The characters in "Araby" represent the “hollow people” of a failed life. What word games and descriptions substantiate Joyce’s point?

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iandavidclark3 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

It's true that James Joyce's "Araby" explores the lives of people who could be considered "hollow." One of the descriptions that most exemplifies this idea comes later on in the story, when the nameless narrator meets his uncle as he comes home (the following quote is taken from eNotes's excellent online version of the text):

My uncle said he was very sorry he had forgotten. He said he believed in the old saying: "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy." He asked me where I was going and, when I had told him a second time he asked me did I know The Arab's Farewell to his Steed. When I left the kitchen he was about to recite the opening lines of the piece to my aunt.

This description implies that the uncle, who has returned home late, has been at the pub and is slightly drunk, as his actions suggest a certain unsteadiness and fuzziness. Additionally, the phrase "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy" can be seen as something of a word game, as it is essentially a cliche that playfully disguises the irresponsibility of the uncle's behavior. All in all, the description above suggests that the uncle cares more for drinking at the pub than he does for honoring his commitment to return home and give his nephew money for the bazaar. By extension, the description suggests that the uncle cares more for drinking than the human relationships in his life. As such, we can see the quote above as a prime example of how Joyce describes the lives of "hollow" people.