‘Araby’ by James Joyce

Adolescence

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…

The narrator of Joyce’s ‘Araby’ is neither named nor aged, but going from his preoccupations (caught somewhere between enjoying the company of his schoolboy friends and longing for the company of a local girl whose name “was like a summons to all my foolish blood”) I think it’s fair to say that adolescent hormones are starting to simmer. When the object of his affections finally deigns to actually speak to him (flirtatiously bemoaning the fact that she will not be able to attend the local Araby bazaar) the narrator is determined to go in her stead and bring her back a gift. And so the visit to the Araby becomes an idee fixe in his young mind: a quest to win the girl’s love and progress on to the next stage in his development. But, as we have already seen in Greene’s ‘The Basement Room’ and Plath’s ‘Superman and Paula Brown’s New Snowsuit’ the adult world is too vast and complex to accommodate the idealisations of non-adults. And when the narrator’s adolescent epiphany comes, it is crushing.

First published in Dubliners, Grant Richards Ltd, 1914. available now in numerous print editions and online at The Literature Network

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