraph 1) Or when he refers to the decaying neighborhood and the “dark dripping gardens where odorous arose from the asphits.”(Paragraph 3)
These circumstances and disappointments characterize Joyce’s feelings of imprisonment within his homeland. Later on in life Joyce fled Ireland for other European countries where his creativity prospered and Joyce lived a rather fulfilling life as a writer and poet.
Fitzgerald, Sheila, and Thomas Vottler. Short Story Criticism. Detroit: Gale Research Inc., 1989
In Bloom. “James Joyce Biography.” http://www.jough.com/joyce/bio1.htm (retrieved 16 June 1999)