James Joyce's Dubliners - Araby as Epiphany for the Common Man
Joseph Campbell was one of many theorists who have seen basic common denominators in the myths of the world's great religions, Christianity among them, and have demonstrated how elements of myth have found their way into "non-religious" stories. Action heroes, in this respect, are not unlike saints. Biblical stories are, quite simply, the mythos of the Catholic religion, with saints being the heroes in such stories. The Star Wars film saga is, according to Campbell, an example of the hero's maturation via the undertaking of a great quest. Though it is a safe assumption that many of today's film makers are unconscious of the extent to which their narratives approach biblical parallels, Joyce spent his career turning seemingly simple stories into veiled recantings of biblical and mythical experience. "Araby" is a case-in-point. Like Luke Skywalker, the boy in "Araby" certainly reaches a maturation of sorts while undertaking a quest. Joyce takes accurate and mundane details of Dublin life and elevates them into a grand mythical pattern, targeting a moment of departure and awakening for the boy. Joyce's function in equating mundane experience with heroic experience is to propose that the potential for epiphany--the hero's realization of a certain truth--is not exclusive to saints alone, but exists in all people.
In order to so, Joyce must declare a relationship between the ordinary and the sublime. The ordinariness of the boy's story is apparent. On one level, it is a simple story about the kind of unrequited "puppy love" that strikes most boys of his age. The details of the setting come from real Dublin--North Richmond Street and Westland Row Station--and depict the day-to-day existence of common Dubliners. But there are strong elements of myth in the story. For one thing, the boy undergoes his own heroic quest, of sorts. Armed with a florin held "tightly in his hand", the boy embarks on his "journey" to the bazaar, his self-assigned mission being to purchase a gift for his beloved. The gift is to be a gestured to liberate Mangan's sister--in spirit if not in body--because she will be with a retreat that week at her convent. The journey for him becomes a passage from relative safety and gregariousness into a place of darkness and isolation. It is only there that he comes to a realization--an epiphany.
His story follows a similar pattern to the Myth of Orpheus' descent into the Underworld, and Mangan's sister here doubles for Eurydice. As Eurydice is trapped in the Stygian Realm, Mangan's sister is also trapped. We have already mentioned here entrapment by her duty to the convent, which she mentions to the boy while turning a silver bracelet around her wrist, conjuring the image of a manacle fettering her to one spot. And, in a metaphoric sense, she is trapped by the repressive Irish culture from which Joyce voluntarily exiled himself. (Joyce does not hide his disenchantment...