Loss of Innocence in Araby
In her story, "Araby," James Joyce concentrates on character rather than on plot to reveal the ironies inherent in self-deception. On one level "Araby" is a story of initiation, of a boy’s quest for the ideal. The quest ends in failure but results in an inner awareness and a first step into manhood. On another level the story consists of a grown man's remembered experience, for the story is told in retrospect by a man who looks back to a particular moment of intense meaning and insight. As such, the boy's experience is not restricted to youth's encounter with first love. Rather, it is a portrayal of a continuing problem all through life: the incompatibility of the ideal, of the dream as one wishes it to be, with the bleakness of reality. This double focus-the boy who first experiences, and the man who has not forgotten-provides for the dramatic rendering of a story of first love told by a narrator who, with his wider, adult vision, can employ the sophisticated use of irony and symbolic imagery necessary to reveal the story's meaning.
The boy's character is indirectly suggested in the opening scenes of the story. He has grown up in the backwash of a dying city. Symbolic images show him to be an individual who is sensitive to the fact that his city's vitality has ebbed and left a residue of empty piety, the faintest echoes of romance, and only symbolic memories of an active concern for God and fellow men. Although the young boy cannot apprehend it intellectually, he feels that the street, the town, and Ireland itself have become ingrown, self-satisfied, and unimaginative. It is a
world of spiritual stagnation, and as a result, the boy's outlook is severely limited. He is ignorant and therefore innocent. Lonely, imaginative, and isolated, he lacks the understanding necessary for evaluation and perspective. He is at first as blind as his world, but Joyce prepares us for his eventual perceptive awakening by tempering his blindness with an unconscious rejection of the spiritual stagnation of his world.
The boy's manner of thought is also made clear in the opening scenes. Religion controls the lives of the inhabitants of North Richmond Street, but it is a dying religion and receives only lip service. The boy, however, entering the new experience of first love, finds his vocabulary within the experiences of his religious training and the romantic novels he has read. The result is an idealistic and confused interpretation of love based on quasireligious terms and the...