Student Question

In "Araby" by James Joyce, how do the setting and theme reinforce each other?

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This story can be described as being about the death of the imagination as one boy discovers the extent to which the imagination can make the most drab of settings magical and mysterious, and then experiences what happens when imagination vanishes and he is left with the crushing force of reality.

Perhaps the way in which setting and theme are most closely seen working together is through the description of the bazaar that the narrator finally reaches at the end of the story. Note the way in which, before he starts his journey, his imagination had painted an exotic and romantic picture of this bazaar as he imagines himself as completing a romantic quest for his lady-in-waiting:

The syllables of the word Araby were called to me through the silence in which my soul luxuriated and cast an Eastern enchantment over me.

The market itself becomes a powerful symbol of the speaker's imagination as he builds it up to be an Aladdin's cave of magic and mystery. However, when he makes his way there, the banal reality of the bazaar cannot be ignored:

I found myself in a big hall girdled at half its height by a gallery. Nearly all the stalls were closed and the greater part of the hall was in darkness. I recognised a silence like that which pervades a church after a service.

Instead of the golden enchantment he was expecting, the bazaar is actually characterised by darkness, silence and and an almost ominous feeling. It is this banal reality of the setting that results in the epiphany that the boy experiences, which makes him realise that he is a "creature driven and derided by vanity." Theme and setting link together to produce this conclusion.

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In "Araby" by James Joyce, how can I relate the theme to the settings?

In this excellent short story we can explicitly relate the setting to the theme, which is based around the epiphany that the narrator experiences at the end of the tale. Let us remember that the whole story is built on the rather grandiose way in which the narrator sees himself, Mangan's sister and her request for him to buy her something from the bazaar. This is something that he transforms into an incredible knight's quest in his imagination, and he has a rude awakening when he reaches the bazaar and realises how foolish he has been. Consider how the bazaar itself is described and how different it is from the place of eastern enchantment that the narrator imagines:

I found myself in a big hall girdled at half its height by a gallery. Nearly all the stalls were closed and the greater part of the hall was in darkness. I recognised a silence like that which pervades a church after a service.

The irony in this quote is obvioius. The bazaar is actually dark, silent and ominous, which exemplifies the huge gap between the boy's dreams and expectations and the reality that faces him. It is therefore extremely fitting that this is where he experiences his epiphany and realises how romantic and illusory his dreams had been.

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Use James Joyce’s “Araby” to illustrate how setting reveals theme.

When discussing the connection between setting and theme (and the ways in which setting can illustrate theme), it might be useful to think about this question in terms of a story's mood. After all, the choice of setting, along with the details through which it is presented, can be very effective in casting a certain atmosphere.

In the case of "Araby," then, it might be useful to ask: What is the mood produced by Joyce's depiction of Dublin and, later, in Joyce's depiction of the bazaar? Note here that Joyce presents a world shaped by poverty, lived in the shadow of industrialization. To this, add Joyce's depiction of the bazaar itself: with the boy arriving late at night, just as it is shutting down.

The result of these authorial decisions is to lend the story a certain oppressive bleakness that remains present throughout. But here, it would also be worth asking: To what degree is the story's protagonist himself aware of the bleakness of his life (and if he isn't, what qualities allow him to sidestep or ignore it)? Careful rumination about these questions should reveal much about the story's core themes.

Thus mood, setting, and theme are very closely tied together in shaping the architecture of a story. Every decision an author makes tends to be important, and in Joyce's case, these details are not by accident.

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