Examine how religious impulses help create the boy’s epiphany in James Joyce’s “Araby”?

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coachingcorner's profile pic

coachingcorner | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Senior Educator

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In the short story "Araby" from the "Dubliners" collection by James Joyce, another religious theme is the journey of the Magi and the bearing of gifts. In the Roman Catholic church service, The Mass, part of the central middle order of service is an offertory procession where bread and wine are borne forward to the altar for the priest to sanctify. The boy in the story talks of he himself bearing a chalice. That is a reference to the goblet of wine. But in the boy's case, it is all his hopes and dreams of love in the future, of wanting to do well , of being anxious to please, of a gift for the girl, are in there. He wishes to bring a gift to his beloved, but he has put her high on a pedestal - and his epiphany is in realizing that about her and religion.

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mstultz72 | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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The main theme of Dubliners, as a whole, is that Joyce found Dublin as a moral dunghill.  The story uses imagery related to blindness, instead of religious vision.  Just look at the first full paragraph:

NORTH RICHMOND STREET being blind, was a quiet street except at the hour when the Christian Brothers' School set the boys free. An uninhabited house of two storeys stood at the blind end, detached from its neighbours in a square ground The other houses of the street, conscious of decent lives within them, gazed at one another with brown imperturbable faces.

And then later, when looking out at Meghan's sister:

Every morning I lay on the floor in the front parlour watching her door. The blind was pulled down to within an inch of the sash so that I could not be seen.

The narrator sees himself on a religious quest.  He says, "“I imagined that I bore my chalice safely through a throng of foes.”  It ends in anguish and darkness.  According to the Enotes editor:

At the beginning of the story, the narrator sees himself as a religious hero and sees Mangan's sister as the living embodiment of the Virgin Mary. He has not yet learned how to separate the religious teachings of his school with the reality of his secular life. Part of his understanding at the end of the story involves his finally separating those two aspects of his life. He realizes that the church-sponsored bazaar is just a place to buy trinkets, that Mangan's sister is just a girl, and that he himself is just a boy. It is not clear at the end of the story what impact the narrator's epiphany will have on his religious beliefs. Joyce's own disillusionment with Catholicism, however, lends credence to the possibility of the boy adopting a cynical attitude toward his religion.

jk180's profile pic

James Kelley | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator

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You may want to start by rereading the story carefully, looking for all references to religion. I have read the story multiple times, but it's been a while since my last reading, so you'll need to check to see if I'm correct.... but I believe that religion is largely an oppressive force in the story. The community is deeply concerned with respectability, perhaps even with repression of the awakening sexual longings of the young people in the story. That may not be the direction you'd want to go in your essay, of course, but it's a possibility.

You may also want to look up the word "epiphany" and really get a good sense of what it means. Understand how James Joyce uses the term, of course, but also explore the earlier, religious meaning of the word.

I hope that these comments help you get started!

If you're really stuck, just start typing out the phrases and sentences in Joyce's story that have some relation to religion and start freewriting a little on each. I do use this strategy a lot, and often the results can be amazingly good.

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