ENGL 226: Survey of English Literature 2

This essay was written on May 1st, 2019 for ENGL 226: Survey of English Literature 2, taught by Dr. Leah Toth. This essay reflects upon the theme of vision that is present within “Araby” by James Joyce. Vision can be deceiving and “Araby” proves that false visions can lead to complete and total darkness within one’s life.

False Visions Lead To Complete Darkness

“Gazing up into the darkness I saw myself as a creature driven and derided by vanity; and my eyes burned with anguish and anger” (Joyce 1241). This final line of the story “Araby” by James Joyce paints an image of a vision burning out and dying in defeat. Joyce plays with the theme of vision to describe the unnamed narrator and his journey with exploring his love for another character. Throughout the story, the narrator struggles with an increasing self-isolation that leads him into a false perception of reality. He becomes encompassed with the vision of his new love which unfortunately, does not end in his favor. Joyce plays with the sense of sight throughout the story to represent isolation from one’s self and one’s reality. Unfortunately, all of these events unfold with a disappointing ending that tie Joyce’s theme of vision together.

The first mention of vision within the story is seen in the first sentence. “North Richmond Street, being blind, was a quiet street… An uninhabited house of two storeys stood at the blind end.” (1239). The use of the word “blind” is meant to represent isolation to show that his house was lonely and isolated in comparison to the other houses surrounding it. The representation of the houses being isolated allude to the isolation the narrator will face when he begins to isolate himself from the rest of his friends as he spends more and more time in the “blind” house. In regards to the theme, the lack of vision, or blindness, is seen here to represent isolation and the narrator’s struggle with isolating himself as the story continues.

The images of lacking vision and isolation continue as his infatuation for Mangan’s sister is discovered and becomes more and more apparent. “Every morning I lay on the floor in the front parlour watching her door. The blind was pulled down to within an inch of the sash so that I could not be seen” (1239). As noted, the narrator is unable to be seen while he awaits Mangan’s sister. He has become blind to those around him which alludes to his isolation. His determination to catch a glimpse of her everyday has caused him to further detach himself from the rest of the world. As he grows further and further away from society and his outside life, his vision of love become stronger for Mangan’s sister. 

As his infatuation grows, his isolation grows. The narrator becomes isolated from himself as he continues to make decisions based on Mangan’s sister. He no longer thinks nor acts for himself. This can be seen after his interaction with Mangan’s sister. “The syllables of the word Araby were called to me through the silence in which my soul luxuriated and cast an eastern enchantment over me” (1240).  The narrator has completely lost all sense of acting for himself. He has disconnected from reality and himself in order to pursue Mangan’s sister. His vision of love has taken over and is now guiding him throughout his journey.

The narrator has decided he must go to Araby in order to bring something back for Mangan’s sister. He does this as he believes this will help instill his vision of love for her in hopes that she will fall in love with him too. The narrator struggles to get there as it takes a while for his uncle to get home to give him the train fare. Eventually, he returns and allows the narrator to go. As the narrator prepares to leave, his uncle tells him an old saying. “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” (1241). This saying instills a sense of pride within the narrator. He believes that he is doing the right thing by going to Araby for Mangan’s sister. What the narrator neglects to realize is that throughout his growing infatuation and increasing isolation, he has been completely overtaken by his vision of love which has blinded him from his sense of reality. The narrator feels as though he has worked very hard for a long time trying to get Mangan’s sister to notice him. He begins to pride himself with this accomplishment as his vision of his love for her continues. 

Once in Araby, the narrator seemed to be dazed as he wandered about. As the narrator was “remembering with difficulty why [he] had come,” (1241) it became apparent that his vision was beginning to fade away and reality was catching up with him. When confronted about if he were going to make a purchase, he answered that he would not. This came as a shock as he had worked hard and patiently in order to get here for Mangan’s sister. The narrator begins to feel defeated as his infatuation begin to seem more and more dreamlike than a potential reality for him. This is a disappointing reality for him, nonetheless, but one that ends with a crushed sense of love and a crushed sense of pride. 

Isolation continues to fall on the narrator but in a different sense than one of a vision of love. Self isolation was represented by blindness but now isolation through defeat is represented by darkness. The narrator’s isolation becomes apparent as he leaves the stall where the vases and flowered teasets were. “I heard a voice call from one end of the gallery that the light was out. The upper part of the hall was now completely dark” (1241). This darkness now represents his realization of his self-created isolation from his old world. The narrator prided himself in his patience in waiting for Mangan’s sister for it all to crash and burn. He feels regretful that he spent all of this time waiting for something that he secretly knew that would never become a reality for him. He is now surrounded by his own darkness and isolation. 

The last sentence of the story show his regret for his decision to pursue something that will never come true. “Gazing up into the darkness I saw myself as a creature driven and derided by vanity; and my eyes burned with anguish and anger” (1241). As the narrator continues to walk away, he is self reflecting in his own isolation on how he had been misguided by his own pride and vision of love for a mere dream. He is angry with himself that he would spend so much time and become so passionate about something he knew, deep down, would not become a reality for him. He understands that there is a long road ahead of him to try and dig himself out of this hole of darkness and isolation and that he will probably never have the same life he had before this infatuation began. 

The vision of love had, unfortunately, misguided Joyce’s narrator into a place of darkness and isolation throughout the story of Araby. This infatuation with Mangan’s sister began as a small obsession that turned into something that guided the narrator to live his life based around her. Joyce used the theme of vision to show that a vision could completely blind a person and lead them away from a true sense of reality and lead them into a place of darkness and isolation. The vision in this case was love and the consequences that were faced were enough to crush his pride and his sense of hope for the future as the narrator grows angry with himself. His mistaken vision of love is a mistake that the narrator will never make twice.