Araby

North Richmond Street, being blind, was a quiet street except at the hour when the Christian Brothers’ School set the boys free. An uninhabited house of two storeys stood at the blind end, detached from its neighbours in a square ground. The other houses of the street, conscious of decent lives within them, gazed at one another with brown imperturbable faces.

The former tenant of our house, a priest, had died in the back drawing-room. Air, musty from having been long enclosed, hung in all the rooms, and the waste room behind the kitchen was littered with old useless papers. Among these I found a few paper-covered books, the pages of which were curled and damp: The Abbot, by Walter Scott, The Devout Communicant, and The Memoirs of Vidocq. I liked the last best because its leaves were yellow. The wild garden behind the house contained a central apple-tree and a few straggling bushes, under one of which I found the late tenant’s rusty bicycle-pump. He had been a very charitable priest; in his will he had left all his money to institutions and the furniture of his house to his sister.

When the short days of winter came, dusk fell before we had well eaten our dinners. When we met in the street the houses had grown sombre. 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. Our shouts echoed in the silent street. The career of our play brought us through the dark muddy lanes behind the houses, where we ran the gauntlet of the rough tribes from the cottages, to the back doors of the dark dripping gardens where odours arose from the ashpits, to the dark odorous stables where a coachman smoothed and combed the horse or shook music from the buckled harness. When we returned to the street, light from the kitchen windows had filled the areas. If my uncle was seen turning the corner, we hid in the shadow until we had seen him safely housed. Or if Mangan’s sister came out on the doorstep to call her brother in to his tea, we watched her from our shadow peer up and down the street. We waited to see whether she would remain or go in and, if she remained, we left our shadow and walked up to Mangan’s steps resignedly. She was waiting for us, her figure defined by the light from the half-opened door. Her brother always teased her before he obeyed, and 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.

Every morning I lay on the floor in the front parlour watching her door. The blind was pulled down to within an inch of the sash so that I could not be seen. When she came out on the doorstep my heart leaped. I ran to the hall, seized my books and followed her. I kept her brown figure always in my eye and, when we came near the point at which our ways diverged, I quickened my pace and passed her. This happened morning after morning. I had never spoken to her, except for a few casual words, and yet her name was like a summons to all my foolish blood.

Her image accompanied me even in places the most hostile to romance. On Saturday evenings when my aunt went marketing I had to go to carry some of the parcels. We walked through the flaring streets, jostled by drunken men and bargaining women, amid the curses of labourers, the shrill litanies of shop-boys who stood on guard by the barrels of pigs’ cheeks, the nasal chanting of street-singers, who sang a come-all-you about O’Donovan Rossa, or a ballad about the troubles in our native land. These noises converged in a single sensation of life for me: I imagined that I bore my chalice safely through a throng of foes. 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. I thought little of the future. I did not know whether I would ever speak to her or not or, if I spoke to her, how I could tell her of my confused adoration. But my body was like a harp and her words and gestures were like fingers running upon the wires.

One evening I went into the back drawing-room in which the priest had died. It was a dark rainy evening and there was no sound in the house. Through one of the broken panes I heard the rain impinge upon the earth, the fine incessant needles of water playing in the sodden beds. Some distant lamp or lighted window gleamed below me. I was thankful that I could see so little. 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.

At last she spoke to me. When she addressed the first words to me I was so confused that I did not know what to answer. She asked me was I going to Araby. I forgot whether I answered yes or no. It would be a splendid bazaar; she said she would love to go.

‘And why can’t you?’ I asked.

While she spoke she turned a silver bracelet round and round her wrist. She could not go, she said, because there would be a retreat that week in her convent. Her brother and two other boys were fighting for their caps, and I was alone at the railings. She held one of the spikes, bowing her head towards me. 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.

‘It’s well for you,’ she said.

‘If I go,’ I said, ‘I will bring you something.’

What innumerable follies laid waste my waking and sleeping thoughts after that evening! I wished to annihilate the tedious intervening days. I chafed against the work of school. At night in my bedroom and by day in the classroom her image came between me and the page I strove to read. 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. I asked for leave to go to the bazaar on Saturday night. My aunt was surprised, and hoped it was not some Freemason affair. I answered few questions in class. I watched my master’s face pass from amiability to sternness; he hoped I was not beginning to idle. I could not call my wandering thoughts together. I had hardly any patience with the serious work of life which, now that it stood between me and my desire, seemed to me child’s play, ugly monotonous child’s play.

On Saturday morning I reminded my uncle that I wished to go to the bazaar in the evening. He was fussing at the hallstand, looking for the hat-brush, and answered me curtly:

‘Yes, boy, I know.’

As he was in the hall I could not go into the front parlour and lie at the window. I felt the house in bad humour and walked slowly towards the school. The air was pitilessly raw and already my heart misgave me.

When I came home to dinner my uncle had not yet been home. Still it was early. I sat staring at the clock for some time and, when its ticking began to irritate me, I left the room. I mounted the staircase and gained the upper part of the house. The high, cold, empty, gloomy rooms liberated me and I went from room to room singing. From the front window I saw my companions playing below in the street. Their cries reached me weakened and indistinct and, leaning my forehead against the cool glass, I looked over at the dark house where she lived. I may have stood there for an hour, seeing nothing but the brown-clad figure cast by my imagination, touched discreetly by the lamplight at the curved neck, at the hand upon the railings and at the border below the dress.

When I came downstairs again I found Mrs Mercer sitting at the fire. She was an old, garrulous woman, a pawnbroker’s widow, who collected used stamps for some pious purpose. I had to endure the gossip of the tea-table. The meal was prolonged beyond an hour and still my uncle did not come. Mrs Mercer stood up to go: she was sorry she couldn’t wait any longer, but it was after eight o’clock and she did not like to be out late, as the night air was bad for her. When she had gone I began to walk up and down the room, clenching my fists. My aunt said:

‘I’m afraid you may put off your bazaar for this night of Our Lord.’

At nine o’clock I heard my uncle’s latchkey in the hall door. I heard him talking to himself and heard the hallstand rocking when it had received the weight of his overcoat. I could interpret these signs. When he was midway through his dinner I asked him to give me the money to go to the bazaar. He had forgotten.

‘The people are in bed and after their first sleep now,’ he said.

I did not smile. My aunt said to him energetically:

‘Can’t you give him the money and let him go? You’ve kept him late enough as it is.’

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 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.

I held a florin tightly in my hand as I strode down Buckingham Street towards the station. The sight of the streets thronged with buyers and glaring with gas recalled to me the purpose of my journey. I took my seat in a third-class carriage of a deserted train. After an intolerable delay the train moved out of the station slowly. It crept onward among ruinous houses and over the twinkling river. At Westland Row Station a crowd of people pressed to the carriage doors; but the porters moved them back, saying that it was a special train for the bazaar. I remained alone in the bare carriage. In a few minutes the train drew up beside an improvised wooden platform. I passed out on to the road and saw by the lighted dial of a clock that it was ten minutes to ten. In front of me was a large building which displayed the magical name.

I could not find any sixpenny entrance and, fearing that the bazaar would be closed, I passed in quickly through a turnstile, handing a shilling to a weary-looking man. I found myself in a big hall girded at half its height by a gallery. Nearly all the stalls were closed and the greater part of the hall was in darkness. I recognized a silence like that which pervades a church after a service. I walked into the centre of the bazaar timidly. A few people were gathered about the stalls which were still open. Before a curtain, over which the words Café Chantant were written in coloured lamps, two men were counting money on a salver. I listened to the fall of the coins.

Remembering with difficulty why I had come, I went over to one of the stalls and examined porcelain vases and flowered tea-sets. At the door of the stall a young lady was talking and laughing with two young gentlemen. I remarked their English accents and listened vaguely to their conversation.

‘O, I never said such a thing!’

‘O, but you did!’

‘O, but I didn’t!’

‘Didn’t she say that?’

‘Yes. I heard her.’

‘O, there’s a… fib!’

Observing me, the young lady came over and asked me did I wish to buy anything. The tone of her voice was not encouraging; she seemed to have spoken to me out of a sense of duty. I looked humbly at the great jars that stood like eastern guards at either side of the dark entrance to the stall and murmured:

‘No, thank you.’

The young lady changed the position of one of the vases and went back to the two young men. They began to talk of the same subject. Once or twice the young lady glanced at me over her shoulder.

I lingered before her stall, though I knew my stay was useless, to make my interest in her wares seem the more real. Then I turned away slowly and walked down the middle of the bazaar. I allowed the two pennies to fall against the sixpence in my pocket. I heard a voice call from one end of the gallery that the light was out. The upper part of the hall was now completely dark.

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

Notes
blind – a dead end street

The Abbot, The Devout Communicant, The Memoirs of Vidocq – respectively, a popular historical romance by Sir Walter Scott, a Roman Catholic religious manual, and the memoirs of the chief of the french detective force

Mangan – the surname of the Irish poet James Clarence Mangan, who was much admired by James Joyce.

litanies – prayers consisting of supplications by the Christian clergy and fixed responses by the congregation; from the medieval Latin word letania, meaning “entreaty”

come-all-you about O’Donovan Rossa – a topical song that began “Come all you gallant Irishmen…” about the popular Irish leader Jeremiah O’Donovan(1831-1915), who was jailed by the British for inciting rebellion

the troubles – the long standing conflict in Northern Ireland between the Irish Catholics and the Irish Protestants; the latter are supported by the British armed forces

chalice – the cup in which the wine of the Christian Eucharist is consecrated; from the latin word calix, meaning “cup”

Freemason – a Protestant fraternal organization that is unpopular with Irish Catholics

The Arab’s Farewell to His Steed – a popular sentimental poem by Caroline Norton

salver – a tray for serving food or beverages; from the Spanish salver, meaning “to save” or alliteratively “to taste food to detect poison”

STJ School Forum : Discussion of Specific Authors : James Joyce : Araby

Araby in Discussion of Specific Authors : James Joyce Topic: Araby Message: Q. Is this a story about hope or despair?A. Despair, because there is a boy that is deeply in love with this girl, in which he has hardly talked to. He thinks of the girl like a chalice. He wants to be with her, so he ends up going on a quest hoping to bring her back something so she will fall in love with him. He ends up waiting 2 hours for his uncle to come home, because he forgot. By the time he gets to the bazar most of the booths are closed. He looks around and sees nothing that is good enough to give to his love, and decides to not buy anything. He pretends to look interested and stays by the booth, meanwhile reality checks in with him. Even if he got the girl something, she probably would still not be interested in him. Also that the world does not care about his love and it won't help him through the journey of love. The short story starts off in the dark then as the girl is introduced the story brightens up but as the boy starts to realize reality, it goes back to the darkness.

Araby in Discussion of Specific Authors : James Joyce Topic: Araby Message: Q. Is this a story about hope or despair?A. The start of this story leads us to believe it will be a story of hope. You start out with a classic love story but the feeling turn into despair rather quickly. The boy goes by the girl everyday hoping she will notice him and when she doesn't he keeps on going anyway. But we the readers know that his hope will in time turn to despair. By the end of the story the boy realizes that there is no hope for him to find the gift he is looking for and fully descends into despair.

Araby in Discussion of Specific Authors : James Joyce Topic: Araby Message: Find evidence in Araby that people are unhappy with where they are. Why don't they leave? What confines them?When the boy is late for the bazaar, and it is basically closed for the night, he wonders around a stall of vases. Even though he knows in is own mind, he pretends to be interested in the items. He doesn't leave because he wants to get something for the girl that he promised her that he would get. "I lingered before her stall, though I knew my stay was useless, to make my interest in her wares seem the more real."Is Araby a story of hope or despair?Araby is mostly about despair. There are quite a few scenes that are captured in the dark.The only time there is any hope in the story, is when the boy sees and talks to the girl. The story starts out in dark allies and ends in just outside the bazaar at night time.

Araby in Discussion of Specific Authors : James Joyce Topic: Araby Message: Is Araby a story of hope or despair? Araby is a story of despair. The darkness seems to be everything in his life except for her. Everything is described with darkness. In the end, he's late for the bazaar, doesn't have much money, and doesn't even buy the items, he said he would. Yet in the end he is to blame because he fell into the trap, the trap of his own vanities. He has grown up a lot due to despair. --- Find evidence in Araby that people are unhappy with where they are. Neighbours are detached, curses of labourers, jostled by drunken men. People don't have strong enough will to change. Misery is something that some people can live with and revel in. If you have practice in can make it easier.

Araby in Discussion of Specific Authors : James Joyce Topic: Araby Message: Q. Is Araby a story of hope or despair?A. This story is a story of despair. When our character was following his chalice to school, it most definitely started as a hope, that one day she would notice him or even make small talk. However, despite our character continuing this every day, every week she still doesn’t notice him and the hope fades and deep in the young boy’s heart he realizes that in despair. Certainly by staring at Mangan’s house the young boy tried to find some flicker of hope but again despair has the last word. And at the end of the story our character realizes too that hope is lost and he has just been acting like an animal in despair. ______________________________________________________________________________Q. Do you think isolation or peer pressure is the worst problem for the characters in Araby?A. Isolation is the biggest problem. By being isolated with one another, the people in Araby must just rely on themselves for everything. If they need a favour or help to get a job done they can ask family and that’s pretty much it. By being isolated they are missing out on the many joys that others can bring into their lives. Japan for example was isolated for the longest time and certainly it did well by itself. But when Europeans and Chinese and other countries found it it could do so much more than it could before their coming. Now when you look at Japan and everything it does for the entire world, them being found and no longer being isolated brought so much for the whole of the people. ______________________________________________________________________________Q. Do you ever get annoyed at how people make their own problem worse with their bad decisions? A. I find if a person continues to make poor decisions over and over again it starts to grind my gears. However I find most people eventually learn from their mistakes and thus don’t make the bad decision in the future. I know I make some bad decisions in my own life and when I stop and think about them (some worse than others) I really do get annoyed with myself. But hindsight is 20/20.

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Mr. D. Sader

George Spelvin, Irving C. Saltzberg, Walter Plinge, “Rocket 88”, and Alan Smithee are among my closest friends.

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