What are the impressionistic images in "Araby" by James Joyce?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In his exposition to "Araby," James Joyce plays with light and shadow and color in his description of the boy's neighborhood:

When the short days of winter came dushk gell before we had well eaten our dinners.  When we met in the street the houses had grown sombre.  The space of sky above us was the colour of ever-changing violet and towards it the lamps of the street lifted their feeble lanterns.  The cold air stung us and we played till our bodies glowed.  Our shouts echoed in the silent street. The career of our play brought us through the dark muddy lanes behind the houses where we ran the gantlet of the rough tribes from the cottages, to the back doors of the dark dripping gardens where odours arose from the ashpits, to the dark odorous stables where a coachman smoothed and combed the horse of shook music from the buckled harness....

In his/her mind, the reader feels and hears and sees sounds and shadows of the dreary, petty existence of the boy and his neighbors through running, impressionistic description created by Joyce's use of imagery with no punctuation to slow it down.

Later, as the boy romantically imagines himself carrying "the chalice," the Holy Grail "through a throng of foes" to his fair maiden, more impressions are created.  The reader can "see" him jostled by drunken men in the flaring streets, hear the cursing of laborers, the street-singers chanting as his body is "like a harp and her words and gestures were like fingers running upon the wires." 

Joyce's use of light/dark imagery is present in his description of one dark, rainy evening on which the boy goes into the badk room where the priest had died.  With "incessant needles of rain [that] impinge upon the earth" he presses his palms together like Romeo and utters, "O love! O love!"  However, his romantic inclinations are shattered when the girl, wearing a silver bracelet--indicating the mundacity of the reality of the situation--tells him she cannot go the the bazaar.  Thus, the dark, shadowy images have foreshadowed the boy's disappointment; later, he continues to look at "the dark house," seeing nothing but the "brown-clad figure cast by [his] imagination."  All the brief reflections of light and beauty have been ephemeral and the reader is left with the sombre overlay of feeling in the boy as he gazes "up into the darkness" with eyes burning from "anguish and anger."