In James Joyce’s short story “Araby,” the lives of the characters seem narrow and constricted in a number of ways, including the following:
- The narrator and his family live, quite literally, on a dead-end street.
- The second paragraph of the story emphasizes a literal death – the ultimate limit.
- The reading materials mentioned in the second paragraph are anything but unconventional. The titles of two of the books mentioned, in fact, suggest traditional religion rather than anything more daring.
- The garden behind the house contains an apple tree and a bicycle pump, resembling a snake, thus alluding to the ultimate limits (including death) imposed on human existence by the fall of Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden.
- The story’s beginning emphasizes wintertime and dusk, thus suggesting the limits imposed by time – a major theme of the work.
- Even the play of the local boys involves playing in the dead-end street rather than emerging from and beyond it.
- The narrator stays inside his house and hides so he can see without being seen.
- The girl in whom the narrator is interested says that she cannot go to a local festival; thus her life seems constricted, too.
- Having promised to bring the girl something from the festival if he is able to go there, the boy now feels constricted by his school and schoolwork as he waits for time to pass.
- The narrator feels constricted by the failure of his uncle to arrive home when the boy expected him to come. The uncle thus delays the narrator’s trip to the festival. Frustrated by his uncle’s delay and by the ticking of a clock, the narrator gains a momentary sense of freedom by going upstairs, but the freedom is only artificial:
The high, cold, empty, gloomy rooms liberated me and I went from room to room singing.
Thus, even his liberty seems constricted.
- Later the narrator feels constricted not only by his uncle’s delay but by his aunt’s religiously motivated comment,
'I'm afraid you may put off your bazaar for this night of Our Lord.'
- The fact that the narrator seems to have no parents but must live with his aunt and uncle suggests yet another kind of constriction in his life.
- The fact that the narrator is young means that he has less freedom than if he were older.
- The narrator’s uncle speaks in clichés, suggesting that his thinking is somewhat narrow and unadventurous.
- As the story moves toward its conclusion, the narrator feels even further constricted by the limits of time. Indeed, time in many ways seems the source of most of the constrictions he faces.
- In the final phases of the story, the narrator feels constricted by gathering darkness, which is both literal and symbolic.
- The young men at the end of the story speak with English accents, thus reminding the narrator of the constrictions placed on Irish people in their own country because of centuries of English colonial domination.
- The narrator feels constricted by the shallow conversation between these young men and the young woman with whom they are chatting. The narrator does not feel that he can interrupt their conversation, and thus he feels confined by it.
Finally, the speaker feels constricted by his own vanity and anger.