A blog by the staff of the Thomas Ford Memorial Library
I had hardly any patience with the serious work of life which, now that it stood between me and my desire, seemed to me child’s play, ugly monotonous child’s play.
Believe it or not James Joyce caught my attention at an early-ish age. Not that I was too precocious. I didn’t make it through Portrait or Ulysses until college, but I did read Dubliners for the first time in 8th grade, even re-reading the first few stories over and over. I think I sensed that these tales held some secret wisdom. They felt like random dispatches from an adult future and I wanted to piece together their lessons.
Back then “Araby” seemed to teach me a tough lesson about young love. When I re-read it these days it’s message seems more haunting and mysterious than that.
It’s a simple enough story: The young narrator is enamored with a friend’s sister. When he learns that she is unable to go to Araby, a local bazaar, he says he will bring back a gift for her. What follows are days of heightened expectations and then the inevitable disappointment. Araby doesn’t hold the far-flung adventure its name promises. The young man chooses not to buy anything and, it seems, the long awaited love will not be requited.
Joyce doesn’t simply wallow in realism or let the tale feel as embittered as its plot suggests. There’s something decidedly romantic in the young man’s refusal to purchase a tawdry gift.
It probably tops my list of favorite short stories, but I might make too much of it in a sentimental, long-cherished sort of way. In any case it’s well worth your time, and a solid, if somewhat unorthodox, Valentine’s Day read.
Review by Matthew