Explain the function of at least two major images in the story "Araby" by James Joyce.  

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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A constant motif throughout all the stories of James Joyce's Dubliners is what he termed the "Roman tyranny" of the Catholic Church, an oppression he perceived as strong as that of the English rule. Certainly, this spiritual domination is evident in "Araby" in which the young protagonist/narrator, so influenced by what Joyce perceived as a stultifying Catholicism, confuses the spiritual with the carnal, a confusion that is conveyed in the religious imagery that prevails throughout the narrative.  Perhaps the most salient example of this is the narrator's description of his religious/carnal ectasy as he accompanies his aunt to market on Saturday evening, 

I imagined that I bore my chalice safely through a throng of foes. Her name sprang to my lips at moments in strange prayers and praises which I myself did not understand. My eyes were often full of tears (I could not tell why) and at times a flood from my heart seemed to pour itself out into my bosom. I thought little of the future. I did not know whether I would ever speak to her or not or, if I spoke to her, how I could tell her of my confused adoration. But my body was like a harp and her words and gestures were like fingers running upon the wires.

The religious imagery of Mangan's sister as the Holy Grail, the "chalice,"  places the boy's lust for her on a confused religious level. Likewise, the image of the "harp" (a symbol of Ireland) suggests heavenly experience while the "fingers running" connote carnal excitement.

Earlier, too, the narrator has perceived Mangan's sister in a heavenly, spiritual image as, while she waits in the half-opened doorway, "her figure [is] defined by the light," much like a halo.

This incongruity between the spiritual and the carnal images is what leads to the boy's crushing and shameful disillusionment as Mangan's sister, who wears a silver bracelet, a most secular image suggestive of money, is no more than just a girl.


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