An Analysis of Symbolism in Araby

As one of the essential elements in a well-written work of literary fiction, setting plays a crucial role in revealing several important details about a character’s state of mind. A sunny, perky environment commonly reflects a happy, well-adjusted mood, while murky, shady surroundings suggest an underlying evil. Nevertheless, other literary devices assist in setting the tone of a story; only by interlocking multiple techniques can an author create a well-rounded, rich piece of literature. James Joyce effectively accomplishes this technique in his short story Araby, in which he conveys the protagonist’s anguish and agony through a combination of dark, symbolic imagery, motifs, and a distinct setting.. James Joyce effectively employs setting as a medium in which to portray the narrator’s frame of mind in the story’s opening passage, where he describes North Richmond Street as “being blind…detached from its neighbours” (437). While the word ‘blind illustrates the dead-end street in this situation, it also refers to an individual being sightless. This double meaning correlates with the young, unnamed protagonist’s state of mind; as a young boy, he is irrevocably in love with Mangan’s sister, almost to the point of obsession and separates himself from his neighboring friends.. He lies in the shadows for hours on end to catch a glimpse of his crush, then follows her as adoringly as a lovesick puppy. He is, quite literally, blind to the fact that this older woman is not interested in a child, especially one who also happens to be her brother’s friend.

Furthermore, Joyce also implies that Mangan’s sister is a nun, for she mentions a week long retreat hosted by her convent (439). Moreover, the dank scenery also contributes to the depiction of the narrator’s outlook on life, as opposed to solely being an indicator of his love for Mangan’s sister. James Joyce employs imagery and evocative diction to describe the desolate loneliness of the narrator’s surroundings; the dead silent streets, the dark and muddy lanes and the “dark dripping gardens where odors arose from the ashpits” (437) all depict the narrator’s solitary, hopeless voyeurism. Life outside of his obsessive love for Mangan’s sister simply does not interest him. Rather, he spends the majority of his time lurking in the shadows and peering “through one of the broken panes” (438), desperately anticipating a glimpse of the object of his affection. The broken glass symbolizes his shattered heart and the desolate state of mind that permeates him when he fails to catch the woman’s eye. The narrator prefers be alone with these haunting thoughts instead of socializing with other boys of his age. James Joyce supports this portrayal of the narrator through his description of Mangan and the two other boys who were raucously fighting for each other’s caps, while “[the narrator] was alone at the railings” (439). He lingers optimistically by Mangan’s sister’s side, wishing that she would say something to him. When, at last, she does speak to him, she mentions a bazaar that she is unable to attend, and the boy promises to buy her a gift. After this brief initial conversation, the lovelorn narrator rapidly becomes obsessed with attending the Araby festival and ignores all of his duties. He further isolates himself from the world around him, choosing to stay inside while his companions play outside in the streets.

The narrator describes, “Their cries reached me weakened and indistinct and, leaning my forehead against the cool glass, I looked over at the dark house where she lived” (440). Like the cool glass, the main character’s attitude towards the boys of his own age is cold and indifferent; his attention is entirely fixated on this mysterious woman. Yet, her house is dark and empty, signifying her lack of interest in this tortured young boy. Consequently, he becomes disheartened, and the dismal scene finally draws to a close as the anguished narrator admits, “Gazing up into the darkness I saw myself as a creature driven and derided by vanity” (442). Once again, the motif of darkness ironically sheds light on the narrator’s dejected state of mind. At long last, he realizes that he has been deceiving himself into believing that Mangan’s sister could love him, a foolish child with presumptuous views of himself. He leaves the bazaar without buying her the promised gift and stands alone, a solitary figure once more.

In conclusion, James Joyce’s work is a fine example of literary fiction that incorporates setting, diction, and imagery to give an in-depth look at the story’s protagonist. The narrator’s state of mind is symbolically reflected in the darkness and gloom of the urban streets where he lives. More than just a fictional character, he represents the lonely persona that lurks within every human being. As the narrator’s mood sinks lower and lower, the scenery around him grows more and more desolate. Similarly, the aura an individual radiates dims as his or her emotions shift; yet, like the vast sky that stretches before the speaker at the story’s close, an infinite amount of hope awaits in the unknown future.

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