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A Summary and Analysis of James Joyce’s ‘Araby’

A commentary on one of Joyce’s shortest Dubliners stories

‘Araby’ is one of the early stories in James Joyce’s Dubliners, the 1914 collection of short stories which is now regarded as one of the landmark texts of modernist literature. At the time, sales were poor, with just 379 copies being sold in the first year (famously, 120 of these were bought by Joyce himself). And yet ‘Araby’ shows just what might have initially baffled readers coming to James Joyce’s fiction for the first time, and what marked him out as a brilliant new writer. But before we get to an analysis of ‘Araby’ (which can be read here), a brief summary of the story’s plot – what little ‘plot’ there is.

In summary, then: ‘Araby’ is narrated by a young boy, who describes the Dublin street where he lives. As the story progresses, the narrator realises that he has feelings for his neighbour’s sister and watches her from his house, daydreaming about her, wondering if she will ever speak to him. When they eventually talk, she Read the rest of this entry

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A Summary and Analysis of James Joyce’s ‘The Sisters’

On one of Joyce’s finest short stories

‘The Sisters’ is the opening story in James Joyce’s 1914 collection, Dubliners. Unlike the other stories in the collection, it is told in the first person, by a young man recalling his friendship, as a boy, with a Catholic priest. As this very brief summary of the story would suggest, there is something odd in the story being given the title ‘The Sisters’, since the two sisters are actually not the central focus of the story. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Before we get to a summary and analysis of the story, here it is: you can read ‘The Sisters’ here.

Modernist literature, of which James Joyce is a key exponent, is often marked by gaps, ellipses (…), innuendos and insinuations, things unspoken but implied. In choosing to use first-person narration rather than a less limited (or ‘omniscient’) third-person narrator, Joyce, in ‘The Sisters’, immediately restricts the field of knowledge of his narrator. And by making his narrator and protagonist a young boy, who has been shielded (locked away?) from the realities of the adult world by his parents and by institutions like the Catholic Church, Joyce intensifies this ignorance or innocence. It’s hardly any wonder there are so many half-caught things in ‘The Sisters’, things which Joyce’s narrator – and we as readers – have been left to analyse, complete, and make sense of (or attempt to). Read the rest of this entry

The Pit and the Pendulum: Edgar Allan Poe and the Short Story

Bound in glorious purple, this new edition of Edgar Allan Poe’s tales from Oxford World’s Classics reprints some neglected Poe tales among the usual classics

Edgar Allan Poe has a claim to being the originator of the modern short story. Not only has the earliest use of that very term, ‘short story’, been attributed to him, but he stands at the beginning of a long tradition of short fiction which would only take off in British publishing in the closing decades of the nineteenth century and which was only just beginning in America in the 1840s, when Poe put his mark on it. Among the other pioneers of the short story at this time, only Nathaniel Hawthorne comes close to Poe’s achievement.

And what an achievement. With only a modicum of distress I could resign myself to a world without Poe’s poetry, even the much-quoted ‘The Raven’, and he famously never left behind a novel. But his short stories were where he not merely excelled but showed the form itself how it could excel. Read the rest of this entry