In the short story Araby, James Joyce makes a revelation on how the peculiar realities of living in Dublin frustrate peoples plans and impede their desires. Born in 1882 in Dublin, Ireland, Joyce grew up in society where Catholicism was deeply entrenched. Joyce attended the Christian Brothers School and Belvedere College, all of which were run by the Catholic Church. At the age of fourteen, be became a prefect of the Blessed Virgin Marys Sodality, which was a society committed to devotion. While it could be thought that his sexual purity resulted in his selection as a prefect, Joyce claimed that he started his sexual life in the same year he was selected.
In Araby, a young boy embarks on a quest to purchase a gift for someone he loves. The battles the boy fights in his quest occur in the heart and mind, and despite not succeeding in attaining the ultimate goal, he undergoes some internal transformation. The boy in Araby is on a mission to get something considered precious; from a physical perspective, he is on a quest to get the affection of his neighbors sister.
To win the affection, he decides to embark on a secondary quest, which entails a trip to the annual bazaar to purchase something for his love interest (Joyce 260). While he is not aware of it, his internal mission starts the moment he becomes intensely interested in the girl. He has hopes that by purchasing something for his neighbors sister, his feelings will become apparent; this makes him think he can make up for the failure to communicate how he adores her (259;260). Considering the girl is not aware of his intentions and he immensely romanticizes the girl and the bazaar, we could say that in questing, the boy is playing a kind of make believe to some extent.
The boy gets lost in fantasies while thinking of romantic ideals and the moment he becomes committed to the physical quest, he imagines that his beloved has dispatched him on a romantic quest (LeBlanc 230). From a readers perspective, the external quest is nothing more than travelling to the bazaar to obtain a gift, but the boy deems it a quest for a holy knight, which makes him develop the fancy of being a knight in a shining armor. Compared to a legendary quest, the physical mission is less arduous; the boy thus finds himself in a setting where the experience reflects a daunting epiphany.
Following an unprecedented change of perspective, it emerges that the tension inherent in his internal quest culminated into the epiphany, which came at a cost to the boys innocence. The change in perspective makes it possible for the boy to appreciate how his imagination was powerfully deceiving, as well as how his romantic perceptions were frail. As such, both quests - the internal and physical - result in an end of the boys experience as a child, and can hence be deemed a danger. Both quests have an inherent internal stake. Although the boy cannot avoid traversing through the deep night, there are no life-threatening hazards in the mission but rather mental perils that cannot allow him to uphold his romantic ideals.
Much of the mental and spiritual turmoil that the boy undergoes can be attributed to the unseen forces that have caused his ultimate transformation into a creature. When we look at the tension resulting from the internal mission, it becomes apparent that the issues marring the physical quest are mere annoyances. It does not mean, however, that one cannot say much about the external pressures. There is a serious challenge to the crusade the boy has waged, doubts by persons close to him, and opposition from nature: this is comparable to questing knights of old (Morse 129). The pitiless raw air that the boy encounters as he walks to school on Saturday is the cause of the opposition from nature.
While we can perceive the opposition from nature as a physical element, it serves less of a threat to the well-being of the boy than it does as a bad omen. The boy in Araby succeeds in surmounting the obstacles - with the exception of money - that typically impede legendary questing knights, and at the end of the mission, he is physically intact but lonely. The boy journeys alone, with his ladys image keeping him company. The boy encounters adults who do not resonate with him or the romantic look he dons. To his aunt, the bazaar is a Freemason affair, while his schoolteacher becomes concerned that he is idle; his uncle forgets that he promised to give him the money he needed for his quest.
None of the elder people close to the boy seems to connect with his romantic perceptions, implying the childishness and futility of his dreams and ideals. The boy also remains secretive of his infatuation, which means that his childhood friends with whom he plays at the beginning of the story are not part of his quest. We cannot say that it is insensible that he values spending time alone, out of the physical world, considering that his earlier interactions with it are no longer tenable. Mandel posits that the boy behaves as a lover does once love possesses them (50).
As the boy waits for the bazaars money from his uncle, he decides to go upstairs, which enables him to escape a clock that ticks and creates an intrusion into his delusional world. At this point, the boys imaginary grail quest, although full of internal tension, provides an opportunity for a promising escape into an exotic bazaar. At the core of the boys fantasies and mission are an intense infatuation and an adoration that mirrors religious aspects; these factors energize his physical quest and lay the ground for the battles that are salient in his internal journey. The boy is infatuated with Mangans sister, whom he idolizes, likens to a chalice, watches and follows despite the fact that he has never spoken to her.
According to the boy, Mangans sister is holy, which implies that his campaign has a religious dimension. Gerber (190) posits that Mangans sister is a shadowy Madonna, and it is possible to liken her to Mary Magdalene. Almost all the religious dimensions that Mangans sister has an attachment to are rooted in the mind of the boy. Her fancied purity urges the boy in his quests, and the more he loves her, his illusion of the presence of religious and romantic content in the world becomes intense. Considering how the religious element fuels the boys adoration for Mangans sister, we can say that religion has a profound role in the Irish culture.
Throughout Araby, Joyce shows that at the time of writing the story, Catholicism was deeply engrained in the hearts and minds of the inhabitants of Ireland. The continuous referencing of Catholicism and Catholic dogma up to Arabys conclusion exemplifies the place of religion in the Irish society. However, the boys experiences demonstrate the confounding effect of a tight climate of religion on an individuals mind; by idolizing Mangans sister because of a religious dimension, the boys experience when he comes of age becomes complicated and he loses his innocence by the time the story closes. The boys mind, fixated with Catholic dogma and seeming programmed at young age to hold the Virgin Mary in awe, starts revering his neighbors sister in the same fashion.
It is not fair to fault him for connecting things in the way he does, and neither is it appropriate to fault him for confusing a desire for sex -which is caused by natural factors- with a religious adoration that takes a make-believe dichotomous. When we consider the environment of the boys upbringing, the way he conflates dogma and romanticism demonstrates how an imaginative person residing on North Richmond Street would feel a strong impulse to escape. By showing how the boy was hopeless, Joyce highlights how the nations leadership was irresponsible; he holds them accountable for the sorry state in which Irelands indoctrinated kids find themselves.
Leaders, whom the dead priest, the boys uncle, schoolteacher, and aunt represent, have indoctrinated the boy, and Irish children, with religion. The confused adoration, and the attendant guilt, are the consequences of religiosity that the boys elders have inflicted on him. It is not difficult for the boy to worship Mangans sister considering how he has undergone indoctrination that makes him relate worship to a divine figure that takes a feminine form. The same indoctrination burdens him with a feeling of guilt whenever he gets natural sexual arousal for Mangans sister.
While the indoctrination largely accounts for the boys adoration of Mangans sister, the girl has a perfect ability to captivate him. Joyces construction of Mangans sister is such that it is easy to compare her to a statute:
..the patient hand on the cruel spike, the gentle head bowed submissively, the mild neck arched in grief..and at the same time her moving body, swinging dress, and soft rope of hair sexually excite the young boy... (259)
The boy worships Mangans sister in two dimensions: as an icon of religion and as a female who is sexually desirable. His prayers to her represent worshipful Catholic devotions that have morphed from sexual desires.
Sex mingles with religion and creates an atmosphere filled with tension. Joyce makes constant references to religion as well as sex, creating linkages among the two at certain times. Good examples include the priests rusty bicycle-pump and the large hall that has half of its height girdled by a gallery (259; 262). The sexual tension is uncomfortable for the boy, and it breeds intense guilt, all of which point to the strong religious dogma that is binding to his spirit. Before the boy realized that he had a sexual interest in Mangans sister, and prior to commencing his crusade, the boy used to dwell in a condition of sexual innocence and naivety.
As a child, he was always in the streets playing with friends. Acts of worshipping took place within the confines of Catholicism. Once the boy merely becomes interested in Mangans sister, his internal quest starts unfolding; this quest begins directing him out of the state of innocence. He cannot catch a glimpse of Mangans sister without studying her. Flashes of skin and subtle movements denote his eyes (260). Mangans sister thus presents a threat to the boys faith and innocence. While she is not a physical enemy bringing him a challenge or using force to prevent him from realizing his quest, the fantasy that she is, in the mind of the boy, compromises his religious faith and creates mixed feelings of sexual desire.
In addition, Mangans sister seems to be the catalyst that hastens the boys reluctant maturation as the story ends; she lures the boy from the state in which he is sexually pure becomes entangled in the way he has been religiously programmed, which results in more confusion. The combination of guilt, confusion, anxiety and titillation that the boy experiences when he merely thinks of Mangans sister induces some restlessness. The boys internal battles start exacting a toll on his days and nights, which lays the ground for the physical quest. The narrator provides an account of the boys distraction from the serious work of life, difficulties in organizing the wandering thoughts and the seeming difficulty of schoolwork.
Overall, examining Araby through the lenses of new historicism reveals Joyces motivation for writing the story. The boy, coming from a background of an intense Catholic dogma, faces a destiny that will crush his childish dreams and subject him to a battle in which his faith conflicts the natural desires of the human flesh. At the culmination of his quests, his childhood comes to an abrupt end. The boy could not do much to stop his childhood from being squandered; he was powerless to shape the scheme of things in his destiny. Ultimately, Joyce criticizes Irelands leadership and the religious climate...
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