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Paralysis and Subtle Symbolism in Araby

Araby is a highly symbolic story that takes into account various themes. The author has taken into account a general theme i. e. one’s transition from early childhood into adolescence and presents situation that applicable to all. Joyce has symbolically manifested various aspect of a despoiled Irish society. He takes into account psychological transition of an adolescent toward manhood and his mental and emotional experiences, general disillusionment prevailing in the Irish society, the unproductive nature of religion, quest of youngsters for a new world with new ideals and moral values, societal impediments and impure nature of those ideals.

On the other hand, most of the book stories tell us that alienation push or motivate people to seek or establish sense of belongingness. When the book was first published during the first quarter of the last century, Ireland was in search for national identity, since the period is characterized by the rise of Irish nationalism (Cronin 391). All these themes are manifested by a subtle and apt use of symbolism and paralysis throughout story. The story successfully manifests various facets of a boy’s character and his transition from adolescent to manhood, a phase that comes in the life of everyone.

It further reflects his psychological development. Narrator is shown as running behind shadows. That manifests the role of imagination that has a profound influence on the thought and action of adolescence. As narrator is growing emotionally and intellectually, his sense of disillusionment is growing and his imagination is eroding. There are certain external elements i. e. environment, socio-cultural milieu that lead him toward this disillusionment. This is what happens with every young man at the threshold of adolescence.

The proclamation that possibly gives us the most insight into protagonists views and feelings says; “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) This quality of depiction and universality of theme of adolescent disillusionment lend the story a general nature. There are several emotions that swirl about in the protagonist’s mind. He is upset due to his ineffective visit of bazaar where he is unable to find anything useful and/or beautiful to gift Mangan’s sister. Mangan’s sister is a disillusion itself.

It is an early obsession and we can not conclude whether she exists now or not. Imagination is again at work and he feels ridiculed by the shopkeepers. His disillusionment with the priest who is living a life that is devoid of humility and sacredness further reflects his disappointment not only with himself but also with the social institutions (priest symbolizes church here) as well. Mangan’s sister’s can also refer to fictitious romantic imagination of the boy that is self-deceptive in nature. Religious themes are also represented by symbolism and it permeates the whole story.

Joyce introduce the subtle symbolism right from the first line that says; “North Richmond Street, being blind, was a quiet street except at the hour when the Christian Brothers’ School set the boys free (Joyce). ” The street symbolizes the blind alley of church that suggest no other way or opening to the affairs of the world except renunciation. “Blind” also signifies the necessities of religion that requires a blind faith on its beliefs, traditions and ritualism. “This street is apparently silent and peaceful until boys are set free.

These boys can symbolize the anti-church ideas and beliefs that create havoc in the orthodox calmness of the church. Joyce further comments; “The other houses of the street, conscious of decent lives within them, gazed at one another with brown imperturbable faces (Joyce). ” These Images of Araby’s Eastern exoticism capture his fancy as much as the young woman’s “brown skin” (Joyce 692) are an epitome of others aspects of life save church and religion and these houses coordinate with each other. Another symbolic representation of Church is the setting of the story. Araby is set in Dublin that was a stronghold of Catholics and its beliefs.

Furthermore, the well-known “Fall” is epitomized metaphorically in the second paragraph to intensify the religious imagery. Mangan’s sister is a disillusion itself. It is an early obsession and we can not conclude whether she exists now or not. She is symbol of disillusion and Joyce wants to symbolize that imagination is again at work. He feels ridiculed by the shopkeepers. His disillusionment with the priest who is living a life that is devoid of humility and sacredness further reflects his disappointment not only with himself but also with the social institutions (priest symbolizes church here) as well.

The symbolic portrayal of the room where priest dies exposes the true nature of church and its characters. Joyce says; “Air, musty from having been long enclosed, hung in all the rooms, and the waste room behind the kitchen was littered with old useless papers. ”(Joyce) Sonja Basic locates another religious symbols; “Bill L Collins has proposed, for example, that the dead priest’s bicycle pump could be considered symbolic of the serpent in the Garden of Eden; “The rusty bicycle pump, peeping out from under an adjacent bush [is] like the Serpent in the Garden…””(Basic 32).

There are more overt references to the episode of Garden of Eden e. g. “wild garden” and “central apple tree”. As James Joyce has himself described that main issue discussed in Dubliners is the life of Dublin and main theme of the “Dubliner” is paralysis so Araby also refers to this relationship between paralysis and city of Dublin. Although life in the North Richmond Street is better than the church life but if is analyzed according to the civic standard, it is rotten and decayed. It has biographical elements too. Joyce’s family lived in 17 North Richmond Street from 1856 to 1896.

So he observed the societal situations and individuals’ behavioral patterns closely. “Blind street” is a manifestation of these real personal and observed experiences. “Blind street” symbolize a myopic perception of Dubliners (people surrounding the “blind street”). They have has a limited vision and is unable to assess the situations in a right perspective. Moreover, the ambiance of the street is also repulsive. Street is “uninhabited” and “detached” whereas house are lively. This shows very depth of the Irish souls that is lonely amongst the material realities of life.

There are “drunken men and bargaining women, amid the curse…”. The boy in the story says that his house has “musty air” and other house in the street “had grown somber”. (Joyce) This dullness is hallmark of the streets of Dublin where gloominess prevails. Here boy symbolize Joyce own course of life and development of his mentality. Jerome Mandel notes that location and upbringing are always interrelated. He says in this regard that “The boy’s youth in Araby is defined by a street that is blind and quiet; hid moral education is suggested by these adjectives and by his being set free from the Christian Brothers School”.

(Mandel 49) Upbringing in such an environment has deep impact on the personality of the boy. The boy develops abhorrence against such environment same as Joyce adopted a self-exiled life to chuck out the repulsive environment of Dublin in particular and Ireland in general. His too much knowledge of the pathos and miseries of Dubliners and a sensitive nature forced him to remain away from Dublin so that he can see the pains and afflictions of its people. This state of mind is manifested by the sentence that “I was thankful that I could see (the street) so little.

”(Joyce) So the “blind street” is symbolic representation for Dublin in particular and the whole Ireland in general and boy is epitomes of a young sensitive Irish mind i. e. Joyce himself. “Araby” itself is highly symbolic. In story refers to “a splendid bazaar”. In English, Araby is used for Arabia but it also implies an enchanted and magical place. As boy longs for a visit to Araby, so it can be inferred that Araby is dream-world. It refers to the romantic imagination of the Joyce and his desire for a brave new world for Ireland that is devoid of pathos and miseries.

It must be noted here that the vision of a dream-world only enthralls the boy and the response of the older generation to it is cold and indifferent. They have little or no interest to the plans of the boy to go to Araby. This again reflects that most of the Dubliners were intellectually paralyzed as they were unable to even envisage a new world for Ireland. This not refers to their intentions but their ability to carve out a new world based on higher values and cherished ideals of humanity. They were unable to look forward.

In this way, they all were blind like Richmond Street. With little approval from his elders, boy ventures on to go to Araby. But this undertaking is not as simple as was initially understood by the boy. “The resistance of the society and nature to the journey and the boy’s own misgivings are only the first of many obstacles the hero must overcome. ” (Mandel 52) The train was “deserted”and “bare” and it caused “an intolerable delay”. It started “slowly” and “it crept onward among ruinous houses”. All this manifests different hurdles on the pathway toward a new world.

Joyce here reflects the impediments in the journey from imagination toward the achievement of those romantic ideals. It is easy to imagine a new world but it is difficult to attain even a fraction of it. The most tragic outcome of this situation when one finds the destination as dark as the starting point. Same happens with the boy. He finds Araby worldly and impure. Here again story has biographical elements as Joyce tried to pursue Irish ideals of a progressive society but later became disappointed with it.

On the whole, Araby and boys fruitless chase for it epitomizes Irishmen’s longings for a dream-world but they are unable to attain to their conformist and conventional behavior and thought processes (as manifested by older people by disapproving boy’s desire for Araby) and social conditions. Another element of the story that correlates with the “general nature” phenomenon of Johnson is that with the development of the character of the boy, his idealized vision is destroyed. This removal of fictitious idealism takes place with every human being at a moment in his/her life.

This is a universal phenomenon as everyone has an encounter with reality where reality becomes obscure and fictitious idealism precedes reality. This phenomenon is not time-bound and happens with everyone once a life. Above-mentioned arguments and supporting textual and extra textual evidence clearly manifest that Joyce has utilized both overt and covert symbolism to convey his basic theme of paralysis of Irish society at individual and collective level. His symbolism can be interpreted at various levels manifesting various thematic expressions.

Works Cited Basic, Sonja. A book of Many uncertainties: Joyce’s Dubliners in Rosa Maria Bosinelli’s ReJoycing. University Press of Kentucky. 1998. Cronin, Sean. Irish Nationalism: A History of Its Roots and Ideology. London: Continuum, 1981 Joyce, James. The Dubliners. Penguin Classic Edition. New York: Penguin. 2002. Joyce, James. “Araby. ” The Story and Its Writer: An Introduction to Short Fiction. Ann Charters (Ed. ) Boston: Bedford Books, 1995. 692-696. Mandel, Jerome. The Structure of “Araby”. Modern Language Studies. (Autumn, 1985). 15. 4. 48-54.

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