“Araby”, a short story apart of Joyce’s, Dubliners, is rich with culture and symbolism, dripped in a veiled jab at the drab culture of Ireland. The interaction of light and dark are mostly addressed in Araby to support the setting and narrator alike, helping to set the tone and give a realistic aspect to the story. The use of imagery is vital to the plot and growth of Araby, particularly so for the narrator because the play between light and dark helps explain and add depth to what the narrator feels and his anagnorisis, or epiphany, of the reality of life.
In symbolism, light traditionally represents a theme of hope and optimism, a high moral. The light is where happiness seems to grow. The association of good and safe, always go hand in hand with light. There is always a sun rising over the horizon, implying an opportunity and relief after difficulty or chaos. “White and Black Are Perceptual Symbols of Moral Purity and Pollution,” (Sherman & Clore 2009). The opposite of light is dark, in the same way, darkness has represented human emotions and connections, mainly fear or despair. The dark and black are associated with infection or the action of perverting something pure. With the implications of moral involved with light and dark, black and white, Joyce uses that connotation and the idea of black and dim to present the thought of immortality, the distant feeling of aloofness, or indifference. “The concept of immorality should activate ‘‘black,’’ not because immoral things tend to be black, but because immorality acts like the color black (e.g., it contaminates).” (Sherman & Clore 2009). James Joyce uses the literature and mental idea of light and dark to expand on the traditional connotations of light and darkness in his short story, “Araby”.
The story opens with a solemn look upon the narrator’s life, his very surroundings are thickets of depressing images, “The negative connotations associated with the city of Dublin illustrate the boy’s state of despondency and hopelessness.” (Rokeya & Ahammed 2016). His world is one of spiritual stagnation, and as a result, the boy’s outlook is severely limited. He is ignorant and therefore innocent. Lonely, imaginative, and isolated, he lacks the understanding necessary for evaluation and perspective. He is at first as blind as his world, but Joyce prepares us for his eventual perceptive awakening by tempering his blindness with an unconscious rejection of his static world. The narrator was innocent and so very naive, finding joy in the macabre and desolate, “The boy can project wonder upon even the unremarkable and decayed, those things which would commonly be thought to represent loss and death.” (Muhlestien 2010). The narrator’s innocence is what fuels the story to stretch into a theme of light and optimism. This happiness is shown through the imagery of light the reader sees through the narrator’s eyes.
The story truly begins with the narrator, a young boy, set on a futile quest to find love with a girl, whom he hardly knows and is much older than himself. Joyce uses the idea of light to represent not only hope but unrealistic idealism and illusion. The narrator begins to fall in love only to find, that his love begins to fall apart as he walks along the silent and dark bazaar. The bazaar efficiently pervades the boy’s mind, “Fulfilling the atmosphere of asceticism, that the reality is greatly contradicted with the ideal romance in the protagonist’s mind.” (Ko 2013). Alternatively, darkness represents the reality and truth behind the narrator’s situation. Joyce uses light and darkness as a symbol between the clash of fantasy and reality that takes place within the narrator.
In the beginning, the narrator lives with his mindset firmly in the real world with only a passing thought for the whimsy. As the “Ever-changing violet” (Joyce 237), sky turned to night, he played in the dark streets with his comrades, shouting in the empty street before leaving for the tracks behind the houses. There, in the “Dark muddy lanes,” (Joyce 237), populated only by rugged cottage folk, the narrator plays with his friends throughout the evening. Through the “Back doors of the dark dripping gardens,”(Joyce 237), to the “Dark odorous stables,” (Joyce 237) he would travel. “The nature of this area is grave and gloomy with dusky twilight, with ever-changing violet colour sky and stinging cold air.” (Salma 2012). Joyce intentionally used somber adjectives to set the stage for reality to look and taste like a dark whiskey, spilling down the throat. He did not expect much of the world and his simple world expected little of him. These grim surroundings were the extent of the narrator’s life. The narrator inhabits this world of darkness where everything is understood to be the way it appeared. The darkness represents the accustomed bitter taste of reality.
When the narrator first encounters the young lady, named Mangan, his friends older sister, he can only see her silhouetted in the light. The very picture of an angel, come down to the dark shadows of actuality. This first sighting is the beginning of his infatuation for the girl. After his discovery, he is plagued by thoughts of the girl which make his daily obligations seem like, “Ugly, monotonous, child’s play.” (Joyce 239). Now, with a glance of the light, the normal routines of his morose reality are set beside each other in stark difference of one another. The narrator no longer wants to rely on the crutch of everyday life, rather he wants to entertain the light and fantastical idea of him and Mangan. He has become blinded by the light. The narrator fails to see that his infatuation with a woman considerably older than himself is not appropriate. He begins to relish in his fascination, choosing to be thrown into the shining white of optimism shunning the darkness of his life before Mangan. The narrator is engulfed by the false light that is his futile love.
The narrator continues locked in his own head of his own violation, heady on the light emitted by his love, “In this inert world suddenly a flash of light falls. That ray of love in no time changes everything in and around the boy” (Salma 2012). Then the bazaar, called Araby, came into town. His lady love expressed her desire to attend the bazaar. On a whim, the narrator, alive with the presence of Mandan’s light, said, “If I go, I said, I will bring you something,” (Joyce 239) with these words, the narrator began his slow descent back into the dark of reality, even if he didn’t realize it. As the narrator prepares to visit the bazaar, a shift takes place. His light begins to turn to darkness as reality sinks in. While waiting for his uncle to come home so he can leave himself, the narrator looks over at the dark house where his lady lives. He then stands there, merely visualizing, “The light from the lamp opposite our door caught the white curve of her neck.” (Joyce 239) . There is darkness at the girl’s house where there used to be light, and he tries to preserve the lighted image in his head.
The boy walks to the bazaar, the clock still a globe of light in the dark, reminding him of his hope, a light shining in the darkness. When he reaches the bazaar, however, even with the colored lamps lighting up many of the kiosks, most of the hall remains dark, echoing his growing disassociation. As he progresses through the bazaar, the scene becomes even more and more simply lit, “Nearly all the stalls were closed and the greater part of the hall was in darkness. I recognized a silence like that which pervades a church after a service. I walked into the center of the bazaar timidly” (Joyce 241). Finally, as the narrator’s time runs out, he realizes the foolishness of his vain endeavor, the lights along the path go out, and he is left in complete darkness.
The imagery of darkness falls over the eyes of the reader, showing the dawning realization of the narrator’s capricious, helpless, feeling of love. The narrator believed he was in love, and he happily chased the illusion of happiness that belief gave him until he was presented with reality. The darkness slunk in as he realized his love was merely a shade to distract himself from the dreary droll of life, ‘Her image accompanied me even in places the most hostile to romance.’ (Joyce 238). He had created what he desired in his own life, romance, mystery, and joy. He recognized how everything was a sham, a reality built by himself. And when the narrator fully accepted this, reality came back to haunt his heels, with the dark pooling at the corners of his fraud version of the world.
The use of light and dark imagery in Araby is important because Joyce never explicitly tells the reader what the narrator is feeling, instead, he uses the setting of light and dark to portray what the narrator is experiencing internally. Joyce examples the imagery of darkness to paint, “A grim portrait of the social and romantic possibilities available to such individuals,” (Muhlestien 2010) and counteracts the dark by portraying the narrator’s naive behavior as a shining light to pierce through reality, “The boy can project wonder upon even the unremarkable and decayed, those things which would commonly be thought to represent loss and death.” (Muhlestien 2010). Joyce’s narrator travels to the bazaar alone, aiding the plight of reality to sink back into the boy’s mind, “This is an oppression which makes the protagonist be even lonely in mind as a result. In “Araby”, the first-person narrator, James Joyce, does not describe explicitly in words how the protagonist feels, instead, he leads the readers to experience it by themselves, to enter the protagonist’s affection through what are seen from his eyes, heard from ears.” (Ko 2013).
In the short story, “Araby”, James Joyce uses the contrast between light and darkness to add another dimension to the conflict between illusion and actuality with which the narrator struggles. The narrator is blinded by the illusion of love and courage represented by light and comes to a realization of his fruitless ambition as darkness sets in. The theme of fantasy crushed by reality is emphasized by this juxtaposition: at the beginning of the story the protagonist bathes in the light of his pipe dream, and in the end he comes to discover his foolishness and is abandoned in the dark, reflecting on his actions, “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 242).