Sunday, May 17, 2009

Paralysis and Epiphany in “Araby” and “Eveline” by James Joyce

The story “Araby” illustrates the love and affection that the narrator, a young boy, has for his friend’s sister. The story is set in North Dublin Street, in which the narrator describes to be blind, dark, cold, quiet and many other descriptions that imply the environment of a solemn and depressed street. The young boy, narrator, is reminded of a former priest that once lived in the neighborhood, at the blind end of the street. The boy informs the reader that the priest has died, symbolizing the death of faith, community and hope. Faith and community is also described to be lost as the boy describes the street to be quiet, dark and blind, and he also describes the neighbors to have brown vacant faces. The boy describes his friends, family, neighborhood and school to be blunt, boring, and unimportant. Basically, he is unhappy with his life as he sees everything around him to be annoying. There is however one significant person in his life as he sees her to be different from the world. The narrator illustrates love and affection towards Mangan’s Sister, as he calls her, during the first moment she is introduced. Up to this point, the entire setting has been described using dark, shadow, muddy and other dull descriptions, but the moment that Mangan’s sister is introduced, the narrator uses the word light. It appears as though he idolizes her, or sees her as a goddess as he describes her to be soft and her body figure to be outlined by light. It is evident that Mangan’s sister is very important to the boy because she is the only person to be described in a positive, loving, significant manner, which gives the impression that the boy has love and affection for her. The boy struggles as he battles with himself whether he should talk to her or not, but always come to conclusion that he’ll never be able to talk to her. The boy would then return to the priest’s house, believing that his problems and struggles could be resolved in the house of a divined person. The priest’s house symbolizes the boy’s last remaining hope for courage and strength to talk to Mangan’s sister. On one unexpected morning, Mangan’s sister asks the boy if he is planning to go to Araby, a Dublin bazaar. The boy, shocked, offers to buy her a gift from the bazaar because she is unable to go due to a previous commitment to her school’s retreat. The boy then becomes impatient and irritated as he waits for Saturday, a day set for his uncle to give him money. The days become tedious and frustrating as what he once saw as dull now becomes a nuisance, only there to make the wait for Saturday more unbearable. The always late uncle, to no surprise, arrived late and angered the boy for having him wait. The boy arrived at the bazaar ten minutes before closing, and lingered around the shop. The boy was not sure what to buy. He walks in the middle of the bazaar as the lights go out; there he reaches a state of paralysis. He begins to feel a sense of loneliness, uselessness and hopelessness as he eventually reaches an epiphany. He once idolized the Mangan’s sister because she represented change, hope and a new life, away from the depressing, existing lifestyle. Sadly, when the lights go out, the boy realizes that Mangan’s sister will most likely fail to add meaning to his life, as his desire for her was only a desire for change. The boy’s epiphany helps him realize that he will never be able to escape his life of solitude, boredom and depression. The boy’s realization of hopelessness refers back to the priest’s house, the death of faith and hope which he ignored by using his false affection for Mangan’s sister to revive the all lost hope for change. The neighborhood that the boy lived in is reassured and proven to be inevitably forever in his life the instant the lights go out in the bazaar, triggering his realization of never being able to escape his imprisoned fate of solitude and depression.

Similarly is the story of a girl trying to escape her life of servitude and depression in “Eveline.” The girl, Eveline, lives a depressed life of serving her abusive father. She faces a tough decision of whether to stay with her father, living a sad life of solitude or leave her hometown, Dublin. When she hears the sound of the street organ, she is reminded of her deceased mother, to whom she promised to maintain the household. The girl is then approached by a sailor who offers to take her away, to live a happy life in the islands of Buenos Aires. The girl then begins to consider leaving, and so reaches a decision to follow trough with her plan, and agrees to leave with the sailor. She then writes letters of farewell to both her brother and father and remembers fond memories of when the family was whole. When the day had come to finally embark, she began to have second thoughts as she appeared detached and worried; praying for God for direction she struggled on a final decision. The boat’s whistle blows and she reaches a state of fear and paralysis. She finally reaches a decision and sadly decides not to go, as she struggles to break free and clutched the iron railings, before reaching the boat. The sailor is swept by the massive crowd as he calls to her. The girl reaches an epiphany that she cannot escape her life of servitude, her life of maintain the household; a promise that she made to her mother. As she realizes this, she feels lonely and depressed because she knows that her life will for ever be the life of maintaining her house. Similar to Araby’s death of the priest and withering of his house represents the loss and absence of hope, Eveline’s death of the mother symbolizes the loss of hope. Also Mangan’s sister in Araby, and Frank the sailor in Eveline, both represented a false hope for change and a happy life; both were believed to represent change and hope because the characters wished for change and therefore blinded by the truth. It wasn’t until they reached an epiphany that they realized that these people were false hope and that they will forever live their life of solitude and depression. As both of them experienced an epiphany, Joyce describes them in non-human expressions. The boy in Araby is described as a creature driven and derided by vanity, and the girl in Eveline as a helpless animal; ending both stories with different emotions told in their eyes.


  1. I feel as if you're summarizing a bit too much. Brief summaries with a bit more analysis would make your responses.

    This is in response to your question that you posted earlier:

    "When you read to the epiphany parts of these two stories do you think that the person is experiencing a positive or negative feeling afterwards? When I think of epiphany, I think of a revelation that opens you mind and help you "make the right decision." Consequently, making the person happier but the characters in Joyce's stories does not seem to be happier after their epiphany."

    Personally, I feel as if revelations are no different from double-edged swords. As the cliche goes, "Ignorance is bliss."

    Revelations can be a sudden thought that emerges in your mind, but that doesn't mean that you'll like it and that doesn't mean that it'll be correct. According to the short stories we've read in class, revelations lead to disappointment largely because Joyce is leaning more towards of how people are bound to their "nationality, language, and religion." Generally, however, I feel that epiphanies are only held in high regard because they arise when we are in a state of paralysis and thinking critically about an issue. Other than that, to me, they're just like any other thoughts that we can have. In addition, we can even have conflicting epiphanies, or thoughts, as demonstrated in "Eveline." At the end of the day, however, all thoughts and revelations originate from within us. Thus, it is simply a matter of what we choose to think, realize, and do that makes all the difference. For example, Eveline who realizes that she has an obligation to her family so she stays. Does staying make her happier? Or would she be happier if she left? Either way, we do not know. We only know that, according to a story, she turns away from an opportunity to be happy simply because of a realization that she "should" stay. A part of me though, feels as if it wouldn't matter. If she leaves, even if she obtains happiness, her guilt would follow her. But by staying, she will most likely spend the rest of her life wondering, "What if I left"?

  2. Also, my apologies to all that grammatical errors and not proofreading it before posting it.

    Brief summaries with a bit more analysis would make your responses [stronger].

    According to the short stories we've read in class, revelations lead to disappointment largely because Joyce is leaning more towards [...] how people are bound to their "nationality, language, and religion."

    Generally, however, I feel that epiphanies are only held in high regard because they arise [after] we [were] in a state of paralysis and [have thought] critically about an issue.

    For example, Eveline [...] realizes that she has an obligation to her family so she stays.