How do the physical conditions where the narrator lives influence or develop his character?

Expert Answers
caledon eNotes educator| Certified Educator

James Joyce's Araby is collected in "Dubliners", a series of short stories that describe life in Dublin according to the experiences and perspectives of inhabitants at various stages of life. Araby takes place in near-teenage adolescence, with the narrator transitioning from a boy to a more worldy young man.

The narrator lives on North Richmond Street, which is described as a silent and somber place. The houses "gazed at one another with brown imperturbable faces" and are often quiet, dark, and marked only by the occasional lamp or kitchen light. The narrator's own home was previously inhabited by a priest, who died there, and the stillness of his old age and death still permeates the house.

All of this stands in stark contrast to the youthful vigor of the narrator and his friends. This develops their character by providing a means of comparison, and a means of tying the overall narrative of "Dubliners" together; different ages and places in life mixing together, flowing into one another. The boys and their youthfulness exist largely in spite of the dull "maturity" of the street and houses. This adds depth to the meaning of this scene and its place in the narrative; will the boys escape this vision of adulthood, or become a part of it? Is this a sign of their past, or their future? Are they simply too young to understand why things are this way? We might also question ourselves, as to whether we are reading the same meaning into the depiction as the boys are; do we agree that somber and silent houses are intimidating and unfriendly?

By the end of the story, the narrator has lost some of his youthfulness and innocence; perhaps this is the beginning of his transition to being a part of that silent, brooding backdrop. "I saw myself as a creature driven and derided by vanity -" vanity that is contrasted by the dull and uninspiring nature of North Richmond. Note that there are few descriptions of adults out and about on North Richmond - perhaps a reflection of their own lack of life and optimism. However the narrator's loss of optimism didn't come from North Richmond, but from the bazaar - implying that the street itself was not necessarily a cause, but a reflection of its inhabitants.