Dubliner’s Paralysis Underlined

Becoming Adults in “An Encounter” and “Araby”

Term Paper, 2010

13 Pages


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. The two stories
2.1. “An Encounter”
2.2. “Araby”

3. Love
3.1. Love in “An Encounter”
3.2. Love in “Araby”
3.3. Comparing the notions of love in regard to paralysis

4. Adolescence
4.1. Adolescence in “An Encounter“
4.2. Adolescence in “Araby“
4.3. The impact of the boy’s paralysis’s on their adolescence

5. Sexuality
5.1. Sexuality in “An Encounter”
5.2. Sexuality in “Araby”
5.3. Comparing the notions of sexuality in regard to paralysis

6. Conclusion


1. Introduction

In James Joyce’s Dubliners, four stages in life are dealt with in 15 short stories: childhood, adolescence, maturity and public life. The two short stories this paper will examine are “An Encounter” and “Araby”, both of which take place in the stage of childhood. The main protagonists are on the verge of becoming adults. In these two stories, as well as in real life, adolescence is about getting to know oneself, love, and sexuality. Comparing the two stories in regard to sexuality and love it soon comes clear that they deal with very different natures of those concepts. In this paper, these different kinds will be compared; differences and similarities will be shown. The way in which the notions of sexuality, love and adolescence are negotiated in “An Encounter” and “Araby” underlines the notion of paralysis.

2. The two stories

2.1. “An Encounter”

“An Encounter” is about a day of two young schoolboys. They attend a Jesuit day school for boys and try to escape from their everyday life by playing cowboys and Indians and reading forbidden magazines about the Wild West. One day three of them, Mahony, Leo Dillon and the narrator-protagonist plan to play truant and visit the Pigeon House[1]. They arrange to meet at 10 o’clock in the morning the next day, but Leo Dillon doesn’t show up, so Mahoney and the young narrator have to go on their own.

First they walk around, playing, chasing a group of girls and later they buy something to eat. Crossing the river Liffey with a ferryboat the boys watch some ships and sailors. After buying more food, Mahoney chases a cat to a field where the two boys then lay down on a bank. They decide to delay visiting the Pigeon House because it’s too late and they are tired. Lying on the bank, they see a “shabbily dressed” (Joyce 16) man walking along the field approaching them. The man passes them, walks on for some paces and then turns around to approach them again. He stops at the bank where the boys lay and starts to talk to them. He asks them whether they know some certain books and who of them has got the most sweethearts. Because the man claims that every boy has a “little sweetheart” (Joyce 18), the young narrator is astonished about how liberal the man seems. The old man starts a monologue about how much he likes looking at nice young girls, which makes the boys feel uncomfortable. After his monologue, he stands up and tells the youngsters he would leave them for a little while. He walks down the field and after some time, Mahony shouts: “I say!

Look what he’s doing!” (Joyce. 18). The two boys see the man masturbating and decide to call each other with invented names[2].

Although the youngsters feel very awkward, they stay on the bank. When the “queer old josser” (Joyce. 18) comes back and sits down next to them, Mahony sees the cat he chased before and runs after it again, leaving the narrator alone with the old man. After watching Mahony’s chase for a while, he starts another monologue. He says that he would like to whip such a rough boy as Mahony and that whipping would do some boys well. When he even claims that he would love to whip young boys the narrator quickly stands up, pretends to fix his shoe, tells the man that he has to go now and walks slowly, but with a quickly beating heart and the fear that the man would “seize him by the ankles” (Joyce 20) up the slope. He calls his friend who runs across the field to him “as if to bring him aid” (Joyce 20).

2.2. “Araby”

This story starts in North Richmond Street in Dublin. The unnamed young narrator describes the block where he lives with his aunt and uncle. The former tenant of his house was a priest who recently died in the back drawing room. In this room there is a library the boy often stays in and reads[3]. He explains that he belongs to a group of boys who often play together on the street in their block.

Then he introduces Mangan’s sister, who he doesn’t know the name of. He very often thinks about her in romantic ways and stares at her from his window. He even follows her on the street, but never is brave enough to talk to her. Even when being in “places the most hostile to romance” (Joyce 21) he thinks of her. He uses the back drawing room of the old priest to sit there and just focus on his thoughts and feelings towards Mangan’s sister. One day the girl finally talks to him. She tells him she would like to go to a bazaar called “Araby” but that she’s not allowed to go because she has to attend a retreat at her convent school. First he is too overwhelmed to answer; he watches her looks, her neck and her hair. Then he says that if he goes he will bring her something from the bazaar. From then on the only thing he can think of is the fair and he begs his aunt and uncle to let him go there. His guardians first hesitate but leave him to go at last.

The evening he wants to go to the bazaar the protagonist has to wait for his uncle who comes home late. The youngster is very angry that he might not be able to go. When his uncle finally arrives, he apologizes to his nephew, gives him the promised money and allows him to go although it is late in the evening. Before the narrator leaves, his uncle asks him if he knows a poem called The Arab ’ s Farewell to his Steed by Caroline Norton. After that, he bids him farewell. The boy catches a train to the fair, and when he arrives, the bazaar is about to be closed. He anxiously walks to the centre of it and sees some stalls that are still open. From his position he is able to overhear a gossip conversation between an English shop-girl and two men. When the girl sees him, she stops talking and asks him in an unfriendly way if he wants to buy something. He declines and walks out of the bazaar. When he is on his way and looks up into the darkness of the night he thinks that he is a “creature driven and derided by vanity” and his “eyes [burn] with anguish and anger” (Joyce 26).

3. Love

3.1. Love in “An Encounter”

Love in “An Encounter” can more or less be seen as paedophilic obsession, because “[ ] a sense of dread develops when the old simpleton begins to confess his love of whipping boys with sweethearts [ ].” (San Juan 241)

Hearing the man talking about love in such a strange manner confuses the youngster because the kind of love he means is unknown for him. He can’t understand how someone could possibly love hurting someone[4]. It is even impossible for him to comprehend the situation, because paedophilia is “a psychiatric disorder in adults or late adolescents characterized by a primary or exclusive sexual interest in prepubescent children” (Wikipedia 27.07.2010). The man does not love the boys; he is obsessed with the imagination of young children. Talking about this strange notion of love repeatedly, the man achieves the goal he had. He almost hypnotizes the boy and is therefore able to be with him for a while and to lose himself in his obsession.

The only possible real love in this story could be the one between friends, but when the narrator in the end claims that he had “always despised [Mahony] a little”, and that his friend runs “as if to bring him aid”[5] (Joyce 20), it comes clear that even this kind of love is being missed in “An Encounter”.

3.2. Love in “Araby”

The notion of love in “Araby” is shown as the first love of a young boy. He sees a girl from a distance, and doesn’t even know her name but he still thinks he loves her. He thinks of her as a “chalice” (Joyce 22), praising her to the skies in his mind. Even when the young protagonist walks through the city with his aunt, the girl is in his head all the time. For him she is the light showing him the right way. He idealizes the sister of his friend Mangan to such extend that he looses himself into an unreal world of love. Power claims that he even “feels that his rich interior life sets him apart from all the others” (215). He thinks that he is the only one who feels true love and who is on the right way to happiness. As Fargnoli and Gillespie claim, the bazaar becomes “a symbol of the evocative power of his own awakening imagination”. (9) For the boy, this world falls apart when he realizes that he can’t buy the girl anything from the bazaar. As San Juan states, both pathos and dread characterize the effect of “Araby”, though a calm and intellectualized conclusion that indicates the boy’s capacity for detachment modulates the fearful implications of his disappointment by attributing the cause of the frustration to the protagonist’s failure to temper his grandiose expectations and moderate his romantic feelings. (241)

He understands that his feelings and his love are illusions and that he won’t be able to attract Mangan’s sister.

3.3. Comparing the notions of love in regard to paralysis

As described above, none of the two stories shows love in a traditional way. The absence of real love in the stories is due to the specific situations the protagonists are in. Being unable to feel love, they are paralysed and can’t get out of their routine of imaginations. They have to hold on to their ideas of love to feel anything at all. For the young boys in the stories, coping with these circumstances is very confusing.

The old man in “An Encounter” does not love the boys he meets[6] ; he is obsessed and sexually aroused by them. He is stuck in his fantasies and his desire, which underlines the man’s paralysis. The young boy, not knowing how to deal with this new awareness of what different kinds of love there are, is forced to listen and try to understand[7]. Nevertheless he is not able to get the full understanding of the love the old man talks about, because he can’t grasp the fact that the man has paedophilic feelings for him and what these feelings could mean.


[1] An old fort now used to house the Dublin electricity and power station. (P. 13)

[2] They decide that Mahoney will be called “Murphy” and the narrator’s name will be “Smith“ because they don’t want the old man to know their real names..

[3] He has got three favorite books: The Abbot by Walter Scott, The Devout Communicant by Pacificus Baker and The Memoirs of Vidoq which is an autobiographical account by François-Jules Vidoq.

[4] Like the man tells the boy, “he would love that [whipping a boy] [ ] better than anything in this world [ ]. (Joyce 19)

[5] It is not clear whether Mahony really wants to save his friend or whether he just pretends to want it.

[6] He also doesn’t love whipping boys; he just gets turned on by thinking of it.

[7] The other boy is able to escape this paralysis by tearing himself away and chasing the cat.

Excerpt out of 13 pages


Dubliner’s Paralysis Underlined
Becoming Adults in “An Encounter” and “Araby”
University of Basel  (Englisch)
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
443 KB
An Encounter, adolescence, James Joyce, sexuality, love, paralysis, Araby, Dubliners
Quote paper
Stephanie Kromer (Author), 2010, Dubliner’s Paralysis Underlined, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/182413


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