Symbolism in Araby

Symbolism in Araby

Symbols in Araby

In its simplest sense a symbol is something that stands for something else (and its meaning is more or less fixed by tradition). Symbolism is the use of objects or actions through which authors suggest ideas or emotions. In Shakespeare’s Macbeth we find the use of symbolism in Lady Macbeth’s washing of hands which signifies her desire to cleanse herself of guilt.

Symbolic Literature is one which is characterized by the dominance of symbols. There may be the achievement of a single symbolic meaning in the totality of a work or plurality of symbolic meanings in it. Melville’s Moby Dick or Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner are examples of symbolic literature

In literature, symbolism is the use of objects or actions to suggest emotion or ideas. This has been finely elaborated by Murrary. ‘Symbolism,’ he says, may be described as the art of expressing emotions not by describing them directly nor by defining them through overt comparisons with concrete images, but by suggesting what the ideas and emotions are by recreating them in the mind of the reader through the use of unexplained symbols. These symbols help to convey a mood to the subconscious mind rather than an appeal to the rational faculties.

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Sometimes an entire work may be taken as a symbol. Thus, the mariner’s voyage in Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner may symbolize the universal journey into the depths of despair and return to a state of spiritual and psychological stability. It may be pointed out that some plays of Shakespeare are structurally symbolic. J. A. Cuddon notes : ‘In Macbeth there is a recurrence of the blood image symbolizing guilt and violence. In Hamlet weeds and disease symbolize corruption and decay. In King Lear clothes symbolize appearances and authority and the storm is symbolic of cosmic and domestic chaos to which “un-accommodated man’ is exposed’.

In ‘Araby‘ we get in touch with certain objects which may be loosely regarded as symbols loosely because their literal interpretation can explain them quite satisfactorily. In this sense the blind allay is symbol. It signifies the narrowness of the lives and attitudes of the people who dwelt in it. There is, again, a cluster of images that point to the sordidness of the place-rough tribes, odours, ashpits, and stables. The same cluster we notice in the market-place. Jostling and bargaining, cursing, crying in shrill voice, and chanting in nasal tone, and barrels full of pigs’ cheeks all show the shabby and distasteful nature of the people as well as the place. Summons to blood and body as harp stress the imaginative nature of the boy, the delight obtainable from love.

Light and darkness are referred to in the story for a number of times. While light reveals charms and focuses on weak spots, darkness points to poverty, emptiness, and defects. The boy’s clenching of fists and mounting the staircase suggest his protest an attempt to gain liberation respectively. Long and idle gossip at the tea-table and fear of the night air indicate the lethargy and care for health found among middle-class people. The fall of the coins has two meanings : to the seller it suggests gain and to the boy frustration. The overall picture which these objects and actions suggest is one of poverty, sordidness, and despair.

The present short story contains only three literary symbols chalice, Araby, and journey to Araby and back. The word ‘chalice‘ is associated with the Grail Legend. It is the wine-cup or platter that Jesus Christ used at the Last Supper. Joseph of Arimathea took it to the Crucifixion and caught some of Christ’s blood in it. During years of imprisonment Joseph kept it and it mysteriously supplied him with food. Then he took it to Britain. Because no guardian was worthy of it, it disappeared. This tale was linked to Arthurian romance, and the quest of the lost Grail was a dominating inspiration to the Knights of the Round Table. Those knights who took part in the quest were Perceval, Gawain, Lancelot, and Galahad. At first an instrument of healing and regeneration, the Grail later became a symbol of plenty and grace. According to tradition one who could see it clearly reaches a state of perfect bliss which affirms union with God. In the German version of Wolfram Von Eschenbach the Grail become a symbol of man’s search for an ideal and true religion. According to the legend only two knights (because of their distinguished purity) succeeded in seeing the Grail (which first appeared, accompanied by lighting, before the four knights mentioned above) —Galahad (who died in ecstasy after seeing it in a remote castle) and perceval (who became a monk and died two months later).

In Joyce’s Araby there is a reference to the boy’s imagining that he bore his chalice safely through a throng of foes. As the knights in quest of the chalice encountered a number of dangers and difficulties coming from those who sought to stop their journey, the boy similarly thought the distasteful surroundings and unpleasant noises as inimical to his cultivation of love which was to him the source of supreme bliss and the provider of inexplicable joy. The word ‘chalice’ also suggests that his idea of love is something extremely noble and holy, and, that being a bearer of it he has been distinguished for his bravery and purity of character.

The next literary symbol is Araby which to a Western mind is associated with Arabia, the famous country of the East, and with the Arabian Nights wherein are narrated the tales of Aladin and of the magic carpet. To a young boy accustomed to play in a narrow and suffocating street and to live in an empty and lonely house with a pair of elderly people, the word ‘Araby’ could quite reasonably arise in his mind the picture of the gorgeous East with its fabulous wealth, its dazzling brilliance, its magic and romance, its domed palaces and black-haired damsels. It gained added importance for the boy when the girl herself said that there would be a splendid bazaar there and when she pressed him to go there recommending it profusely. After this ‘Araby’ became a sort of a wonderland to him, a place that could give him the joy he sought, a bazaar that could fulfill his dream. As a result of it we find him restless to go there even though he hated crowds. He wished to annihilate the intervening days. He had no patience with school work and all the serious work of life seemed to him but child’s play. Araby absorbed his entire attention. His soul loved to luxuriate on the fancy that she was calling the syllables of the word Araby to him through the silence of the night. Indeed it cast an Eastern enchantment over him. So the image Araby stands for beauty and romance, charm and joy of an extraordinary kind.

The final literary symbol is the boy’s journey to Araby and back (Incidentally it is linked with other journey motifs like Aeneas’s journey into the underworld and back and the old mariner’s journey to the polar regions and back) The boy went to Araby hoping that his dream would be fulfilled there and that he would be able to come back with a gorgeous gift for his beloved. But what he experienced there was enough to fill him with disenchantment. He came back empty-handed but with a self-awareness that filled him with anguish and anger. Thus, his journey to Araby may be regarded as his quest for beauty that ended in frustration. On a larger level it symbolizes man’s universal search for the ideal that is universally frustrated. His journey may symbolize man’s quest for self-realization through insight into the human condition or man’s wandering to learn his identity and place in the world.

If the theme of ‘Araby’ is escape from drab surroundings with the help of love, or the boy’s frustrated quest for beauty amidst drab surroundings or conflict between dream and reality, there is no doubt that the above images help to convey the theme of the story in a fine way.

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