The Dubliners Review; Araby By James Joyce

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I do quite a bit of research for these reviews to understand each and every theme and impression of imagery and allusion to cultural significance that I find myself going back and forth upon whether Joyce’s writing is actually any good or whether or not I’m just projecting a half decent narrative onto a skeleton with the meat rotting off it.

I know I’m quite mean to Joyce and I know that if you’re a fan of his you’ll inevitably roll your eyes at my seemingly ignorant comments, and I’m aware he’s dead so it’s highly unlikely (or impossible) that he’ll ever read my comments and consider them, analyze them and potentially learn from them to pursue  his works with more vigor in order to pursue his writing of a potentially decent book. But he’s gone now and I’m just beating the dead schizophrenic horse. But there’s a reason to why I’m so harsh to Joyce; he’s a dull fuck.

I’ve always been hearing how James Joyce is one of the best writers of the 20th Century and how he’s the best writer to ever come out of Ireland, and if that’s true then I must be illiterate cause all I’ve read of the Dubliners would prove otherwise. Hopefully his alleged masterpiece “Ulysses” will have me eating my own words, but I doubt it. I already know I’m going to hate “The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man” but that’s a rant for another day.

So far Joyce has promised breathtaking experiences but all I’ve faced is disappointment. Speaking of disappointment, let’s talk about Araby. Araby is the third story in The Dubliners and follows the same kind of structure as the first two. It’s an adult retrospective narration (its basically an adult talking about their youth in a first person perspective. Admittedly in these tales this leads to a lot of confusion to how old the boys actually are, adding another nail in the coffin) of a young pre-teen/late teenage boy with no name who is poorly developed, has misanthropic tendencies and is generally an unsympathetic cunt.

I’ve given some thought to whether or not these misanthropic tendencies are Joyce’s attempts at portraying teen angst but many of the adults in the book follow these same vices so I doubt it. Honestly I think it’s just Joyce projecting his own personality onto other characters. A common critique of John Green’s work is that most of his characters sound similar to him and his ideals and there’s a lack of diversity in opinion and thought but I haven’t read any of his books and I am a fan of Vlogbrothers and Crash Course so I’m a bit biased in his favor. I suppose a lack of diverse personalities could be a complaint about The Dubliners seeing as most of the main character’s seem to be introverted, lonely and almost always misanthropic cunts. Then again that could just be Dublin in general.

Our story follows this boy who’s somewhere between his pre-teens and his late teens. I don’t know, Joyce was too lazy to give him a fucking name so he didn’t even bother giving us an age either. His balls have definitely dropped though and that leads to him developing his first crush on a girl who’s identified solely as “Mangan’s sister” cause nothing humanizes a girl more than alluding her entire identity rests on her brother (who’s apparently a friend of our narrator). Really Joyce? You couldn’t be bothered to give her a name? You couldn’t even give her a ridiculously common and basic name like Siobhan or Caoimhe or Aoife? For christ sake it’s not as if he wouldn’t know her name. It’s not a secondary school of three thousand people where he only knows like ten people-it’s a shitty little urban road where everyone knows each other- for God’s sake it’s not even a stranger down at the stalls, it’s his friends sister! You couldn’t even be a lazy cunt and say “That’s Mangan’s sister…Mangy” Y’know what? Fuck it. We’re calling her Mangy from now on. At least I had the decency to give her a fucking name, Joyce.

Then again that could have been done on purpose because it alludes to some potential interpretations that I’ll talk about later but it doesn’t have any comedic value so fuck off.

Our nameless narrator describes his infatuation with this girl. He describes how he gets up and walks downstairs to the living room of his house (his house by the way could be the same house the weird priest in The Sisters lived in before he died but it’s only alluded to and never really confirmed) he describes how every morning he gets up and looks out the window of his house to see her come out her front door. How he then runs out the corridor and grabs his bag and rushes out the door, pacing himself carefully behind her before they reach the point they separate to which he brushes past her quietly.

Now I know this whole infatuation seems silly but I think if people are honest with themselves they can relate to it. Even me, though I imagine most of you seem to think I wasn’t really born or raised in this country for eighteen years but rather I emerged fully grown from the corpse of a beached whale where I proceeded to moan in the agony of my existence whist I crawled, slowly but surely into a ditch where I hoped to die but unfortunately grew to thrive in…but no I too was once a dumb fuck (arguably still am) who did dumb things cause he fancied someone.

I’m not going to proceed in detail because believe it or not I do value some level of privacy. It also involves venturing into my past for memories and seeing as how my past is essentially a dismal pool of grey degeneracy with something weird lurking at the bottom, it’s not a surprise that I don’t really like swimming in it.

This kind of infatuation at this age really isn’t a surprise. I mean most boy-bands are powered by hormonal teenage girls mainly because they find them pretty and cute and ever so nice. I’d say the majority of successful You Tubers have an audience of people who can’t buy beer yet and they’re interested in them cause they find them cute or funny or think of them as their friend or some other shit.

A lot of the human condition can be summed up by mankind’s desire to fuck. Love songs are about people who want to fuck. Sad songs are about people who can’t fuck anymore. Stories about the fear of death are essentially about people scared they’ll never be able to fuck again. Politics and tribalism are essentially people bickering about people who can fuck or not, whether or not they have enough food to fuck, whether or not they have a job so they can pay their way in life so they can fuck, whether or not these people should be allowed to fuck, whether or not these people from a different place are allowed to fuck here or not, whether or not someone from another place is allowed to fuck someone else from a different place, war is fought because people are afraid someone will fuck what they want to fuck, soldiers fights because they want money to fuck or a country to fuck in or want to ensure what they want to fuck doesn’t get fucked by someone else who just wants to fuck. Maybe at the end of the day it’s all just about fucking.

Anyway, so our nameless narrator one day manages to talk to Mangy and they talk about Araby and the bazaar. The bazaar is some kind of Arabic marketplace in Dublin that Mangy would like to go to but can’t so our boy says he’ll go and buy her something. There’s an apparent Romanticism of the Arab world throughout Joyce’s works. We initially see this in the Sisters where the main character has a dream that is based in a room with Arabic interiors. This fascination with the middle east is due to Napoleon’s invasion of North Africa and the Arab states. A lot of European upper class individuals raided pyramids and brought the treasure home along side the Mummified bodies of Egyptian elites. At parties they’d display these bodies and the guests would often enjoy themselves by unraveling the corpse. They essentially desecrated the ancient pyramids of Egypt and the Nubian Pyramids of Sudan all for a bit of craic. It’s quite sad and fucked up, but it’s also fascinating to see a perspective of Arabia and the Middle east in general that doesn’t see it as a back wards thinking, corrupt to fuck, misogynistic war zone.

So our narrator is excited to go to the bazaar to impress Mangy. He notes how he can’t concentrate in school or at home cause he’s constantly thinking about her. Truly Mr. Happy ought to loosen his grip on this poor sods mind. God knows a good ol’ wank would have cleared up his mind. So he asks his Uncle for money (just like in The Sisters the nameless narrator lives with his Aunt and Uncle. Is the youth of Dublin consisted solely of uncharismatic Peter Parker’s?) and his Uncle agrees.

But on the night he’s supposed to go to the Araby his uncle is late, presumably because he went to the pub after work. Our boy has to remind him of the agreement twice before he forks over the money, apologizing. He then asks if the boy had ever heard of a poem called “The Arab’s farewell to his steed” because the mention of the word “Araby” reminded him of it. I read the poem, it’s OK. You might like it cause it rhymes. Poems ought to rhyme otherwise they’re generally shit.

So he leaves the house, get’s a painfully slow train and arrives at the bazaar where it’s closing down. He walks about and is disappointed because almost all the shops are closed and the only shop that’s open the cashier isn’t even that interested in him. She’d rather go back to sleezing with the two English men she’s been talking to. He doesn’t buy anything and leaves, disappointed and regretful. Rethinking everything he knows. The closing line is my favorite part; “Gazing up in the darkness I saw myself as a creature driven and derided by vanity; and my eyes burned with anguish and anger” See, I told you he had some good quotes in him. Now if only he could write about something that’s actually fucking interesting.

There’s a lot of themes we can delve into and a lot of different interpretations. Like many of the stories in the Dubliners this tale follows a person who wants to experience a change of place or go on an adventure or in this case impress a girl. In order to impress this girl he decides to go to a local yet foreign market place to buy her something special but in doing so he faces great disappointment. In this case there’s a great deal of disappointment. There’s the disappointment after he places his trust in his uncle to arrive home early in order to borrow the money needed for the trip, a disappointment in trust. There’s the disappointment in the train that’s excruciatingly slow at getting him to his destination, the train was designed by people for people in the city of Dublin so this can be seen as a disappointment in Society. He’s disappointed by the Araby which is more European centric than a journey to the Middle east and therefore it’s not a huge cultural exchange so it’s a disappointment of expectation. Our character faces a cashier who’s disinterested in him and he doesn’t buy anything, so it’s a disappointment in himself. His experiences leave him disappointed and jaded as he questions whether or not Mangy is even worth pursuing or if she too is just another disappointment waiting to fall short of his expectations.

Disappointment is undoubtedly a major theme throughout the book. Another interpretation is a little more political and hard to swallow and I don’t think Joyce actually wrote it to mean this. So imagine if Mangy wasn’t just a girl, imagine if she were Ireland and our narrator (an unnamed Irishman albeit a Dubliner) longs after her. He promises her to buy her something from a place she can’t go because she isn’t free to go. He depends on the money or support of his uncle (another Irishman albeit another Dubliner) but he arrives home late, Drunk. He forgets his promise of support and this frustrates our narrator who never the less makes his way towards the Araby. He gets the train, which is a slow and grueling journey not unlike a political process. At some point the train stops and a crowd of people try to get on but the conductor says that this train/political process is exclusively for people wanting to go to the Araby. None of the crowd get on because the train doesn’t go towards their desired location, feeling alienated because the train doesn’t focus on any of their priorities. Our narrator arrives at the Araby, possibly mainland Europe. It’s closed down and doesn’t seem to offer the Narrator anything he desires. The cashier doesn’t care about him and is more interested in infatuating herself with the English. The narrator has the desire for Ireland not just to be another colony but rather an independent country like in Europe. More realistically a self governing colony like in the Middle East at the time. But he finds nothing that interests him, his fellow countrymen either let him down or aren’t interested in his plight and he questions whether or not the Girl is worth it.

That’s a potential interpretation. Joyce was a Nationalist and he did write a bit about politics and he did live on Mainland Europe where theoretically he could have been greeted by a people who offered little to nothing to his own Island’s independence. But I doubt he wrote it to be intended like this. More than likely this is an anecdotal tale from his youth or a friends youth that he wrote down poorly. A lot of writers are unoriginal. Shakespeare stole Romeo and Juliet from a poem by a similar name. If it’s not a direct copy and paste then its based off of true events or politics or an interesting philosophical query. Interpretation is a bitch.

I once read a YouTube comment under a video about the Night King in Game of Thrones. The author claimed that in his interpretation of The Night King and the White Walkers that they were some kind of twisted allusion to the deadly cult of Islam and how they all wanted to take over the world and enslave everyone in their death cult and plunge humanity into an era of intellectual and cultural darkness. Well, that’s his interpretation at least. Personally I interpret it as something a little less bat shit crazy, like I dunno, maybe as an allegory for Climate Change? …Nah.

It’s fun to give your own interpretations to stories but it doesn’t necessarily mean that the author was that smart to think of it. Or that the text is that good for the matter. All this research and all these interpretations are adding meat to the bones of a skeleton whose maker clearly didn’t give a shit about it. Perhaps it’s because it’s hard to create likable or interesting stories in a short amount of pages but for some reason I sincerely doubt it.

Disappointment is a huge theme throughout the Dubliners, and this is proven because James Joyce is surprisingly shit.

3 comments

  1. Thank you, I’m glad to hear that I’m not the only one to find Joyce’s collection to be difficult to understand and ill-written.

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    1. Thanks for the comment! Joyce was a very smart man when it came to linguistics, but he can’t write fiction. I’ve written a review for all the short stories in the Dubliners and I will someday review the rest of his work. Until then you can check out my other reviews and discussions

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