An Investigation into the Narratology of James Joyce's "Araby"

Term Paper, 2014

20 Pages, Grade: 1,3


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Theoretical Framework: Narratology
2.1. Narrative
2.2. Narrator
2.3. Point of View
2.3.1 Omniscient Point of View
2.3.2 Limited Point of View
2.3.3 Camera Point of View

3. Narrator and Point of View in “Araby”

4. Conclusion

Works Cited

1. Introduction

Etymologically, narratology is a theory of narrative. Due to the popularization of the term by structuralist critics such as Gérard Genette and Mieke Bal in the 1970s, “the definition of narratology has usually been restricted to structural, or more specifically structuralist, analysis of narrative” (Onega and Landa 1). But in the 1980s and 1990s, the early structuralist analysis was to some extent neglected by post-structuralists. On one hand, they were “against the scientific and taxonomic pretensions of structuralist narratology”; on the other hand, they “open up new lines of development for narratology in gender studies, psychoanalysis, reader-response criticism and ideological critique” (ibid.). Now, narratology reverts to “the original structuralist core of the discipline” (ibid.).

Regarding the understanding of narratology, Tzvetan Todorov emphasized that it “is constituted by actions such as a certain discourse, called narrative”, and Nilli Diengott “forcefully distinguished narratology as theoretical narrative poetics from ‘other fields within the study of literature, such as interpretation, historical poetics, or criticism’” (Prince 3). However, Didier Coste, Thomas Leitch, or Susan Lanser declared that “narratology ought to ‘study narrative in relation to a referential context that is simultaneously linguistic, literary, historical, biographical, social, and political’” (ibid.). In my point of view, narratology is not only the structural analysis of narrative but also important for the study of literature.

Dubliners is a collection of fifteen short stories which depict Irish people of middle- and lower-class in the early twentieth century. As James Joyce said, “my intention was to write a chapter of the moral history of my country and I chose Dublin for the scene because that city seemed to me the centre of paralysis. […] I seriously believe that you will retard the course of civilization in Ireland by preventing the Irish people from having one good look at themselves in my nicely polished looking-glass” (Poplawski 85). Joyce makes use of “great skill both of observation and of technique” to present us an Irish society (Fargnoli and Gillespie 78). According to Gerald Gould, “he [Joyce] has an original outlook, a special method, a complete reliance on his own powers of delineation and presentment” (ibid. 78-79). Through the exploration into Joyce’s narratological techniques in Dubliners, we will have a better understanding of the series.

As Hawthorn puts it, “‘who’ tells us a story, and ‘how’ make a very big difference” (Hawthorn 64-65). The statement illustrates the importance of choosing appropriate narrative techniques in presenting stories. It is hypothesized that through Joyce’s choice of narrative techniques, he is “anxious to discover the most economical way of exposing the most considerable amount of that material [routines of everyday life], which leads to the epiphany” (Levin 31). In other words, Joyce aims to reveal the social paralysis of Ireland and discover a spiritual manifestation “in the vulgarity of speech or of gesture or in a memorable phase of the mind itself” (Joyce 211).

Based on this hypothesis, I will divide my term paper into three parts. First, I will build the theoretical framework. Three aspects are to be focused on: narrative, narrator, and point of view. Then I will analyze “Araby” - one of fifteen short stories in Dubliners, in terms of narrator and point of view, and illustrate how these narrative techniques contribute to emphasis of the paralysis and epiphany. Last but not least, I will make a comprehensive conclusion about my investigation of the narratology of “Araby”.

2. Theoretical Framework: Narratology

2.1. Narrative

On the one hand, according to Toolan, “narrative typically is a recounting of things spatiotemporally distant: here’s the present teller, seemingly close to the addressee (reader or listener), and there at a distance is the tale and its topic” (Toolan 1). Simply put, “narratives always involve a tale, a teller, and an addressee, and theses can be ‘placed’, notionally, at different degrees of mutual proximity or distance” (ibid. 2).

On the other hand, Gerald Prince “defines a narrative as ‘the representation of at least two real or fictive events in a time sequence, neither of which presupposes or entails the other’” (Jannidis 36). But Richardson “argues that ‘narrative is a representation of a causally related series of events’” (ibid.). In a word, “a narrative is a representation and the object of this representation exhibits a certain set of properties: namely, chronological and causal arrangement” (ibid.).

A narrative refers to a text that tells a story. In other words, narration relates a set of events. As Abbott said, “narrative is the representation of an event or a series of events” (Abbott 12). Similarly, Rimmon-Kenan defines narrative as “the narration of a succession of fictional events” (Rimmon-Kenan 2). She also points out that, “the presence or absence of a story is what distinguishes narrative from non-narrative texts” (ibid. 15). From the definitions we can see that story and text are two important aspects of narrative. Martínez and Scheffel distinguish the story from events: the totality of events, a sequence of individual events, is integrated into the unity of a story if, in addition to its chronological structure, the sequence of events displays a causal structure such that the events not only follow one another but also follow from one another. (Jannidis. 41-42)

2.2. Narrator

As mentioned above, a story-teller, i.e. a narrator, is one of the main ingredients of a narrative. “Between the story and the reader is the narrator, who controls what will be told and how it will be perceived” (Martin 9). The more details we gain about a narrator, the more distinctive will be a tonal quality projected through a text.

Regarding the narrative level, narrators differ in their types in different stories. For example, a narrator is said to be extradiegetic when he or she is “‘above’ or superior to the story he narrates”; on the other hand, “if the narrator is also a diegetic character in the first narrative told by the extradiegetic narrator, then he is a second-degree, or intradiegetic narrator” (Genette 255-56). In other words, a narrator is extradiegetic or intradiegetic, depending on his position outside or inside of the world that is presented to the reader.

Based on the extent of participation in the story, narrators can be either heterodiegetic (third-person) or homodiegetic (first-person). The distinction between the heterodiegetic and the homodiegetic narrator is determined by whether a narrator participates in the story or not. To be specific, “a narrator who does not participate in the story is called ‘heterodiegetic’, whereas the one who takes part in it, at least in some manifestation of his ‘self’, is ‘homodiegetic’” (ibid. 95). A heterodiegetic narrator has the quality which has been described as “omniscience”: he or she is aware of the characters’ innermost thoughts and feelings, knows about events of past, present and future, and is present when characters are supposed to be alone (Rimmon-Kenan 95).

According to the degree of perceptibility, narrators are divided into overt and covert narrators. An overt narrator is an individual speaker and a concrete persona, who intrudes into the story in order to give interpretations, judgments, generalizations and comments; whereas a covert narrator is an undramatized and self-effacing narrator, who presents “situations and events with a minimum amount of narratorial mediation” (Prince 17).

2.3. Point of View

According to M. H. Abrams, point of view is “the perspective or perspectives established by an author through which the reader is presented with the characters, actions, setting and events which constitute the narrative in a work of fiction” (Abrams 138). To put it simply, the angle from which the story gets told is understood as point of view. There are three basic points of view: omniscient point of view, limited point of view, camera point of view.

2.3.1 Omniscient Point of View

Omniscient point of view can be defined as a “technique in which the narrator is able to move in and out of various characters’ minds” (Johnson 97). In the omniscient point of view, narrator addresses the readers and introduces the characters to them. He or she has no limitation of information and is inside views with all characters. What characters feel, think and do is described by the narrator. In other words, the narrator knows all about the characters, externally and internally. The omniscient point of view gives the narrator great freedom to comment on characters and action and to explain their significance to the readers. The main characteristic of this point of view is its omniscience. As Hawthorn puts it, omniscience “is often used in a loose way to indicate any work in which the narrator has access to that which like character’s secret thoughts is normally concealed to observers in the real world” (Hawthorn 59).

2.3.2 Limited Point of View

In the limited point of view, “the narrator represents only what the character sees, as if looking through the character’s eyes or, as an ‘invisible witness’, standing next to him” (Martin 133). In other words, the narrator has limitation of the knowledge of one character and is inside views only with this character. As Abrams puts it, the narrator is limited “to what is experienced, thought and felt by a single character” (Abrams 14). He explains further, the narrator is limited “to the consciousness of a character within the story itself, aims at giving the reader the illusion that he participates in experiencing events that simply evolve before his eyes” (ibid. 140). In a word, the story is portrayed through an internal character, i.e. the narrator knows everything about the character but cannot peer inside the minds of other characters. There is no comment on the significance of characters and events but evaluations only about the character. In addition, relationship between narrator and reader is effaced, that is to say, there is no long introduction of characters.

i. Camera Point of View

The reader’s knowledge of the story is more restricted in the camera point of view than in the omniscient point of view and limited point of view. An observer narrator does not enter anyone’s mind but describes what the characters say and do. This point of view is like a roving camera. The camera can only record what can be seen and heard but not interpret behavior or comment on characters. In fact, the narrator is ignorant of who the characters are or what their feelings and thoughts are. To put it in a different way, this point of view allows no access to the mind of characters.

3. Narrator and Point of View in “Araby”

In the opening paragraph of “Araby”, the heterodiegetic narrator, who is outside the world of the story, depicts North Richmond Street’s blindness, the garden’s barrenness and the priest’s worldliness. “An uninhabited house of two storeys stood at the blind end, detached from its neighbors in a square ground. The other houses of the street, conscious of decent lives within them, gazed at one another with brown imperturbable faces” (Joyce 25).The garden has only “a central apple-tree” and “a few straggling bushes” (ibid.); the priest had died and left behind some secular books, collected money and furniture. Through this depiction, the omniscient narrator emphasizes an atmosphere of decay, and self-absorption of neighborhoods. His rhetoric of ‘being blind’ is in fact an allusion of the vacuous lives of adults and the disillusionment of the boy’s romantic love. In addition, “set the boys free” hints at their lack of freedom (ibid.). This freedom is in effect the freeing of minds imprisoned by the paralyzed Dublin. There is hardly any such a freedom in Dublin. Through presenting the deadening atmosphere vividly to the readers, the narrator assumes a power of omniscience who has unlimited knowledge and authority.

The following paragraphs shift to the homodiegetic narrator who is a character in the story. The narrative perspective of ‘we’ has different references. It can refer to a family, such as “the former tenant of our house, a priest, had died in the back drawing-room” (ibid.). Or it refers to the boy-narrator and his friends, like “the cold air stung us and we played till our bodies glowed” (ibid.). “Or if Mangan’s sister came out on the doorstep to call her brother in to his tea we watched her from our shadow peer up and down the street” (26). Under this perspective, readers are involved in the narrator’s naughty and simple childhood. Readers see everything through the eyes of the narrator.

Taking the boy’s limited point of view, we readers can penetrate directly into the experience of him, see what he has seen, and feel what he has felt. When the narration is told by the young boy, his immaturity and childishness is shown in the simple syntax and dictions. For example: “I found a few paper-covered books”, “I liked the last best because its leaves were yellow”, “if my uncle was seen turning the corner we hid in the shadow until we had seen him safely housed” (25-26).

Besides the boy’s simplicity, his crush on Mangan’s sister and delicate feelings are also illustrated through his personal point of view. She is spiritualized by him:

She was waiting for us, her figure defined by the light from the half-opened door. Her brother always teased her before he obeyed and I stood by the railings looking at her. Her dress swung as she moved her body and the soft rope of her hair tossed from side to side. (26)

In the boy’s eyes, she is with a mythological aura. As a matter of fact, the aura is only an outline made by the indoor light. We can see the young boy’s idealization and sublimation of his desire. He is so fascinated by her that her name makes all his “foolish blood” respond spontaneously (ibid.). Nevertheless, the voice of a commenter becomes clear. He overtly suggests the foolishness of his infatuation with Mangan’s sister.

According to the boy-narrator’s personal point of view, when Mangan’s sister comes into his view, he becomes amorous and sensitive. “All my senses seemed to desire to veil themselves and, feeling that I was about to slip from them, I pressed the palms of my hands together until they trembled, murmuring: ‘O love! O love!’ many times” (27). He centralizes his awakening desire by changing his focus from “the white curve of her neck” and “the hand upon the railing” to “the white border of a petticoat” (ibid.). He worships the object of his love and dedicates praises and prayers to her. The state of amorousness is expressed metaphorically, such as “my body was like a harp and her words and gestures were like fingers running upon the wires” (26).

However, such an elevation of the young boy’s desire makes him gain no access to Mangan’s sister. He endows his quest for his brother’s elder sister with sacred overtones.


Excerpt out of 20 pages


An Investigation into the Narratology of James Joyce's "Araby"
Ruhr-University of Bochum  (Englisches Seminar)
Introduction to Narratological Key Concepts
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ISBN (Book)
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investigation, narratology, james, joyce, araby
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Nan Liu (Author), 2014, An Investigation into the Narratology of James Joyce's "Araby", Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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