Saturday, September 4, 2010

Short Story Saturday: A New Feature in which we read Araby

Welcome to Short Story Saturday!
Short stories are often neglected in favor of the novel but short stories can be just as fun, interesting and challenging as their longer counterpart. Whether you already love short stories, have never read one before or fall somewhere in between, I hope you will consider joining me each weekend to read and explore these literary  nuggets!

Today’s short story is “Araby,” a classic by James Joyce. The full text can be read for free here. But before we delve into the text let’s consider just what a short story is.

What is a Short Story?
    The jury is still but here are some generalizations:
    The Short Story…
•    Can be read in one sitting; is more than 500 but less than 20,000 words long
•    Often captures a moment – much like a photograph
•    Is traditionally fiction
•    Reveals character and conflict quickly
•    Requires careful diction (word choice) because there’s limited space to get meaning across
•    Generally has a single focus (whereas a novel may have several)
•    Often ends with a revelation or epiphany

A Brief History of the Short Story

    Anecdotes –> Parables –> Fables (like Aesop’s) –> Tales (including fairy tales) –> Short Stories!

Questions to Think About When Reading a Short Story:
•    What is left off the page, what is implied/ unresolved?
•    What are possible outcomes, what might happen if the story continued?
•    Is there allegory, symbol, epiphany?

If you haven’t already, go ahead and read through “Araby.” It’s very short and shouldn’t take you more than 10 minutes. My approach to “Araby” is more of an analysis so I’ll assume you’ve read it or, in other words, expect spoilers.

As you may know, “Araby” is part of a collection called Dubliners (1914) in which Joyce attempts to reveal the average life of the Irish. Joyce is the master of epiphany – a moment in which a character has a revelation or illumination. His aim is to portray the Irish middle class as realistically as he can. Joyce is also a writer from the Modern Period (1914-1945 or WWI-WWII).  For more info on the Modern Period in English and American literature check out this Wikipedia page.

By the way, this analysis was part of a paper I wrote so don’t steal my ideas! 

Typical of a short story, there is a lot going on. Joyce does a lot of contrasting. Did you find any symbols or contrasting elements? What about that apple tree in the garden? The dead priest? The rusty bicycle pump?

There are several romantic elements contrasted with anti-romantic elements.

Romantic elements:
•    Exploration   
•    Watching the girl through the blinds
•    Imagining she was with him
•    Girl as a Virgin Mary image (remember when she’s lit up from behind?) that the boy exalts and worships
•    High expectations for the bazaar

Anti-Romantic Elements:
•    Drunken men at the market
•    Cheapening of the bazaar – counting money is a trivialization of love, silly flirtation between the salesgirl and boys
•    Bicycle pump is rusted and disused (an impotent phallic image associated with the priest?)
•    Air is musty, ashy and cold
•    Girl as a sex object

The place, people and pervading mood in Joyce’s “Araby” do not appear conducive to happiness or hope. Yet the adolescent protagonist clings to these emotions despite the stark realities of life around him. He thinks he is untouched by the gloom that abounds and that he is somehow not subject to the elements surrounding his life.

The opposite sex and romance is a mystery to him. He forms his notion of romance from his observations of a friend’s sister. He takes notice of the way she moves her body and watches her dress swing. He follows her from a distance, almost like a stalker. He received no encouragement in his infatuation but he makes himself believe he has found love. He mistakes his infatuation for the girl as something sacred which he is protecting and using to strengthen himself. The boy pushes aside all calls to reality in order to maintain his delusion of romance.

He sets off for Araby, the bazaar, full of expectation and desire. He has built up the bazaar as he built up his infatuation for the girl – both a figment of his imagination. The bazaar does not satisfy his expectations because the show is over and nothing is left but the architecture. He sees how arbitrary and meaningless it really is. He hears the vendors speaking with English accents and realizes he doesn’t belong. He is Irish and poor.

He sees how he deceived himself even though everything around him was ordinary, unmagical and even ugly. He says, “Gazing up into the darkness I saw myself as a creature driven and derided by vanity; and my eyes burned with anguish and anger” (41). He realizes the absurdity of his infatuation with the girl and the bazaar. He becomes disillusioned and realizes he saw what he wanted to see when his picture of romance could not function in reality. He couldn’t force his illusion to work outside his home where he could not control the environment. Hopes and dreams do not always actualize and reality must be dealt with. The boy is angered at himself for being so vain as to think his hope alone could change his world. It is a painful but also maturing experience.

So, what did you think of the story? Did you like it, did it strike a chord? Was it too dark? Does it end well? Did you want to cry, laugh? Is there hope in this story?

I feel something different almost every time I read “Araby.” Sometimes I feel bad for the boy because he’s poor. Other times I can’t get over how silly he was about the girl. Sometimes I can feel Joyce’s disillusionment with the Catholic faith and at other times I just think the religious symbols are convenient. I also love how Joyce personifies the houses! I think he may be the first to give houses “faces.” Anyone know differently?  At first, I used to think the story was very dark. But the last line always makes me smile. Don’t we all have similar moments when we feel the fool?

Well, this was a heavy post and probably not something to expect from every Short Story Saturday. I’ll try to choose at least a couple stories each month that are available for free online so you can read with me if you want. Happy Reading!


  1. I've read Araby several times... for two different classes. I love it!

  2. Great feature, Chelle! Araby is such a beautiful story. What I love about stories is that you can reread them over and over, going deeper every time. I've just started a feature about stories called: The Story on Thursdays! Great minds think alike!

  3. Brilliant posting, Chelle! I also feature and plug short stories and the joys of reading short story fiction on my blog. I have been spending time this summer with Thomas Hardy's short stories, which are nothing short of amazing (read "The Fiddler of the Reels"). Another of my favorite short story authors is Edith Wharton (one of my faves is "Roman Fever"). Thanks for the great posting! Cheers! Chris

  4. Nice post, thanks for directing me to it!

  5. Great post-I think I will read this story next week and link back to your wonderful post-have you posted on "The Dead"?