Jun 27, 2014

My Eyes Burned With Anguish: The Joycean Epiphany by Thomas Tomas

James Joyce knows how to write a short story. In “Araby” the narrator tells a story of himself as a young man developing his sexual awareness and social role as an adult. The story concludes with the young man experiencing, in the form of a literary epiphany, what he considers to be an insight into the essential meaning of his infatuation with Mangan’s sister. The narrator states that he “saw [him]self as a creature driven and derided by vanity” thus ending his idealized, heroic, pseudo-religious conquest for her love. I believe that the narrator recounting his story tries to integrate his current ideology concerning lust with his boyhood daydreaming. The diction used by the narrator shows a conscious effort to highlight the foolishness of his infatuation. He states that Mangan’s sister’s name was “like a summons to all my foolish blood”, and the narrator criticizes himself for thinking “little of the future”. After telling Mangan’s sister that he would bring an item back from the Araby the narrator states, “what innumerable follies laid waste my waking and sleeping thoughts”.

The young man’s epiphany, which strengthens his general negative attitude to his own unrestrained sexual and romantic urges and desire for the exploration of life’s possibilities (which was realized in part, albeit unpleasantly, by going to the Araby), was influenced by both his family and his education at the Christian Brothers’ School. Upon simply entering the Araby the young man experiences anguish brought about from his Catholic upbringing as he sees “two men . . . counting money on a salver”. This brings to the young man’s mind Matthew 21, “[Jesus] said to them, ‘my house will be called a house of prayer, but you are making it a den of robbers’”. The very act of exploring different social paradigms has been predeterminately condemned by the young man through his social and cultural upbringing. The young man’s abandonment of love is consistent with his social environment, as there is no appreciation of love and sex by the adult figures. In addition, the young man occupies a space that once belonged to a Catholic priest, a position that requires a vow of celibacy. The narrator may say that he was foolish but the anguish and anger he experiences is a result of the hopelessness he feels in his social situation. Joyce employs an unreliable narrator who mistakes the true reasons why he gave up his quest for Mangan’s sister. The narrator internalizes the ideals instilled upon him, and during his epiphany believes them to be his own thoughts. The inauthentically internalized morality of his society restricts the young man's emotional freedom. The epiphany experienced in the end is an epiphany in the true sense of the word: a divine manifestation; furthermore, a divine manifestation of the religious ideology.

This epiphany is a religious manifestation. The passage into adult hood for a young man of lower-middle class in Dublin at the time was not a pleasant passage. The young man attempts to go to the Araby but arrives when it is closing down. This could be interpreted as the end of the fun playfulness of childhood, when the children would “play till [their] bodies glowed”, into the serious and loveless world of adult life. The narrator unfortunately defends the sexual and exploratory repression that he experienced as a youth.

Thomas Tomas
Sexually deprived in Kelowna, BC
May 2014

Read the story online at http://fiction.eserver.org/short/araby.html

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