Symbols of love and adolescence in James Joyce’s “Araby“

Term Paper, 2018
15 Pages, Grade: 2,7


Table of Contents:

1 Introduction

2 Symbolism in literature
2.1 Allegory
2.2 Metaphor
2.3 Symbol

3 Analysis of symbols of love in Araby

4 Conclusion

5 Bibliography

1 Introduction

In 1882 Joyce was born in Dublin. He visited a Christian school from 1888 to 1891 (Oeser 139). When he was 23 he finished the tales of “Dubliners”, but they were published in 1914. (Oeser 140). “Dubliners” contains 15 tales (Oeser 67). Joyce died in 1941 in Zürich (Oeser 143).

“Araby” is the third story of the “Dubliners” (Collins 93). It is about a boy who lives in Dublin. The boy lives in an old house and he loves the girl who lives opposite the street. His behaviour can be characterized as a kind of obsession, because he observes the girl every day from his window. One day she asks him, if he goes to the bazar, which is called “Araby”. A few days later he visits the bazar, but this leads to a big disappointment, because the market closes when he is there.

The story shows by using different symbols that the boy loves the girl or even more he is obsessed, but the story not a happy end and finishes with the disappointment at the market. The act of disappointment is not just a tragic ending of a love story. It makes his puberty visible as well, because lots of people fell in love when they are getting older and become adolescents. It is also necessary to point out that most of these stories do not have a happy end in reality and in metafiction as well.

This paper will argue that James Joyce’s “Araby” is a short story which contains lots of symbols for love and the process of puberty and that makes it to a love story.

2 Symbolism in literature

By analysing poetry it is necessary to distinguish between figurative and literal language (Meyer 30). Figural language uses concrete concepts as a replacement for abstract concepts to grasp phenomena. That means the figural language is associative. The literal language does not use other concepts, because it is focused on the meaning of a word. The distinction between these rhetorical forms can be shown with an example. “The sun is yellow,” is literal language, because it is a description of the sun. “The sun looks like a lemon,” is figurative language, because the sun is not a lemon, but the yellow colour of the lemon can be associated with the sun which means one concept is used for the description of another concept. This paper focuses on the figurative language which is really important for the analysation of a poem. Figurative language refers to different tropes, schemes and figures of speech (Meyer 31). This paper points out allegories, metaphors and symbols.

2.1 Allegory

The most important aspect of an allegory is the abstraction of a concept. That means the allegory transforms a general and abstract concept into a human agent (Meyer 37). A famous example is the picture of Lady Justice. Her eyes are blindfolded, while she has a balance and a sword in her hands. The blindfold should symbolise that Lady Justice guarantees justice without any prejudges. The balance stands for the process of weighing the arguments and the evidence of guilt, while the sword stands for the punishment (Meyer 39). The allegory can be long which means a whole story can be an allegory. “Pilgrim’s Progress” of John Bunyan is an example for this (Meyer 37).

2.2 Metaphor

The metaphor can be defined as a short or implicit comparison which involves the substitution of one concept for another one (Meyer 31). A metaphor can be also an interaction between two concepts with the transfer of meaning (Meyer 32). An example for a metaphor can be seen in the idiom “time flies”. It is not possible that time flies somewhere, because time is a thing and not a person. People associate that flying is a fast process. That means it is much faster to fly to London than walking this distance. This fact can be used to transfer meaning, because the concept of fast flying is brought to the matter of time which means that “time flies” stands for the aspect that the time is really short and it is often not enough of it.

2.3 Symbol

It is necessary to find a definition for a symbol before analysing “Araby”. This paper uses the definition of Michael Meyer who defines a symbol on the following way: “The symbol evokes a concrete phenomenon which points to abstract, often more general meanings” (Meyer 40). This definition points out a few aspects which are important for the analysation of “Araby”. A symbols is a concrete phenomenon which implicates more general and ambiguous aspects. Furthermore, the abstract aspect is important, because symbols evoke these associations on an indirect way. That means a symbol is not just a comparison (Chace and Collier 415). A red rose can be seen as a good example for this, because this flower leads often to the association with love (Meyer 40). Symbols like this got there meanings by cultural and traditional aspects. It is really important to point out that symbols are ambiguous which means that they often implicate more than just one meaning. The symbol of the evening is a good example for that. The evening could stand for the end of a life, a threat and for peace as well (Metzler Lexikon literarischer Symbole s.v. “Abend”). This example shows that there could be a big variety of meanings of a symbol. It is not always easy to find symbols in poems, because there is no general guideline for symbols. Some symbols like the rose are really traditional, but other symbols can be contextual as well and that means they derive from the role they have in a poem (Chace and Collier 415).

3 Analysis of symbols of love in Araby

The first symbol that can be found is at the beginning of the short story (Joyce 20). The blindness is not a symbol for love, but it is a symbol for a lack of knowledge (Metzler Lexikon literarischer Symbole s.v. “Blindheit”). This is a symbol which can be associated with the boy, because he has not much experience in the interaction with women and in this case he is blind and on the other hand he is not able to reflect the reality. That means the blindness could also stand for the situation of the boy in the beginning.

The death of the priest can be seen as a symbol for love and as critic of the society as well. The priest is a member of the church and stands for conservative values. The priest died and the boy lives in the house. That means it could be pointed out that the priest is dead and the conservative values as well. The boy can also stand for a new society which is more liberal and that includes also the point of love.

This work follows the argumentation of Collins that the apple tree in the garden is a Christian symbol (Collins 95). Furthermore the apple has the function to symbolize to symbolize life and love (Metzler Lexikon literarischer Symbole s.v. “Apfel”). The apple tree in the beginning of the short story can be seen as an allegory. The apple tree brings the focus on the tree of the Garden of Eden. This paper follows the argumentation of Ben L. Collins, because Adam loved Eve and this love led to the consequence that he ate an apple of the Tree of Knowledge (Collins 95). This action ended with the realisation that they lost the Paradise and had to live in the reality afterwards. The short story of “Araby” has many similarities. In the beginning the boy lives in his street and he has no experiences with the market. Then he falls in love with the girl and that leads to the action that he goes to the market. It is a similarity to Adam, because Adam does not eat the apple for his own purpose and that is the same for the boy. Finally, the boy visits the market and this ends up with a big disillusion and brings him to reality. This is also similar to the story of Adam and Eve, because they lose the paradise and have to live in the reality as well.

Another symbol can be seen in the sky which is turning violet (Norton 20). This process contains two symbols. First of all, there is the sky. The sky stands for structure and order (Metzler Lexikon literarischer Symbole s.v. “Himmel”). The second symbol is given with colour violet. Violet can stand for mischief and the hidden reality. (Metzler Lexikon literarischer Symbole s.v. “violett”). It is a sign that the symbol of order gets substituted by the symbol of mischief. It can be seen as an indication for the things happen later at the bazaar, because at first his life has an order and then he loses this order and gets a view on the reality instead.

The next part of “Araby” contains a few symbols for the situation of the boy (Norton 20). First of all, there is the silence. Silence can be seen as symbol for strong feelings (Metzler Lexikon literarischer Symbole s.v. “Schweigen/Stille”). It is definitely clear that the boy has really strong feelings for the girl, because he tends to be obsessed of her. On the other hand there is the music from the buckled harness. Joyce uses two opposite aspects here, because of silence and music. The author does this for a second time again. At first he describes the lamps and the light. The light stands for wisdom (Metzler Lexikon literarischer Symbole s.v. “Licht”). The opposite is the shadow where the boy hides. This can be interpreted with two aspects. On one hand the shadow stands for the lack of wisdom and the lack of experience of the boy. On the other hand the darkness gives him security, because he can observe her and is covered which means that helps him to get close to her without showing any weakness.

The aspect of the observation can be seen as a similarity for the whole short story, because at first he has the position in the dark which gives him security and that is comparable to his situation in the beginning of the short story. Then he leaves his environment to go to the bazar and it end up with a disappointment. This is similar to the shadow in the dark. This can be seen with a religious perspective as well, because the darkness could stand for the absence of the Holy Spirit, too (Benstock 75). Finally, he leaves this position as well and then speaks to her. It seems that he reaches his target, but that is an illusion, because she stands in a higher position (Collins 96). That shows that she is on a higher step and he is not able to reach her which is a similarity for the whole short story.

The next part has a sexual connotation (Norton 22). First of all, the figure is described. After she opens the door, a detailed description of her cloths is given. Then he describes her hair. The hair is a symbol for wisdom (Metzler Lexikon literarischer Symbole s.v. “Haar”). This symbol shows that the girl is wise and confident. She can be seen as the opposite of the boy here. Furthermore, it shows how obsessed the boy is. He describes her on a way with a sexual connotation. The important aspect is that he has no conversation with her or some kind of relation. He is in love with her, but he does not say anything.

The fact that he observes her every morning makes this argument even stronger (Norton 23). He observes her, but he is not really close to her. He uses a long distance which gives him confidence and security. The window is another symbol and it shows the distance and separation between them (Metzler Lexikon literarischer Symbole s.v. “Fenster”). His heart leaps when he sees her. The heart is a symbol of energy and love (Metzler Lexikon literarischer Symbole s.v. “Herz”). That shows that he uses his energy to get closer to her and that he is in love with her. The fact that he starts to run to get close to her shows that they are not on the same level. This happens every morning and the morning is a symbol as well, because the morning stands for hope (Metzler Lexikon literarischer Symbole s.v. “Morgen”). The fact that this happens every morning points out that he has the hope every day. This shows that the boy does not reflect his situation, because no change happens. He has the hope every morning, but he does not come to the conclusion to change his behaviour. Furthermore he has really strong feeling, because he cried often and tears stand for strong emotions (Metzler Lexikon literarischer Symbole s.v. “Träne”). He says that he is unsure, if he should talk to her or not. That means he thinks about talking to her, but he is not self-confident enough. He is able to understand his situation, but he is not strong enough to make any changes.

Then he explains that he goes to the room where the priest died (Norton 22). Joyce points out his criticism about the church again. He uses the symbol of the rain to support this, because the symbol of the rain stands for suspension (Metzler Lexikon literarischer Symbole s.v. “Regen”). It can be seen as an opposite part to the earth, because the earth symbolises the life (Metzler Lexikon literarischer Symbole s.v. “Erde”). An interesting aspect is the fact that the rain, which stands for a suspension, meets the earth, which symbolises the life. The aspect with the priest can be seen as a reference to the church and the Holy Spirit. Every Joyce text mentions the Holy Spirit except Dubliners (Benstock 66), but that does not mean that indirect references are impossible, because it has a meaning if a priest died there. The priest stands for conservative values and if the priest is dead, his values are dead as well. This idea can be used for the bazaar, because it was necessary that the Catholic Church had lost the influence in cities like Dublin to make markets like “Araby” possible.


Excerpt out of 15 pages


Symbols of love and adolescence in James Joyce’s “Araby“
College  (Institut für Anglistik)
Introduction to Literary Studies II
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
Die Hausarbeit ist im Rahmen eines Basismoduls entstanden.
James Joyce, Araby, Love, Metaphor, Allegory, Symbol
Quote paper
Christian Schwambach (Author), 2018, Symbols of love and adolescence in James Joyce’s “Araby“, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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