James Joyce

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Araby Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on James Joyce's Araby. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of James Joyce

James Joyce grew up in Rathgar, a suburb of Dublin, and studied at University College, where he began to publish literary reviews, poems, and plays. After college, he moved to Paris where he briefly studied medicine. In 1903, just one year later, Joyce’s mother got sick and he moved back to Dublin to take care of her. After meeting his wife, the couple left Dublin and lived in a variety of countries including Yugoslavia and Italy, and later fled to Zurich during World War I. He only returned to Dublin four times, but many of his works remain heavily focused on the city, and on Ireland more generally. Joyce received guidance from the poet Ezra Pound, who helped him publish his first novel, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, in 1916, two years after the publication of Dubliners, his first book, which was a collection of 15 short stories, including “Araby.” These books brought Joyce some fame as a Modernist writer, a fame that only increased after the publication of Ulysses (1922), which upon publication was hailed as both a masterpiece and banned in numerous countries for indecency. Joyce continued writing after Ulysses, produce the even more avant garde Finnegans Wake in 1939. Joyce was always a heavy drinker, and he died in 1941 from complications after having surgery on a perforated ulcer.
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Historical Context of Araby

“Araby,” and all of the stories in Dubliners, take place in the early 20th century, a period notable in Ireland for the rise of Irish Nationalism. At the time, Ireland was under the control of Great Britain and the Nationalist movement, also known as Irish Republicanism in its more radical form, rejected British control in favor of Irish independence. Ultimately, the conflict led to fighting between the Irish and the English, and then an increasingly bloody civil war within Ireland. The period also saw tensions between various institutions that were difficult for citizens to reconcile. For instance, though the majority of Irish nationalists were Catholic, the movement was not supported by the Catholic Church, which did not agree with the use of force and often violent methods employed by more radical members of the nationalists. Joyce includes several references to these political conditions in Ireland in “Araby,” the most obvious being Donovan O’Rossa, or Jeremiah O’Donovan, a Fenian Revolutionary and Member of Parliament who ended up serving a life sentence for felony-treason, and became a martyr of sorts for the Nationalist movement. The Nationalist movement often relied on songs sung in the streets or in pubs, such as the “come-all-you” mentioned in “Araby,” in order to spread their message. Even as nationalism led to violence and war, nationalism and the desire for independence from Great Britain also drove a resurgence of Irish pride that inspired a cultural and linguistic revival, of which Joyce’s work was one example (even as Joyce’s work explores the complicated aspects of being Irish during this time).

Other Books Related to Araby

“Araby” is a story in Dubliners, Joyce’s first published collection of short stories that portrays the middle-class in early 20th Century Dublin. The collection contains 15 stories, of which “Araby” is the third. Together the various stories and characters represent multiple aspects of Irish and Dublin society. The stories are also all marked by epiphanies, in which a character experiences a profound realization about life or themselves. Many of the characters are also featured in Joyce’s later work, Ulysses. Joyce also includes several literary references in “Araby” that could have potentially influenced the work. The character of Mangan is thought to be a reference to the nineteenth century Irish Romantic poet, James Clarence Mangan, who often wrote about unrequited love. Though no specific work by Mangan is mentioned in the text, Joyce presented a paper at the Literary and Historical Society at University College and his choice to include “Mangan” as one of the only names in the text is likely an intentional choice meant to draw a parallel between Mangan’s work and Joyce’s own. In the story Joyce also mentions three texts left behind by the former tenant of the narrator’s house, the priest: The Abbott by Walter Scott is a novel that idealizes Mary, Queen of Scotts, and this is most likely included to parallel the narrator’s idealization of Mangan’s sister, The Devout Communicant could refer to any of several works but most likely serves the purpose of highlighting the strong influence of religion on the narrator. And, finally, The Memoirs of Vidocq is the memoir of a former criminal turned detective, notable for its sensationalist style.
Key Facts about Araby
  • Full Title: Araby
  • When Written: 1904-1906
  • Where Written: Possibly Trieste, Italy or what is now Pula, Croatia (Joyce moved around a lot during this period of his life).
  • When Published: 1914
  • Literary Period: Modernist Period
  • Genre: Short Fiction
  • Setting: Dublin, Ireland
  • Climax: The narrator tries to impress his crush but fails and is confronted with the realization of his own vanity and the disappointment inherent in growing up
  • Antagonist: the dull streets of Dublin
  • Point of View: First-person

Extra Credit for Araby

Semi-autobiographical? Some critics speculate that the reason Joyce never gives the narrator in “Araby” a name is because it is actually a semi-autobiographical work. Although Joyce did not live with his aunt and uncle, his father had a drinking problem that drove their family into debt and Joyce himself actually attended the Christian Brothers’ School on North Richmond Street in 1883.

Struggle with censorship. Joyce actually had a tough time publishing many of his works, most notably his novel Ulysses, as they were considered quite radical for the time. Joyce was criticized for including descriptions of masturbation and for defaming English royalty, among other things. Ulysses was published for the first time in Paris in 1922, but both the U.S. and England banned the work. In 1934, the case finally made it to the U.S. courts, where it was declared that the book was not pornographic. In 1936, Britain also lifted the ban.