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As Araby was the first of James Joyce’s short stories that I’ve read, I was very interested to see the way in which Joyce used different elements to enhance the story. What I discovered about Joyce is that while it’s generally easy to discern what he thought was important in the story, it’s not always as easy to understand the meanings behind the elements.
Perhaps the most obvious element that Joyce uses is his detailed description of the house that the main character is living in. In fact, Joyce dedicates the first three paragraphs to the description of the house, its rooms and its previous tenant. Throughout the short story, the house serves many purposes for the main character, a sanctuary, a private place, and in the end, a penitentiary. At the beginning of the story, Joyce even personifies some of the neighboring houses, describing how they, “gazed at one another with brown imperturbable faces.” Later in the story, after the main character describes his love of Mangan’s sister (she never gets a name), and how he went to the back drawing room, a sanctuary. “One evening I went into the back drawing-room in which the priest had died. It was a dark rainy evening and there was no sound in the house … All my senses seemed to desire to veil themselves and, feeling that I was about to slip from them, I pressed the palms of my hands together until they trembled, murmuring: ‘O love! O love!’ many time.”
Later in the story, the house serves as a penitentiary, keeping the main character from seeing the women that he is in love with. The main character needed money from his uncle to go to the bazaar to meet up with Mangan’s sister. “When I came home to dinner my uncle had not yet been home … I sat staring at the clock for some time and when its ticking began to irritate me, I left the room. I mounted the staircase and gained the upper part of the house. The high cold empty rooms liberated me and I went from room to room singing.” As it gets later and later the main character feels more and more caged, “When she had gone, I began to walk up and down the room, clenching my fists.” By the time that the main character’s uncle comes home, it is too late, he goes to the bazaar but does not see his love. I found it strange that the character was unable to find six pence for the entrance fee to the bazaar at the house and was unable to go to the bazaar without spending money, just to meet Mangan’s sister, the reason that he was going there anyway.
Another interesting element that Joyce uses is the fact that he never gives a name to the girl that he is enamored with, or a name for himself. The only time he directly refers to her, she is known as ‘Mangan’s sister.’ And even when other characters converse with the main character, they don’t use his name. By not naming the characters, the story takes an unspecific feel that allows the reader to place themselves in the place of the main character, a character swept off his feet by a girl.
As I was reading Araby, many artistic elements jumped out at me. The most noticeable was the different uses of the main character’s house. At many times he feels free and liberated in the house as it serves as a sanctuary. Even when he is waiting for his uncle, the main character is comforted by the empty upstairs rooms of the house. Later however, the house serves as a prison, keeping the main character from meeting his love at the bazaar. Another interesting element was the fact that Joyce doesn’t name either the main character or his love. This element, along with others, make the short story even more interesting.