How is the setting of James Joyce's story "Araby" related to the boy's state of mind?

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vangoghfan | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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The boy presented in James Joyce’s “Araby” is a would-be Romantic whose options seem limited, whose mood increasingly dark, and whose final attitude is one of frustration and even anger.  The settings of the story are highly appropriate, in some of the following ways, to the options, mood, and attitude just described:

  • The street on which the boy lives is “blind,” or a literal dead-end that is appropriate to the boy’s limited options.
  • The boy’s own house smells musty, seems somewhat unkempt, and is associated with death (see second paragraph).
  • The story takes place in winter time. Dusk is mentioned. The sky is violet in color. The lanterns seem “feeble” against the dark. Nearly all the details of setting mentioned in the third paragraph seem literally or figuratively dark.
  • Clearly the boy lives in one of the poorer sections of the city, and thus his options and future seem limited simply in financial terms.
  • Silence and darkness and symbols of poverty (such as “broken panes” of glass) later help reinforce the mood already established.
  • Subsequent details help emphasize the gloomy atmosphere already established. These include the reference to cold air that seems “pitilessly raw”; the annoying ticking of a clock; rooms that seem “high, cold, empty, [and] gloomy”; mention of a “dark house”; the slow passage of time; the reference to “ruinous houses”;  fact that the boy must travel in a “third-class” carriage; the reference to a “deserted train”; the boy’s reference to being “alone”; the reference to the “dark hall” of the bazaar and to its “silence”; the reference to the turning off of lights at the bazaar; and the bazaar’s increasing and final darkness.

In the famous final words of the story, the narrator sums up his mood and attitude in ways that seem highly appropriate to all the details of the setting just described:
Gazing up into the darkness I saw myself as a creature driven and derided by vanity; and my eyes burned with anguish and anger.


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anna95s | Middle School Teacher | (Level 2) eNoter

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           The boy’s biblical and holy descriptions of the setting and Magan’s sister enhance his sacred adoration toward her which ultimately leads him through maturation from a boy to a man. To the boy, the girl is saintly and angelic; she is always surrounded by “light”, as if by a halo. She becomes an object of faith to the boy and when she finally talks to him the light “[catches] the white curve of her neck, [lights] her hair… [and] the hand”. When she tells him how she wishes to go to the Araby, he promises he will “bring something back”. He imagines himself as a knight in search of the Holy Grail and his trip to the Araby is to him a holy crusade. The bazaar is filled with “darkness” and “silence” which he describes as an enchanted “church after a service”. Yet, as the Holy Grail was never found, the boy realizes at the bazaar that his love is not to be found. Through such realization, the boy takes his first step to adulthood.

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