Teenage Love And The Loss Of Innocence In Araby By James Joyce

July 21, 2021 by Essay Writer

Do love make one lose their innocence? ‘Araby’, a short story written by James Joyce, explored this question. The story portrayed a teenage boy’s first encounter with love, and discovered the bleakness of reality through the loss of his innocence. The boy was no doubt curious and tempted to pursue his ideal of love and romance. He started to develop affection towards his friend’s sister, whose images conquered his mind. What he once deemed important (studying, playing with friends), had been subsidised by his love interest. Yet, at the end of the story, he was left with nothing but experience which made him discontent, rather than joyful. He not only did not win over the woman he loved, he had also lost his innocence and naiveness during the process. Through the narrator’s experience, the story ‘Araby’ argues that love can indeed cause the loss of innocence, and can also be a source of confusion, pain and envy.

Many readers can agree that experiencing love for the first time can be an exciting yet confusing process. When the boy first started feeling likings toward the girl, he described the feeling as. ‘All my senses seemed to desire to veil themselves and, feeling that I was about to slip from them, I pressed the palms of my hands together until they trembled, murmuring: ‘O love! O love!’ many times.’ However, the boy’s mind was preoccupied by her that he cannot even focus in his lessons. ‘At night in my bedroom and by day in the classroom her image came between me and the page I strove to read’. When his teacher addressed him his inactivity in class, the boy demonstrated that he wasn’t afraid of authorities by ignoring his teacher’s warnings. Even when the teacher reminded him to not idle in class, he still cannot concentrate on his school work. The boy became more rebellious throughout the story, which is a sign of loss of innocence and development of his own independent thinking.

Additionally, the narrator of the story shown his loss of innocence through love via his relationship with his friends. He was the first of his friend’s to love a girl, shown in the contrast of the narrator from the start of the story and the end. The story opened with him and his friend’s playing on the street, and ended also with his friends playing on the street, while he himself was in a dark room thinking about the girl. After he discovered his affection towards the girl, he began to isolate himself from them. He deemed everything that stood between him and his desire – including playing with friends – ‘Child’s play, ugly monotonous child’s play.’ He has also shown his distance from his friends, he was almost like an outsider towards the end of the story. ‘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.’ It is understandable that the boy will have difficulties making radical decisions when he was in the impulsive mind set of pursuing his romantic ideal. However, these decisions prove to be contributors to his regret, irritation and woe in the ending of the story.

It is important to realise that the narrator grew up under major religious limitations and ideologies. He attended a catholic school, his aunt and uncles – the people who raised him – are also catholics. When he asked his aunt whether he can go to the Araby, she ‘was surprised and hoped it was not some Freemason affair’. Despite living under a large amount of catholic influence, the girl he loved have successfully challenged his religious teachings. ‘I imagined that I bore my chalice safely through a throng of foes. Her name sprang to my lips at moments in strange prayers and praises which I myself did not understand’. This is another factor to his loss of innocence, when a newly presented information (his love towards this girl) challenges one’s original teachings and perspectives of life. This can cause one to be confused, and develop independent thinking; which, the narrator showed both traits in the story.

Yet, perhaps the most obvious clue of the narrator realising his loss of innocence is in the last sentence of the story. ‘Gazing up into the darkness I saw myself as a creature driven and derided by vanity; and my eyes burned with anguish and anger”. It is at this moment that the narrator of the story calmed down from his impulsive emotions towards the girl, and realised that he do not actually love her. It is easy for the reader to tell that in the whole story, the narrator only cared about how he can get this girl, and rarely considered her feelings towards him. We can tell that he does not even know much about the girl, as we see in this quote. ‘She could not go, she said, because there would be a retreat that week in her convent’. It is clear that the narrator at that time did not realise what it means. But the readers will notice that if she has her retreat at her convent, it means she will become a nun. If the reader picked up on this, it is obvious that he cannot possibly date this girl; not just because he don’t know her well or barely even talks to her, but she also wanted to become a nun, meaning she made a vow to God that she will not commit to a romantic relationship. This set up for the ending. He realised that he have indeed grown up; and that expectations of certain scenarios (in this case love), and the emotion put into these situations can lead to regret, disappointment, and feelings of let down. Even something as wonderful as love can provoke negative feelings in a person. After the initial impulsive mindset fades away, reality can woefully shatter one’s heart with the reveal of his or her true feelings.

There is no doubt that love is a powerful emotion that drives people to do certain things. Dr. Seuss once said, “You know you’re in love when you can’t fall asleep, because reality is finally better than your dreams.” For the narrator in James Joyce’s short story Araby, this was what literally happened. Perhaps it was his first exposure to these sets of emotions that drove him craving for the women, or perhaps she represented his core ideal of love and romance, and that’s what conquered his mind. But no matter which was the case, in the end, it can be said that the story “Araby” culminates with the narrator experiencing an epiphanic moment which resulted in realisation and maturation that ultimately shattered his innocence.

Work Cited

  1. Joyce, James. “Araby”. Ullyot Course Packet. Beijing, 2019. 45 – 50.


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