Irish Orientalism in the Story "Araby" By James Joyce
Stories are not mere words; they are our window in the past and way of conceptualizing what the world looked in a different time, under different conditions, and more importantly how the human experiences back then shaped the society. “Araby” by James Joyce is one such story which transports us to the nineteenth century’s Dublin and using the coming an age story of an adolescent boy, it presents a well-crafted narrative of the way Dublin looked towards Orient in nineteenth century to locate its identity. Joyce does not overtly make a statement about the Irish Orientalism, but the use of Eastern dictions, reference to the Araby bazaar, and other orientalist metaphorical imageries, ‘Araby’ reveals a lot more about the nineteenth century’s Dublin.
As the nineteenth century was nearing its end, a lot of Irish nationalists looked for a way to escape from the clutches of English colonialism. This quest to shape an identity different from colonizers led them to use Orientalism as to establish a deeper connection with Orientals and create a distance between colonizers and themselves. In Araby, the most predominant way of establishing that is the diction. The use of terms Araby and bazaar is central to the idea of story. The word Araby is used to project a romanticized idea of riches and wealth where it is all good. Joyce describes this exotic feeling associated with the words as Eastern enchantment, “The syllables of the word Araby were called to me through the silence in which my soul luxuriated and cast an Eastern enchantment over me”.
The second way James Joyce constructs his narrative of Irish Orientalism is by using the Araby bazaar as the backdrop of story. Defined as a ‘Splendid’ place by the Mangan’s sister, it is established as a place where it’s all good and happy, a stark contrast from the bleak darkness which has engulfed the Dublin’s streets. The concept of Araby bazaar is rooted in real life charity bazaar ‘Grand Oriental Fête’. This travelling bazaar was an escapist fantasy of Irish nationalists who had romanticized ideas about the Orient. It used to be a very popular source of entertainment. The whole idea was so stereotypically rooted in the Orientalism. The most overt way this shows is the way women were treated in these bazaars. The demonization of working women as merchandise to entertain the buyers was the most wicked feature of these bazaars. It is implied that the woman to whom boys goes in the bazaar was flirting with two men. And so, the author shows the sinister side of Irish Orientalism. The other way he shows is when Mangan’s parents do not allow their daughter to go to this ‘depraved’ Araby bazaar. The attempt to associate the inhumane treatment of women as something Eastern is Orientalism in its purest form.
While Araby Bazaar is represented in the beginning as a romantic place where dreams come true, by the end of story, Joyce establishes that it is nothing but a depraved place. The boy comes full circle. By not buying anything from the salesgirl which he has seen flirting and thus, considers a sexual deviant, he is rejecting the notion of finding identity in Irish Orientalism.
Araby is a story of dead-ends. It starts in the gloomy streets of Dublin, promises a place of happiness in the form of bazaar, only to revert to the same gloominess that engulfed the life initially. On the face of it, it’s just a teenager having his first experience of love, but deep down when we look the story, it reflects a lot more about the society. It critiques the human nature of looking towards others to establish one’s own identity.
- Joyce, James. “Araby. ” Literary Cavalcade, vol. 52, no. 6, Mar. 2000, p. 21. EBSCOhost, ezproxy. macewan. ca/login?url=http://search. ebscohost. com/login. aspx?direct=true&db=lfh&AN=2813357&site=ehost-live&scope=site.