Recently, in my English class, we were instructed to read a short story called "Araby." Usually, I would find this to be a tedious task that couldn’t possible fit into my busy schedule. However, this remarkable piece by the European author James Joyce was captivating and well worth the read. The story centers around the idea that as people, we live in a world revolved around money and transactions. Even love, and the process of obtaining love, is defined by expense and material items. In this exquisite story, Joyce takes us through two realms of fantasy and reality. Through this we are shown how a young boy filled with dreams can be dragged down by a materialistic and result-oriented society, becoming just like those around him.
It is usually expected for children to be joyful and imaginative. For our unnamed protagonist that is nothing less than true. This young boy of about 13 years is seen as remarkably unique compared to those around him. To the audience, it looks as if his entire existence in this story is centered around, in his mind, a magical idea. Our young protagonist is in love with his friend’s older sister. He watches her from a distance full of hope that she will someday love him back. She is his idea. Some readers view his love and admiration for this girl as creepy and stalker-like. Personally, I find it to be sweet and poetic.
Now, the entire plot of this story takes a turn away from the fantasy and towards reality when one small little thing is brought into play: money. We all know about flea markets. They come for a short period of time and if you look just hard enough you can pick out the most amazing treasures. For our characters, that miraculous place is the Bazaar. But no matter how wonderful a place such as that can be it is always shadowed by finance and transactions. Sadly, in this story so is love. Our bright, young protagonist makes his first step towards reality when he decides to attempt to impress his desired sweetheart through the means of purchasing her a material item from the Bazaar market place.
From this point on, everything begins to change for this young boy as his world becomes less and less fantastic and more and more real. At first, it’s just the little things: he refuses to play football with his friends. He sees himself as more of a man now, as if he is above them. Sitting though school becomes extremely strenuous for him. He can hardly think of anything besides the girl and winning her love through some amazing gift. The entire task seems to consume him and every part of his life.
On the day that he finally goes to the Bazaar, he sets off with a small amount of money that his given to him by his impoverished uncle. In order to get where he desires to go he has to take a train that goes through a fairly rough area. On the ride, he is forced to deal with bargaining women, or in other words prostitutes. The trip is long and difficult and by the time he gets to the Bazaar he only has two shillings left. It cost one shilling to simply just enter the Bazaar. As soon as he gets into the market, with one shilling in his hand, he realizes that he has completely forgotten why he came there in the first place.
If you think about it, the shilling is a low value coin, somewhat similar to the U.S. penny. Our poor, young protagonist walked into the Bazaar with one shilling and absolutely no possible means of being able to purchase anything close to grand. The market closes and he has bought nothing. In his eyes he is defeated and his dream of the girl is over. Through this it is implied that the failure to purchase a gift for her is equivalent to the failure of getting her to love him.
In the end, our protagonist is left empty-handed and angry. Where he began the story in a fantasy, he now ends it in the reality, viewing everything as black and white, just like all of those around him. He is just like everyone else. Life and his experiences beat the joy out of him. Here we see elements of Marxism coming into play. The idea suggested is that when you live in a supposedly free society, when you fall it is entirely your own fault. Joyce gave us a character in poverty where his lack of wealth can’t possibly be his fault. However, he completely believes that his financial state is his fault.
In this short story Joyce gives us a reflection on our state as a society when it comes to money and transactions. We view luxury items and trinkets of value as the driving force when it comes to relationships and social affairs. In other words, we see money as the driving force of our whole society. We are result-oriented people and we care little for excuses. In this case the result desired is love. In order to obtain that love our protagonist needs a gift. To get the gift he needs money. Since he is poor and has little money, which he spends almost entirely on trying to get to the Bazaar, he fails. He views his poverty as his fault rather than his excuse.
I found this story to be remarkable and exceptionally well written. Joyce provides us with a heartbreaking story mixed with eloquent rhetoric and diction to display his point. He shows us how society can lead to not only a loss of fantasy and dreams, but also a loss of innocence. He has a dream, he goes to achieve it, he can’t buy an expensive gift, and then his dream is over.