In his short story “Araby,” James Joyce describes a young boy’s first stirring of love and his first
encounter with the disappointment that love and life in general can cause. Throughout the story Joyce
prepares the reader for the boy’s disillusionment at the story’s end. The fifth paragraph, for example,
employs strong contrasts in language to foreshadow this disillusionment. In this passage the juxtaposition
of romantic and realistic diction, detail, and imagery foreshadows the story’s theme that, in the final
analysis, life ends in disappointment and disillusionment.
The romantic language, details, and imagery of the passage create a rapturous and sensual tone.
Drawing from the religious, chivalric, and emotional realms, Joyce blends words and details, the
connotations of which convey the boy’s romantic, but naïve concept of love. The naïve narrator describes the object of his “confused adoration” (to whom he has not even spoken) in terms strongly suggesting religious worship. As a religious adherent carries a saint’s medal or other religious relic as constant protection and reminder, on his pilgrimages “in places most hostile to romance.” the boy carries with him “her image”— a figure celestially, angelically backlit “by the light from the half-opened door.” Like a guardian angel, “her name” (although it is never revealed in the story; he simply calls her “Mangan’s sister”) inspires in him “strange prayers and praises.” The “prayers and praises” grow out of his unrestrained, youthful adoration of this enchanting older girl, who, for him, has become a holy presence worthy of this devotion and reverence. Such religious connotations impart to his love a perfection and fervor far beyond the level of a mundane boyish infatuation.
The religious and chivalric traditions converge as, in his imagination, he “[bears his] chalice safely
through a throng of foes.” Thus he becomes the knight-errant bearing the Holy Grail through the dangers
of the evil world; she then is the lady fair, worthy of his “adoration” because of her purity and goodness.
The allusion brings with it all the associations of chivalric honor connected with tradition of courtly love.
Romantic excess pervades his vision of his love. He finds his “eyes . . . full of tears” and experiences
“a flood from his heart.” Although he cannot explain these sensations, he interprets them as physical signs
of his deep-felt love.
The realistic and naturalistic diction, detail, and imagery, on the other hand, create a pessimistic tone
that contrasts harshly with the naïve, romantic tone. Drawing from the ordinary, commonplace, and
worldly spheres of daily life, Joyce blends words and details, the connotations of which accentuate the
world’s imperfect and sordid reality.