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Wednesday, February 3, 2010

James Joyce, "Araby": What was the role of the Uncle and why did he try to quote The Arab’s Farewell to his Steed?

On page 23, lines 112 to 115, Joyce writes, “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 and monotonous child’s play.” The boy (narrator) seems to be expressing a desire to grow-up and mature. He wants to establish a formal relationship with an older girl, or at least one that involves some level of lust. His uncle, in contrast, appears more “free-minded” because he comes home talking to himself, sort of stumbling along with “the hallstand rocking when it had received the weight of his overcoat”. The uncle had forgotten about the boy’s request to go to the Bazaar. The uncle is reminded, apologizes, but begins to quote The Arab’s Farewell to his Steed immediately forgetting about the boy’s desire to go to the Bazaar that was almost over. The uncle and the nephew have almost switched roles. The boy is trying too hard to be like a man and grow up whereas the uncle seems to act more like a boy--getting easily distracted by stories.

Granted, the uncle is most likely drunk and this is supported by the boys remark that he “could interpret these signs” referring to his uncle’s behavior. The uncle forgets about the boy’s adventure all together, forgets about what the boy just said, gets easily distracted, and doesn’t even give him enough money to make the full trip since the boy uses over half his money just to get to the Bazaar. This furthers the point that the uncle is trying to shrug his duties as an adult by escaping into drunkenness while the boy seems quick to grow up by interpreting these signs of “childlike” behavior and being annoyed by them.

What is the purpose of The Arab’s Farewell to his Steed though? A footnote says that “a fictional Arab bids farewell to the horse he has sold before he reverses his decision and rides off on his steed. Maybe his childhood and his innocence. He realizes his vanity and the negative emotions he feels for the girl but these feelings change him from his normal lifestyle since he essentially now lives in darkness. He realizes he doesn’t want to continue chasing her and his vanity. At the Bazaar, he describes “[t]he upper part of the hall” as being “completely dark”. If he continues on this path he realizes he will only end up deeper in his vanity. Just as the Arab realizes his misery without the steed, the boy also realizes his misery of living in darkness and vanity.

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