Araby James Joyce Characters
Table of Contents
The Boy or The Young Lover
Like his female counterpart the boy in Joyce’s Araby remains unnamed. Being the principal character of the story he has every right to be called its hero. Very likely he had lost both his parents at an early age and was now living in the house of his uncle and aunt.
The boy was very much sensitive and imaginative by nature. For this he had often to face unpleasant situations. His play took him to places he did not like at all. In the dark muddy lanes he was roughly treated by cottagers. He passed by dark dripping gardens whose odorous ashpits offended his delicate taste. Sometimes stables too gave out a foul smell making it hard for him to stay there. On Saturday evenings he had to accompany his aunt for the sake of carrying some of her parcels. This made him come near crowded places where he had to face a number of unpleasant experiences like getting pushed by drunken men and bargaining women and hearing curses coming from labourers, shrill cries from shop boys and nasal chanting from street-singers. All these appeared to him like a throng of foes and he imagined that he bore his chalice–his pure love for the girl safely through them. This shows that he loved to raise himself to the position of a dauntless knight.
Though he could give vent to his anger before his aunt by clenching his fists, he was somewhat afraid of his uncle. So he hid himself in the shadow as soon as he saw his uncle turning the corner and did not come out of it until he saw him safely housed. From certain signs he could easily understand when his uncle returned home in a tipsy state. Understanding little of his difficulty his aunt frequently detained him in the tea-table when she was engaged in long boring gossip with Mrs Mercer.
The boy loved the girl intensely. His hungry heart loved to look at her. The swing of her dress, the movement of her body, the tossing of her slender hair, the white curve of her neck, and the sight of the border of her petticoat either roused his curiosity or gave him joy. He devised clever tricks for the sake of seeing her. Every morning he lay on the floor in the front parlour watching her door through a small opening in the window. When he came out his heart leaped up in joy. He ran to the hall, seized his books and followed her. He kept her brown figure always in front of him and when they came near the point at which their ways diverged, he quickened his pace and passed her.
Besides seeing her, he adopted other means to keep her always in the focus of his attention. Her name was like a summons to all his foolish blood. Her name sprang to his lips in strange prayers and praises he could • not tell why. He felt that his body was like a harp and her words and gestures were like fingers playing upon the wires. He was so full with emotions for her that his eyes were often full of tears and at times a flood from his heart seemed to pour itself out into his bosom. One rainy evening when there was no sound in the house he felt the pressure of emotions so much on him that it seemed he was about to slip from his senses, and pressing his palms tightly together he murmured repeatedly : O love! O love! He also dreamed of her. One evening we went upstairs, stood there for an hour, and leaning his forehead against the cool glass he saw nothing but the brown-dad figure of the girl cast by his imagination. From the time when she spoke to him and urged him to go to the bazaar his soul luxuriated in the thought that she was calling the syllables at the word Araby to him through the silence of the night.
Despite the meanness and sordidness of his surroundings the boy was able to help himself about from them. With the help of imagination he thought himself as one capable of fulfilling his desires. With high expectation went to Araby dreaming that he would be able to bring a nice object for his beloved. The closed stalls, the darkness of the hall, the sound of the counting at cash, and the small talk among the young sellers chilled his spirit to some extent But the discouraging tone with which the young lady asked if he wished to buy anything gave a severe jolt and placed him face to face with reality. He felt his money to be too small for the Na jars he selected for her and returned home there without any gif for her. He realized that it was his vanity that brought him to the bazaar and turned him into a laughing stock. His powerlessness and dependence on his uncle made him suffer from deep anguish and burned his eyes in anger at himself.
The boy is vitally important for the story for its theme dream and disillusionment would have found no figure for its representation except him.
Mangan’s Sister or the Girl
The girl or Mangan’s sister is an important character of Araby. Her name has not been disclosed by the author. She is simply known as Mangan’s sister because she happened to be the sister of Mangan, a friend of the boy. In the story she occupies such an important position than it will be no exaggeration if we take her to be the heroine of the narrative.
The houses of the boy and the girl were situated on either side of a narrow street. When the boys played on the street till evening, Mangan’s sister came out on the doorstep to call her brother in to his tea. It was a kind of pleasure to them to see from their shadow whether she would remain on the door-step peering up and down the street or go back. If she remained they came out of their shadow and walked up to her steps. The boy particularly stood by the railings looking at her. He got much joy when her dress swung as she moved her body, and when the soft rope of her hair tossed from side to side.
The girl did not know that the boy watched her every morning through a chink of the window keeping himself unobserved. Nor did she know that she was followed by him when she went to school. What is clear is that she did not have any antipathy or dislike for the boy.
When the necessity of conversation arose it was she who took the lead. She did not feel confused as the boy did. On the other hand, she was free and frank in her speech. It was she who informed him that there would be a splendid bazaar in Araby. When she explained why she could not go there, we understand that she was a student in a convent that had asked her to observe the retreat and that like every good girl she must observe this Roman Catholic practice. It was for her encouragement that the boy decided to go to Araby and bring a gift for her from there.
The girl knew how to draw the attention of the boy. While she spoke she turned a silver bracelet round and round her wrist. Again, she stood in such a manner that the light that fell on her from one side revealed the beauty of the white curve of her neck, of her hair and of her hand that lay on the railing. As she bowed her head towards him the white border of her petticoat which she wore below her skirt became just visible to the great joy and curiosity of the boy.
There is no doubt that Magnan’s sister was an object of infinite attraction to the boy. The main function served by her is the gradual arousal and full flowering of the feeling of love in the boy’s heart. Had she not encouraged him, the boy would not have gone to the bazaar where he meet with disenchantment and self-awareness which is the main objective of the author. We, thus, conclude that the girl had a vital role to play in Joyce’s short story ‘Araby’.
The unnamed priest, obviously a Roman Catholic, is one of the characters of James Joyce’s short story Araby. He was the former tenant of the house in which the boy hero later came to live along with his uncle and aunt. That he was not methodical and tidy is clear from his keeping the extra room behind the kitchen littered with old useless papers, from letting his garden have a wild look, and from throwing his bicycle-pump into some irregularly spreading bushes.
The priest was perhaps not as much religious-minded as could be expected from such a person. His reading attests to this. Excepting The Devout Communicant, a manual which every priest must keep, he read only light entertaining books. One of his favourite books was The Abbot by Sir Walter Scott, a book depicting the life of a disappointed lover who finally became a monk. Another was The Memoirs of Vidocq, a book delaing with the adventures of one who played in the roles of a soldier, thief, and detective.
‘He was’, the author ironically comments, ‘a very charitable priest’. In his will, he bestowed all his money to religious institutions leaving only his used furniture to his sister. Thereby he forgot the proverb that charity begins at home. Thus we notice some discrepancy between his professional duties and his day-to-day deeds.
We must observe that the priest is not vitally important in the plot development of the story. This character has been introduced for the sake of padding. However, the priest has some role to play in the raising of the overall sordidness of Dublin which was one of the objectives of Joyce.
Though the boy’s uncle does not occupy much space of ‘Araby’ he is undoubtedly an interesting character. He exhibits all the characteristics of a flat character and provides enough amusement to readers by his attempts to keep up a genteel exterior which his weak economic position constantly conspires to crack
Had he been a loving and kind-hearted character the boys would not have wanted to avoid him. As soon as they saw him turning the corner, at once they hid under the shadow until they saw him safely housed. An old man, he used to fuss at the hallstand looking for the hat-brush or any other thing at the time of going out. After spending long hours outside when he came back he used to talk to himself and threw his heavy overcoat on the hallstand making it to rock. The boy could interpret these signs as his returning home in a tipsy state.
When the boy reminded him that he wished to go to the bazaar he replied glibly that he knew it. However, he was most unwilling to let his nephew have some amusement, at his cost outside home. That is why he intentionally came home quite late at night on the appointed day. He tried to dissuade the boy from going to the bazaar by telling first that the people were already in bed, and then adding that they were after their first sleep then. He also intentionally forgot the boy’s purpose. Miser by nature, he was not at all willing to part with money. When his wife intervened on behalf of the boy, he escaped from the unpleasant situation by giving him two shillings with which he could buy little. From a discourager he quickly changed himself to an encourager by foolishly quoting the old proverb : All work and no play makes Jack a chill boy. He even tried to assume the stance of an intellectual before his wife by reciting a few lines from a minor poem The Arab’s Farewell to his Steed. The uncle, thus, presents himself as a self-centered, pleasure-loving, closefisted man before us.
The uncle is an example of Joyce’s capacity of drawing the sketch of an impressive figure with as few words as possible. He has an important role in the short story for by giving only a florin to the boy he was entirely responsible for the breaking of his dream-the dream of giving a nice present to his beloved. This rude shock also serves to make the boy realize his foolish vanity and his object dependence which filled him with anguish and anger. By creating characters like the uncle Joyce was also able to hold his highly-polished looking-glass in the form of a story before the contemporary people of Dublin, so that they might have look at their meanness and rectify.
The aunt is a sketchy character, she has not been as developed as her husband. She is an old loving lady, much sympathetic to her young nephew. On Saturday evenings she took him to the market to let him carry her parcels although she knew that such crowded places were not at all liked by him. Therefore she felt surprised when he proposed to go to the bazaar on Saturday night. A pious Roman Catholic by nature, she suspected her nephew’s involvement in some affair of the Freemasons members of a secret Protestant organization reputed for their anti-Catholicism. There is enough hints that like an average Irish woman she liked to haggle over prices while out on shopping. When her husband did not turn up and the boy began to walk up and down clenching his fists, she tried to soften him by stating that perhaps he would have to postpone his visit to Araby till another day. Her kindness to her nephew is clear when she energetically argued with her husband and succeeded in making him give the money to the boy to let him go to the bazaar that very night. However, like other Irish women of her age and status, she was fond of a long gossip over the evening tea.
Whatever may her shortcomings be, we must admit that she is a more likable person than her own husband. She serves one important purpose in the story. Without her intervention the boy could have received permission and money to go to Araby and to meet his eventual disillusionment there.
Mrs Mercer is a minor character of Araby’. She was an old, garrulous woman and a companion of the boy’s aunt. A pawnbroker’s widow, her hobby was to collect used stamps from neighbours so that they could be used for some pious purpose. This she did not so much for neighbourly charity as for her own benefit that would result when her individual contribution for it would be much less than what it would have been in the absence of such a collection. Like the boy’s aunt she was also too much fond of a long evening gossip caring little how such tedious talk would tell upon young ones who happened to be present at the tea-table. She made no attempt to rise before eight o’clock when she remembered of the cold night air that would be bad for her health. Whether or not she suffered from rheumatism, it is clear that she took much care about her health, having no desire to pass away all on a sudden.
She contributes nothing to the advancement of the plot. The author introduces her possibly to show how dull and insufferable middle-class Irish homes could be in the evening when they are peopled with such women as Mrs Mercer and her likes.