One of the central issues in James Joyce’s “Araby” is growing up. The narrator, who is a grown man who uses mature language to describe his youthful experience, reflects back on his experience with the Araby market, providing small insights from an adult perspective. The fact that the story is told from an adult perspective indicates that the story is about growing up: the narrator is reflecting back on a formative time during his childhood.
The protagonist’s development is reflected in his relationships with his friends. As the protagonist becomes consumed by his infatuation with Mangan’s sister, he loses interest in playing with his friends as well as in school. Suddenly, the things that used to matter to him now seem less important, and he even begins to feel superior to his friends, deeming his everyday life, which now seems to stand in between him and his crush, “ugly monotonous child’s play.” He also begins to spend less time with his friends and to observe them from an outsider’s perspective. On the night of the Araby market, he watches them from the front window: “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.” The glass both literally and metaphorically separates the narrator from his friends as they play in the street.
The narrator’s coming of age also becomes apparent through changes in his interactions with authority figures, in this case his aunt, uncle, and teacher. He begins to develop a more defiant personality, and grows annoyed when his aunt and uncle do not take his requests seriously. The night of the Araby market the narrator refuses to smile at his uncle’s jokes in an act of subtle rebellion. He also notices that his uncle is drunk when he comes home that night, suggesting that he is no longer entirely an innocent, and can understand aspects of the adult world. His changing relationship with his teacher also shows that he is no longer afraid of disappointing figures of authority. He observes his master becoming stern with him, and yet he still is not able to take his studies seriously. The protagonist becomes slightly more rebellious as the story progresses, which shows that he is learning to think independently of the adults around him, a key factor in his coming of age.
In a typical coming of age story, the protagonist experiences pivotal events that lead him or her toward adulthood. These events are usually trying (such as experiencing war, loss, love, rape, or economic hardship) but lead to a satisfying realization or epiphany. In Araby, Joyce shows that the protagonist is growing up through his discovery of his sexuality, his sudden distance from his friends, and his increasingly rebellious attitude, however the protagonist’s new knowledge and maturity bring him discontent instead of fulfillment. At the end of the story, the protagonist is left with nothing: he fails to buy something to impress Mangan’s sister and he is now alienated from his friends and has lost interest in his studies. Though he was hoping to escape from his mundane life, he realizes that escape might be more difficult than. The protagonist’s gained knowledge and experience, then, offer not satisfaction but instead a loss of innocence. And in this loss of innocence, the narrator becomes aware both of his previous naïveté and his religious condition as a flawed “creature.” Through the narrator’s experience, the story suggests more broadly that coming-of-age, while inevitable for every person, is not so much something to be looked forward to but rather a kind of tragedy: that the knowledge gained is of a dark and difficult sort, and not necessarily worth the innocence lost.
Coming of Age ThemeTracker
Coming of Age Quotes in 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 neighbors in a square ground.
I watched my master’s face pass from amiability to sternness; he hoped I was not beginning to idle. … 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.
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.
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…
Gazing up into the darkness I saw myself as a creature driven and derided by vanity; and my eyes burned with anguish and anger.