Wandering Blindly: The Idea of “Araby”
Darkness and light are everywhere, and one cannot exist without the other. However, a combination of the two creates shadows in which a world can be altered into a form of dusk, twilight. It is in this shadowy light that a person may find themselves wandering blindly, much like the character in the short story of “Araby” written by James Joyce where a boy is, in a sense, blind throughout the story until he sees truth. In his short story, “Araby,” Joyce uses a combination of diction, imagery, and light/darkness to create the motif of blindness that conveys the narrator’s experience and journey toward enlightenment.
To begin, the diction in Joyce’s “Araby” brings forth a very present idea of blindness. He begins with “North Richmond Street, being blind” as an unusual description of a street, and he goes on to say “An uninhabited house of two storeys stood at the blind end” (Joyce 1223). Immediately an idea of being blind is established, and though it is curious why a street is being described as blind, it can be deduced that perhaps the street (or more the inhabitants of it) are blind to the outside world as well. As for the house standing at the blind end, it is detached from the rest of the neighborhood and blind to the neighbors. “The other houses, conscious of the decent lives within them, gazed at one another with brown imperturbable faces” (1223). To be conscious, one must have sight in some sort of way and be able to perceive some of the world around. These houses are also aware of their inhabitants and gaze at one another indicating that they are not blind in contrast to their detached, blind neighbor. However, these other houses are described as “brown,” which is a muddy, blind color. These first few moments in “Araby” immediately establish the concept of blindness that remains prevalent throughout the rest of the story.
The imagery in Joyce’s “Araby” is a fantastic combination of light and darkness that creates a dim and shadowy environment which also contributes to the concept of blindness. On page 1224, the narrator describes the state of appearance of the neighborhood “when the short days of winter came” and “when dusk fell” earlier in the day. Dusk is a shadowy time of day, a confusing in-between of light and darkness that can be disorienting if not sometimes blinding, and winter is a dark season where daylight lacks primary presence. It is also mentioned on page 1224 that the sky was “the colour of ever-changing violet,” adding to the imagery of the setting by creating a world of half-light and making it perhaps difficult to see, resulting in a contribution to blindness. Along with the sky and season, there are also “dark muddy lanes,” “dark dripping gardens,” and even “dark odorous stables” (1224). It is clear that darkness is dominant in the world of the narrator from these descriptions, and a world of darkness would yield a difficulty to see. This contributes to the concept of blindness as well because an inability to see is an attribute of blindness. Also, the narrator expressed that he “hid in the shadow” when his uncle came home and also watched Mangan’s sister from a shadow as well (1224). Not only is the setting and environment a dark, shadowy color of blindness, but the narrator also seems to embrace this shadowy world as well to the extent that he hides in it. Instead of seeking out the light, the narrator recedes into the shadows where it is difficult to see, causing him to be blind to reality and also to himself. The dim imagery and the darkness of the setting undoubtedly contribute to the idea that it may be difficult to “see,” thus adding to the motif of blindness.
The thoughts and feelings that are expressed by the narrator also contribute to the concept of blindness in the story. On page 1225 the narrator freely admits “I thought little of the future.” When a person is either blind or in darkness, it is difficult to see very far ahead of himself, especially into the future. The narrator could be so blind to the extent that he literally is not capable of seeing anything that might lay before him because of the vast darkness that shrouds him and because of his blindness. Even on a “dark rainy evening,” the narrator says “I was thankful I could see so little” (1225). This is rather striking in the fact that not only is the narrator blind in his ignorance and desire, but he is content and even thankful that he is blind to reality. Like previously mentioned, the narrator almost deliberately chooses to hide in the shadows and in a blinding darkness, yet he is blind about what this does to him. The narrator also admits “I could not call my wandering thoughts together” (1225). Perhaps the reason the narrator cannot control his wandering thoughts is because he may be blind in the shadows and darkness he chooses to hide in, and in this blindness, the narrator wanders in a confused disorientation. These thoughts that are expressed by the narrator indicate that he is somewhat lost or even blind to the world around him and is unable to find his way – he remains in the shadows, blind.
A contributor to the concept of blindness is Mangan’s unnamed sister. Her being unnamed alone fuels the idea that the narrator is blind to his childish desire for her. In fact, the narrator’s name is undisclosed as well which perhaps furthers the idea that the narrator is blind to even his own self, behaviors, and his own blindness. Not only that, but this is blinding to even the reader because these characters’ identities are hidden behind a curtain of darkness. Mangan’s sister is only scarcely described as a “brown figure” on page 1224, and again on page 1226 when the narrator stares at the “dark house where she lived” and sees nothing but the “brown-clad figure cast by his imagination.” Brown is, again, a murky and blind color that makes the girl seem mysterious, and the narrator is enchanted by this mystery to possibly the point of a dazed disorientation. In this disorientation it is difficult to see truth and reality, so through Mangan’s mysterious and unnamed sister, it is revealed that the narrator is blind in his desire for her.
At the end of the story, the narrator is left in the dark in a literal blindness that forces him to finally “see” himself and reality for what they really are. “Gazing up into the darkness I saw myself as a creature driven and derided by vanity; and my eyes burned with anguish and anger” (1227). In his failed attempt to attain a trinket at the bazaar to “win” the love of Mangan’s sister, the narrator is awakened from his disoriented daze, his blindness. The darkness blinds the narrator in a fresh way causing his eyes to burn, and it is in this blackness – this new sort of blindness – that he is finally able to reflect upon himself and reach an awareness of reality. This enlightenment allows him to see how blind he truly was regarding his behavior and desperate desires, and in shame his eyes burn with this realization of the reality of his shadowy world.
Throughout the plot as a whole, the narrator seems to wander further and further into a shadowy blindness in a futile attempt to win the heart of Mangan’s sister. He is so driven in his blindness that it begins to appear to be obsessive in nature, but the author is unaware of this at the time because he is so driven by his desires, and he is so blind to reality in his youth. However, through this journey of wandering in a dazed blindness in a darkened world of desire, the narrator finally achieves enlightenment when he is truly left in the darkness of the Araby bazaar. In this darkness, he realizes how futile and essentially pathetic his attempt was to impress Mangan’s sister, and he sees himself and reality as it truly is. In the continuation of the motif of blindness throughout the story, the author has ingeniously constructed the journey of a boy who, once figuratively blind, is enlightened when he finally realizes and sees the truth.
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