In "Araby," why do you think the dead priest appears in the story?

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The dead priest makes just two appearances in James Joyce's short story, "Araby ." The first appearance is in the second paragraph, where Joyce establishes the setting, specifically of the narrator's house. He explains that the former tenant of the house, "a priest, had died in the back...

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The dead priest makes just two appearances in James Joyce's short story, "Araby." The first appearance is in the second paragraph, where Joyce establishes the setting, specifically of the narrator's house. He explains that the former tenant of the house, "a priest, had died in the back drawing-room."

The death of the priest feeds into the morbid, desolate description of the house, and thus the rather sombre atmosphere of the story. The house is also described as "musty" and its garden "wild." The waste room in the house is "littered with old useless papers" and the garden is characterized by "a few straggling bushes" and a "rusty bicycle pump."

The second appearance of the priest occurs midway through the story, as the narrator returns to "the back drawing-room in which the priest had died." Here again the appearance of the priest serves primarily to feed into the sombre, morbid atmosphere of the story, which in turn reflects the mood of the narrator. At this same point in the story the narrator also describes "a dark rainy evening" and a silent house.

To understand more fully why Joyce uses the dead priest in the story, one must consider the collection, Dubliners, as a whole. Priests make lots of appearances throughout the collection, and they are usually either absent, aberrant or incompetent. In simple terms this is Joyce's criticism of Catholicism. Joyce was openly critical of Catholicism, in large part because he thought that, by demanding obedience and subjection, it deprived people of their individuality. I think Joyce also wanted to communicate, throughout Dubliners, an impression of Dublin as a place of spiritual torpor, oppressed beneath the weight of a rigid, stifling Catholic Church. Therefore, while the dead priest in "Araby" may seem a relatively incidental figure in isolation, he does nonetheless contribute to one of the overarching themes running throughout the collection of stories seen as a whole.

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We need to think of the way in which Joyce uses such details to paint a picture of the setting and to describe the kind of life of the narrator and of those around him. The story is set in Ireland, a strongly Catholic nation, and this is a central part of Irish identity. In particular, in this story, religion is something that seems to be associated with the general sense of drab reality and decay that surrounds our narrator. Consider how the priest is mentioned at the beginning of the story:

The former tenant of the house, a priest, had died in the back drawingroom. Air, musty from having been long enclosed, hung in all the rooms, and the waste room behind the kitchen was littered with old useless papers. 

Death, decay and drab reality seem to be the environment in which this young narrator grows up and seem to be the antitode to his own youthful raptures when he imagines himself to be in love with Mangan's sister. The mention of the dead priest therefore is symptomatic of the entire setting or urban Ireland and the impact that it has on the narrator. A very drab scene is described to us, and an essential part of this reality is Catholicism. 

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