How would you describe James Joyce's tone and attitude toward his characters in "Araby"?
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Honestly? I'd call it the tone cool and distant. He gives us a narrator who ends the story by saying, "
Gazing up into the darkness I saw myself as a creature driven and derided by vanity; and my eyes burned with anguish and anger."
However, despite talking about his emotions, look at the vocabulary: do you speak of yourself as being "derided" if you're really upset? Likewise, if your eyes were really burning with anguish, would you be so articulate?
The distance becomes ironic; this is a story about emotional passion, but it is shaped by artistry. As a result, the characters seem overly self-aware too; look at how the narrator knows exactly which coins are clinking at the story's end. This is not someone gripped by passion.
Joyce's tone reflects the reality of the boy's world on North Richmond Street. He lives in a joyless, stifling environment where the residents are complacent and the street is "blind". In the face of this harsh and dirty reality of his life, the boy detaches himself from this atmosphere and becomes preoccupied with his first love. This love consumes him because it is an escape from the reality of his life. By the time he gets to Araby, the narrator is expecting a world of fantasy that he has idealized in his mind. Instead, he discovers the harsh reality of life exists in Araby just as it does on North Richmond Street. This "epiphany" is the boy's maturation from the idealism and dreams of childhood.
Joyce doesn't give us a sweet, syrupy coming-of-age story. We are given a realistic narration of how a boy living under these circumstances might come to a mature realization of how life is. Indeed, few of us have or will have the fairy-tale coming-of-age experience. The boy is angry at the end because he's wiser about the realities of the world, but he still isn't old enough to fully understand or appreciate the value of the lesson he has just learned.
An interesting aspect of this first person point of view in Araby is the multiple distances the story constructs: first there is the child, then there is the adult child, and then their is the author behind all three.The child thinks one way, the adult (with more experience) presents the child in a way the child would not understand, and then the author behind the entire story has a greater perspective, which encompasses issues of class, religion, sentiment, and romance that go beyond even that of the immediate narrator. with this thrice removed distance of author to character (all of them), the author does have a more god-like stance in terms of his knowledge. He knows more than even the narrator the blindness (the dead-end quality) of this child's life, even from the beginning, and he knows the emptiness of Araby as well. More importantly, he knows the longing all humans have for such a place of romance, a place where we become able to bring back to another something special, making us special as we do so. Neither the boy nor the adult appreciate this as the author does. Rather than cold, I would argue that the author, Joyce, is compassionate toward this experience, kind and generous, not considering the child stupid or clumsy but, like all of us, flawed in our aspirations toward wanting more from our otherwise dull lives.
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