Discuss how Joyce reinforces theme and characterization with the elements of darkness that he uses throughout the story. 

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Darkness casts a pall over the life of The Dubliners, and in "Araby" it creates a bleakness in the lives of the characters, offering them no escape from their drab and closed lives; thus, it symbolizes the trapped, dull, and stultifying lives in the characterization of Irish Catholics who live in Dublin, as well as suggesting the theme of disillusionment.

Inspired by Norwegian dramatist Henrik Ibsen, James Joyce responded to the "defiant realism" of Ibsen's vision, believing that "out of the dreary sameness of existence, a measure of dramatic life may be drawn." Truly, this is what Joyce does in his story, "Araby." The boy lives on a street that has a blind end, a lost past with an uninhabited house and the few remaining possessions of the deceased priest who has lived in the boy's home. He plays on "dark muddy lanes" that lie in the back of houses where "dark dripping gardens" lie and "dark odorous stables" hold the horses groomed by a coachman.

From within his house, the boy lies on the floor and looks under the blinds that are pulled down, and catches a glimpse of Mangan's sister "defined by the light of the half-opened door." From this perspective, his young desire is stimulated as he watches the girl swing her body and the "soft rope of her hair." She becomes for him a beatific vision much like the paintings of the Madonna, and he worships her. For, on Saturday evenings when he accompanies his aunt to market, as he lifts the box of groceries, he imagines himself a knight who seeks the grail:"I bore my chalice safely through a throng of foes," he declares in his excited state.

But, when he finally talks with her about Araby and the bazaar, she says that she cannot go because she is attending a religious retreat, all the while turning silver bracelets on her arm, reminding the boy of the mundane and material. Still, the boy notices that the light from a lamp on the other side of where they stand shines on the curve of her neck as he promises to bring her something if he goes to the bazaar. 

Finally, the day of the bazaar arrives, although the boy must wait for his uncle to return before he can depart on the train. When the uncle returns later than usual because he has been to a tavern, he jokes with the boy and finally relinquishes some florins. But, it is after nine when the boy takes a lonely train in the dark. This departure at such a late time is meaningful as the boy travels from the deluded hope of youthfulness to the disappointment and disillusionment of reality and maturity. His arrival at the bazaar places the sacredness of his imaginary love and romantic visions against the incongruity of the secular reality as the merchants count their money and the shop girls engage in trivial chatter.  

So, the boy's evening journey to a bazaar marks the end of his childish fantasy. Disillusioned, the boy gazes into the darkness, perceiving the foolishness of his quest. He feels like

a creature driven and derided by vanity; and my eyes burned with anguish and anger.

Indeed, with "defiant realism" Joyce brings his story to its conclusion as Mangan's sister is no longer "shrouded in mystery," but is just there in his neighborhood. Restricted by his own vain desires, the boy realizes his vanity and his eyes burn from his sense of loss and his foolish self-deception. From the darkness of his disillusionment, now the young man can see in the light that he has been childishly deluded.