There are many impacting written pieces that contribute to the different images of the status of self. However, with the many varying narratives and tones by the authors who have written these pieces, some may provide a contrast with others. An example of this contrast is the division in the status of self is between childhood and adulthood as it develops in twentieth-century literature. Literary pieces such as James Joyce’s “Araby” and Anne Sexton’s “Cinderella” perfectly demonstrates this divide through their different tones and structures: with Joyce’s piece representing the innocent and impressionable child through an overdramatization of the events that transpire before Araby; and Sexton’s piece representing the pessimistic view of the adult through the bitter tone of the narrative as she tells the different stories of happy endings that cease to exist in real life. Both pieces overall have very similar ideas of where a child’s sense of self lies from in terms of the fairy-tale stories they read growing up, which differs from the adult’s sense of self that develops through life experiences.
James Joyce’s “Araby” creates an impact in the image of the sense of self in preteens who are going through puberty. Joyce depicts the protagonist as an impressionable young man who lusts over Mangan’s sister. At the start of the story, the narrator mentions some of the books that the boy had read at the dead priest’s home; one of which being The Abbot by Walter Scott. Scott’s novel depicts the life of Mary Stuart in a fabricated way and it influences the way that the protagonist views romance, leading him to develop a fantasy surrounding Mangan’s sister although they had never spoken before; “This happened morning after morning. I had never spoken to her, except for a few casual words, and yet her name was like a summons to all my foolish blood.” (Joyce 281) In this subtle way, Joyce depicts the child as easily influenced especially with the boy lacking experience in the subject of love. At the end of the story, the boy is left disappointed by the event of Araby. Araby represents the boy’s maturity and his first step into adulthood. The boy realizes that he only loved Mangan’s sister for the image that he had created in his head and not for what she truly is; “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 283)
Anne Sexton’s “Cinderella” depicts the adult version of the sense of self. Sexton uses tone and line breaks in order to show the bitter and pessimistic attitude of the adult towards the different stories that she tells. The poem starts with “You always read about it” (Sexton 1) introducing a sense of familiarity with the tales that she continues to talk about. Sexton talks about the people that have gone from impoverished to rich through lucky incidents that had happened to them. Sexton finishes each stanza with “That story,” (Sexton 5) which adds to the bitter tone of the poem; introducing a comparison of the tale and the reality of how hard people have to work in order to lead successful lives. Sexton also utilizes line breaks and punctuation to emphasize how quickly the unfortunate people became successful, undermining the years of hard work that they had to endure with some simple act such as being in a bus accident; “Or the charwoman / who is on the bus when it cracks up / and collects enough from the insurance.” (Sexton 17-19) The sentence that comes after each story compares two very different things representing from where they came from to where they ended up at; “From mops to Bonwit Teller.” (Sexton 20-21) to illustrate how quickly the change becomes. The bitter tone continues in the telling of Cinderella, accompanied by dark themes throughout the story. Sexton chooses to use the Brothers Grimm version of Cinderella, which is geared more towards adults than children due to the more gruesome images that comes with it. The telling of the Cinderella towards adults is not much different from the one that is geared towards children. The story of Cinderella still creates a sense of hope in which one will get what one deserves; Cinderella becoming a princess due to her compassion towards others and her stepsisters suffering due to their selfishness. Sexton ends the poem with “That story” once again, to illustrate her skepticism towards the moral of the story, introducing the aspect of comparison with any other stories but.
Joyce and Sexton both support the themes of the impressionable child and the skeptical adult. Although the child and the adult are illustrated very differently, they also have similarities between them. Both authors utilize the image of books and fairy tales to create a sense of how they influence many people, both children and adults. Albeit the children’s books are less realistic than the adult’s, most books from both age groups introduce the aspect of hope within them. In “Araby”, the boy learns in the end that his fantasies stem from vain, distinguishing the line between reality and fantasy. In “Cinderella”, Sexton continues with that line between reality and fantasy, but keeps the aspect of hope within each tale that she tells. The child learns through his experiences but keeps the hope that the fairy tales introduce in order to get through sufferings as an adult. The hope of a happy ending is what gets most people through their ordeals, no matter how old they are.
The theme of the sense of self varies in each piece of literature, whether it be a coming-of-age story or a poem about the skepticism of the adult. Joyce and Sexton creates a contrast between the child and the adult within their respective pieces. The boy in “Araby” learns that he was motivated by the image that he had created in his own head, not knowing the reality of his situation due to his lack of experience. The adult in “Sexton” is skeptical towards each tale that she tells, adding a bitter little sentence that compares the tale to reality. Albeit both characters are different, they both support the theme of hope in the books that they explore within the pieces; whether the books are geared towards the old or the young. The aspect of hope in each story helps one get through their hardships, with the promise of at least a better ending than their current situation.