Analytical Essay on Dubliners: Portrayal of Oppressive Nature in Araby

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Araby is one of fifteen stories from Dubliners which is written by James Joyce. Each story in the collection involves some failure and illusion, which results in realization and disappointment. Araby is one of those stories that follow a theme of uncertainty between the real and the ideal in life. The young boy’s journey from his first love to despair takes the readers to the intense content of the literary world. We can evaluate and interpret a piece of work in various ways. As the methods of criticism have some similarities, they also differ in other ways. For this reason, this paper will analyze Araby by comparing Reader Response and New Criticism theories in order to asses the strengths of these two approaches. These approaches share some features but they are also two very opposing methods. Reader-Response focuses on the text which is influenced by the reader’s thoughts. New Criticism aims to analyze the text alone without the influence. However, the two methods also share the same characteristics. These both approaches do not care about the author’s iyntentions and they both recognize the details from the texts. Through the close reading of Araby and comparison of these two critical theories, readers will critically analyze the symbolic meanings in characters, setting, objects and they will be aware of the fact that they are in a constant journey of discovery for the different meanings in the text by the evolving activity of the participatory reading.

The symbolic imagery is rich in “Araby” and the ordinary images contain deep symbolic significance so by analyzing these symbols in the text through New Criticism approach, readers are able to have a better understanding of the short story’s importance and artistic value. New Criticism’s goal is to demonstrate coherence with a harmony created by all its working parts. It is a type of formalist literary criticism that focuses on literary devices to analyze the text with a close reading method. Symbols allow us to go deeper beneath what is visible. In the story of Araby, the importance of symbolism in the setting, starts at the beginning of the story and continues till the end. Araby begins with a description of North Richmond Street where the unnamed boy lives with his uncle and aunt. The extensive detail in the description of the setting and atmosphere in the short story involves some negative adjectives such as “blind”, “cold” and “silent”(Joyce, 249). The symbolic meaning of the blind street represents the message that the boy is hopelessly romantic and he will not see a certain end for his romance. The lifeless atmosphere of Dublin streets and shady conditions of people are reflected by emphasizing the independent houses from each other. The dull and vivid setting represented with the darkness symbol throughout the story. The narrator thinks that if he goes to that Eastern Bazaar, the amazing experience will lead him to a new adventure which is an escape from his ordinary life. The setting creates a gloomy tone in order to reflect the ambiguity of the people’s lives in Dublin. The nonsensical realities such as slow train and uncle’s lateness create a delay in his plan and tension throughout the story. For instance, real problems sometimes can ruin the plans of the people that they are creating in their mind. The narrator also realizes that everything can not go according to our plans because the world out there is the ultimate reality after all. The title of the Araby is also implying a deep symbolic meaning. It points out the infinite charm of the exotic oriental world. Araby is an eastern name and it enchants the boy’s vision. Besides being glamorous, Araby is a symbolic place that reminds his love, idealism, and visionary escapism. When he arrives at the bazaar, the only thing he sees the darkness of reality. As he starts to hear the gossiping of the women, he finds nothing exotic and he does not want to buy anything for the girl from Bazaar called Araby. He suddenly realizes the boredom of life which is not a land of beauty and romance. He gives up and realizes that he does not have to buy a gift to express his love for her. Additionally, Mangan’s sister is one of the major symbols in the story. The unnamed girl is the idol that the narrator admires a lot. The little boy seems satisfied and thankful to see her from his parlor window. He is shy because he hides in order to prevent her from seeing him. The unnamed boy discovers his sexual and emotional feelings for the first time and he is also afraid of these strange and sudden changes in his adolescent life. When he finally gets a chance to talk to her, he does not know how to answer her. He does not know why his eyes are often full of tears when thinking of her. The boy is so confused about love that he does not know how to experience and express it. He is in the middle of an identity crisis and he thinks that the only escape from his inner conflict is the unnamed girl. There is another symbolic role that the boy’s uncle plays it. He represents some values and attitudes which seem like an obstacle for the boy’s objectives. The boy has a sensibility towards the girl and he is afraid of his uncle to catch him watching her. Morality and tradition are represented by the figure of the uncle. The boy thinks that any relationship between a boy and a girl without marriage will portray a figure of shame in the eyes of his uncle. However, as the uncle inhibits the boy’s liberating spirit to rise, the boy’s power of struggle is vanishing. The boy falls apart when his uncle says that he is unable to give money for the gift. His idealist character and his faith in love get huge damage from his uncle’s apathy. With the apathetic actions of the uncle, the boy realizes the brutal world of people. The uncle’s vision of life clashes with the kid’s world of idealism. The representations of the symbols in characters and in setting unite the emotional confusion of the narrator and his unawareness of the place that he lives in. For these reasons, the complexity of the text itself creates a rising action that climaxes with the story’s outlook.

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On the other hand, the first person narrative allows the reader to understand the hidden emotions and thoughts of the narrator. “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” (Joyce, 252). This quote explains that the boy is longing for the freedom of adulthood but also does not escape from the prison of the predictability of his childhood. According to the reader response theory, the only thing matters is it's what the reader gets out of it. For some readers, the meaning of desire can be different. It may not only refer to a sexual feeling but can also be the freedom that the boy never obtained. For this reason, Araby encourages the readers to explore his or her thoughts by reading the story over and over again. The readers can interpret different meaning every time they read the story. The themes of the story are endlessly waiting, frustration, love, dark and brightness can affect the reader and create different mental images in the readers’ minds. For these reasons, the admiration of Araby always demands a very emotional reader who has the ability to remember their childhood desires, longings, and annoyances, anger. The illusions and disappointments of the readers’ own growing up problems intentionally lead them to compare their own personalities, experiences with those of the narrator of the story. This process will eventually trigger their emotions to understand the profound meaning of the context in Joyce's story and enables them to appreciate it. Moreover, the text provides empirical evidence such as diction, allusion and imagery and those provide rhetorical effect and guides the readers ’ understanding throughout the story. For example, level of diction used in the story is standard and by focusing on words like “litanies” instead of chants and “gauntlet” instead of streets creates an atmosphere that the narrator is an active participant in the events in the story. He uses past tense verbs like “gazed”, “detached” and so on. “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, 254). According to this quote, the narrator realizes that he expected the world to care about his feelings and he feels disguise for his egocentric thoughts. There is also some biblical illusions that connect with the James Joyce’s Araby and if the reader has a familiarity with cultural references and literary allusions, they may not have a hard time to understand the profound meaning of the sentences that are used in the text. According to the reader response theory, the reader should have an ability to fill the gaps and this reader is called as “the implied reader”. For instance, Joyce describes a garden with an apple tree at its center at the beginning of the story. This is where the children and the narrator play but it also refers to the Garden of Eden, the loss of paradise. The implied reader can easily become aware of the loss of innocence of the narrator after seeing the reality that there is no escape from Dublin. As the narrator creates ways of escape through the bazaar and his crush, religious images and illusions point out the harsh reality of the world. Another religious image used in the story is the “chalice”(Joyce, 250). The narrator’s mental image of the Mangan's sister is associated with the chalice as he moves through the market place. His obsession with this unnamed girl is described as a religious experience throughout the story. Searching for the mystical object which is the gift for the Mangan’s sister will transport him to heaven. The story also points out the fact that Mangan's sister cannot go to Araby because she has a retreat at the convent. Some implied readers may also think that Mangan's sister is in training to be a nun. From this perspective, the narrator’s infatuation will not be a happy ending. Also, religion controls the lives of the inhabitants of North Richmond Street. Mangan’s sister’s name sounds saintly in praises to the boy. He falls into a love trap that he never sees the real life. He is blindly lovesick that he cannot see the real demands around him and react. Unlike New Criticism, Reader-Response criticism of Araby allows the readers to see the ultimate meaning of Joyce’s story so the reader always in a constant journey of discovery while reading the text.

Furthermore, one of the themes in the Araby is brightness and darkness. For instance, the light from the window which is very dim is demonstrated in the text. It symbolizes that there is a little hope for the boy and for the love he feels towards Mangan’s sister. His obsession for this young girl is so unhealthy that his emotions are controlled by his every action. The darkness of the unsafe environment of bazaar allowed him to see the world with his own eyes. Also the heartbreak and the frustration that he experienced throughout this love journey lead him to become a mature young man. Although it is seen that Araby is told from the first person point of view of a very young protagonist, we never perceive the effect that a boy tells the story. Instead, the narrator reacts as a mature man apart from the experience of the story. The older individual is looking back on this episode in his life by his own physical vision, his eyes. The mature man becomes very nostalgic about his youthful hopes, desires, and anger. The boy’s mind recollects the events of the story for us so, in that particular way of telling the story provides us to receive clear knowledge about youth experiences when concepts which are concerned with both sacred and earthly love are ruined. If the narrator tells his thoughts from the present point of view, then readers can see exaggerated feelings and slightly different thoughts. The word Araby also changes its connotations from the exotic and mysteriously romantic area to one of an insignificance place. The connotation change in the story implies the boy's journey from romantic love to misery. The world he designed for himself is changed, altered by making errors or unintentional alterations. It never offers him space for his love of youth and idealism so that the boy has to accept his unsuccessfulness in his search to win the affection of the girl. For now, romance, love, and idealism can continue to live or exist only in his imagination. Therefore he feels stupid and disappointed as a result of his foolish efforts to achieve his dream. As New Critics search for the tension, irony, and paradox in texts, Araby is also a story that represents irony. For instance, there is a sort of dramatic irony that the priest's room and the priest's life. The priest room is “smelly, stuffy and damp” and full of “old unnecessary papers”(Joyce, 249). There is also a “tenant’s rusty bicycle-pump”(Joyce, 249) that gives his life a very indifference impression of shabbiness. If we think normally, a priest should live in a tidy and clean place and have religious holy books with him so in that way he is estimated to be a good example for his parishioners but the place that is described in the story of Araby is very cluttered and gloomy. Besides the priest seems to enjoy reading more secular books such as “The Memoirs of Vidocq” and “The Abbot” rather than Holy Scriptures. In this manner, religion is represented as a fashion that losing its prestige and its importance in street life as time passes.

As a result, the story of Araby focuses on the oppressive nature that religion affects the minds and lives of people at that time in Dublin, Ireland. This religion oppression leads the narrator to embrace a false perception of reality and it creates a false perception about sexuality as well because of that, the story presents an escape. On the surface of the story little seems to happen but with the close and participatory reading, beneath it, the reader will discover precise disagreements and changes become revealed and apparent. Through the journey begins as the narrator listens to the sounds of innocent child’s play, it ends with the loneliness of humankind in a gloomy, sad world and the conflicts in the story resolve itself into the unity and coherence of meaning.

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Analytical Essay on Dubliners: Portrayal of Oppressive Nature in Araby. (2022, September 27). Edubirdie. Retrieved July 15, 2024, from
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