How would you describe the boy's temperament and personality in "Araby"?

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The boy in James Joyce’s short story “Araby” is characterized in a number of ways, including the following:

  • He has a growing appreciation of feminine beauty, as when he says of Mangan’s sister

I stood by the railings looking at her. Her dress swung as she moved her body, and the soft rope of her hair tossed from side to side.

  • He becomes increasingly obsessed with Mangan’s sister, as when he reports that “Every morning I lay on the floor in the front parlour watching her door.”
  • He is a bit shy or embarrassed about his obsession, as when he notes that “The blind was pulled down to within an inch of the sash so that I could not be seen.”
  • He is emotionally stimulated by Mangan’s sister, as when he reports that “When she came out on the doorstep my heart leaped.” She becomes the focus of his life.
  • He feels awkward and self-judgmental when contemplating his feelings about Mangan’s sister, as when he characterizes himself as “foolish.”
  • He thinks and feels like a Romantic with a capital “R”:

Her name sprang to my lips at moments in strange prayers and praises which I myself did not understand. My eyes were often full of tears (I could not tell why) and at times a flood from my heart seemed to pour itself out into my bosom.

  • He actually begins to worship the girl, at least metaphorically, as when he refers to his “adoration” of her.
  • He implies his physical excitement as he thinks about her, saying that

my body was like a harp and her words and gestures were like fingers running upon the wires.

  • His romanticism grows increasingly intense as the story develops, as when he notes that

All my senses seemed to desire to veil themselves and, feeling that I was about to slip from them, I pressed the palms of my hands together until they trembled, murmuring: 'O love! O love!' many times.

  • He is obviously highly imaginative and sensitive; unlike some boys his age, he expresses no merely crude or simply physical desires.
  • Nevertheless, he becomes increasingly appreciative of her physical beauty, as when he says,

The light from the lamp opposite our door caught the white curve of her neck, lit up her hair that rested there and, falling, lit up the hand upon the railing. It fell over one side of her dress and caught the white border of a petticoat, just visible as she stood at ease.

  • As the story develops, he becomes increasingly impatient, increasingly obsessed, and increasingly frustrated. Everything else in his life, except his desire to please the girl, seems unsatisfactory to him, including his schoolwork.
  • He again shows his imaginative, Romantic nature when he contemplates the bazaar and even its exotic name.
  • He is not rebellious.  He asks for permission to attend the bazaar, and he waits – however impatiently – for his uncle to return before he boards the train.  Of course, he needs money from his uncle, but a different kind of boy might have raised the money in some other way (such as by selling something not belonging to him, by selling one of his own possessions, or by theft). Thus, the boy is not so Romantic that he is willfully disobedient.
  • He thinks of himself as increasingly mature (although this is not an especially accurate self-assessment).
  • He is determined, deliberate, and single-minded in his attitude toward going to the bazaar.
  • He is frustrated once he gets there and cannot afford a present, and he is harsh in his judgment of himself.
  • He is angry and bitter as the story concludes.
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How is the boy in James Joyce's short story "Araby" characterized?

The boy in James Joyce’s short story “Araby” is characterized in a number of different ways, including the following:

  • He grows up in relatively poor and unpromising circumstances, but he does not seem especially bitter, angry, or self-pitying about those circumstances themselves. Whatever harsh judgments he makes are judgments he usually directs at himself.
  • He seems as imaginative as an adult as he was as a boy, as when he uses personification to describe how the

other houses of the street, conscious of decent lives within them, gazed at one another with brown imperturbable faces.

  • He seems unconventional, as when he notes that he liked a particular book because its pages were yellow.  Another kind of boy might have had entirely different, and entirely predictable, kinds of reasons for liking a particular book.
  • He seems capable of appreciating ethical behavior, as in his praise of the “very charitable priest.”
  • He is observant, as when he notes that

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.

  • He seems capable of appreciating beauty and the finer touches of life, as when he mentions

the dark odorous stables where a coachman smoothed and combed the horse or shook music from the buckled harness.

  • He has a vivid sense of his social surroundings, as in his description of going shopping with his aunt on Saturday evenings.
  • He is Romantic, imaginative, and appreciative of feminine beauty in his attitudes toward Mangan’s sister.
  • He is, perhaps, the object not only of self-mockery, when he calls himself a fool, but of mockery by the narrator, who is the more mature version of the boy. This seems especially true when the older narrator reports that the boy murmured “'O love! O love!' many times.”
  • He is respectful toward his elders, as when he notes that he “asked for leave [from his aunt] to go to the bazaar on Saturday night.”
  • He is apparently a good student, since his schoolmaster begins to fear that the boy may be “beginning to idle” (emphasis added).
  • He is sensitive to others’ treatment of him, as when he describes how his uncle answered him “curtly.”
  • He is subject to irritation, especially if he is impatient. Yet he is imaginative enough to battle his impatience by singing to himself.
  • Although he feels impatient, he is patient enough to wait, without complaining, for his uncle’s return.
  • He is apparently trustworthy enough that his aunt and uncle are willing to let him go out after nightfall by train and by himself to a different part of the city.
  • He knows how to use the train system, suggesting again his relative maturity.
  • He is capable of judging himself harshly, as the final sentences of the story illustrate:

Gazing up into the darkness I saw myself as a creature driven and derided by vanity; and my eyes burned with anguish and anger.

All in all, the boy is characterized in ways that invite the reader's sympathy and empathy.  Most readers will be able to recall similar periods in their own lives, and most readers may feel that the boy is finally too hard on himself, since his romantic dreams were in many ways noble and since his final disillusionment is part of the process of growing up and coming to terms with the often disappointing realities of life. We are more likely to smile at the boy than to condemn him harshly, as he condemns himself.

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