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Twentieth Century Fiction
Prof. Avishek Parui
Department of Humanities and Social Sciences
Indian Institute of Technology, Madras

Lecture – 25
Araby – Part 2
(Refer Slide Time: 00:16)

So, hello and welcome to this NPTEL course, entitled Twentieth Century Fiction, where we have started looking at James Joyce’s Short Story Araby, which is part of the collection that we are covering Dubliners. So, in my last lecture which was introductory lecture for this particular text, we talked about how the language is very important in this story because it is a very interesting combination of different linguistic registers and the religious register, the erotic register, the secular register, the political register they all come together to create this very confused linguistic landscape, which is a very interesting reflection of a confused adolescent imagination in the case of a boy over here.
I mean superficially this is a love story. But the way it is presented to us, it is very interesting because it takes us sort of deep into the mind of the adolescent, young male imagination falling in love with this woman. And we find there are desperate strategies, desperate attempts to appropriate a very knightly chivalrous register of you know romance. So, he talks about how he imagines himself bearing the chalice through a throng of foes which is very medieval image of the knight bearing chalice among infidels. So, the love object the object of love becomes almost like a religious icon for him and his pursuit of love becomes like a religious quest for him.
So, again, we have this interesting combination of the religious and the erotic put together in a very confused register. Now, if you remember the section, where we ended this lecture last time was, where this almost this momentous occasion, where the girl speaks to the boy for the first time and she asks him whether or not he is going to Araby and that is the first time the word Araby is mentioned. The fair the bazaar which is the setting of the story and as I have may have mentioned already Araby is interesting example over here because it is a metaphor of the for the exotic because Araby obviously, comes from Arabia.
But the bazaar which was set in Dublin at that point of time, used to sort of display the different markers from the orient right. So, it is very exotic essentialized idea of the orient in a western imagination. So, that bazaar becomes the exotic space, the fairy tale space, the utopian space, so to say for the very decadent western citizen. So, that bazaar would be like a quest to go and get something from there and gift it to the beloved. So, it sort of retains the knightly structure, the chivalrous structure of romance.
So, as you can see there is this very interesting mimicry of the mythic method. So, the boy is trying to mimic the kind of narratives he has consumed about love about romance etcetera, in the sense he wants to go to this fairytale place and get something for his beloved and carry it and protect it among a throng of foes, in a way that a knight would in medieval times.
So, he is comparing he is equating himself with a knight and he is equating his love with a knightly romantic quest, to get something like a great legend, the holy grail for his beloved. So, what we see over here is an elevation of the very mundane, excuse me very mundane level to something a very deep anxiety to appropriate you know a super level, almost cosmic level and almost you know hyper romantic level of narrative. In the sense that he wants to appropriate those markers you know chalice, knightly romance ladylove etcetera and everyone else around like enemies of romance dragons and infidels etcetera.
So, just to very quickly recap the section, where we ended last time this little paragraph which should be on your screen now, where it is told to us at last, she spoke to me. So, there is a degree of finality and momentousness about this little sentence, At last she spoke to me is like an epoch. It is like a paradigm shift in this romantic narrative. When she addressed the first words to me I was so confused that I did not know what to answer. She asked me was I going to Araby. I forgot whether I answered yes or no. It would be a splendid bazaar she said she would love to go.
So, again the whole idea of Araby and the equation of Araby with desire is being set up over here. She would love to go to Araby right. The obvious implication is she possibly cannot go practically speaking right. It would be a splendid bazaar, she said she would love to go and this is told to him as well.
(Refer Slide Time: 04:37)

“And why can’t you?” I asked. While she spoke, she turned a silver bracelet round and round her wrist. So, again the look at the biblical metaphors over here, the markers a silver bracelet silver is the marker which was sort of biblically used as a marker of betrayal that was what was paid for betraying Christ. So, silver over here is interesting that metaphor of betrayal that metaphor of fall is presented to us in very surreptitious way. So, we have seen how these biblical markers are littered in this landscape, in Dublin I mean we have this central apple tree with a few straggling bushes around it. We have this very serpentine alley in which the you know North Richmond Street is situated. And of course, a dead priest is a constant marker of the absent faith or the annihilation the departed faith, so, to say ok.
So, silver corroborates that biblical marker narrative that we see already in operation in this particular story. So, while she spoke, she turned a silver bracelet round and round her wrist. She could not go, she said because there would be a retreat that week in her convent. So, again look at the way in which religion holds you back from desire, holds you back from fantasy, in this particular setting. If you remember the opening of the story, it was told to us that North Richmond Street being blind was a quiet street except for the hour, when the Christian brothers’ school set the boys free.
So, again the school had held them non-free for a period of time. So, the free the fact that the school is setting them free at a particular hour, obviously, implies that they were not free during that time that they were inside the school. So, religion over here obviously, is a form of imprisonment and that is corroborated over here when she tells that the boy that she cannot go to Araby despite her desire because there would be some retreat in that week in her convent. So, again the convent over here is used as a prison metaphor. Her brother and two other boys were fighting for their caps and I was alone at the railings.
Now, this is a point in the story, where the narrator begins to depart from erstwhile playmates, his erstwhile playmates. So, again if we look at the way in which language is used to mark the departure, mark the alienation which is also an elevation in a certain sense. Because he used to be one of them, he used to be you know mucking around with them in terms of playing little boyish games; but now he is suddenly matured into romance, he has suddenly matured into love and everything else around him looks like child’s play.
So, suddenly he has this very patronizing adult look and look at the way in which the gaze is maturing by being erotic. So, the eroticization of the gaze is part of the maturity process and that has been reflected in the use of language. He is literally distancing himself and the gaze is distancing himself from his erstwhile companions, where he used to be one of them. But now, he is looking down on them quite literally. So, the again, it is very camera like that gaze right. So, they are being gazed at as being outsiders to this romantic landscape that he is inhabiting at the moment.
So, the eroticization of the narrative and the maturation of the narrative were happening together and what is being excluded from that erotic mature narrative is the erstwhile child’s play in which he was a part of at one point of time. So, her brother and two other boys were fighting for their caps and I was alone at the railings. She held one of the spikes, bowing her head towards me. The light from the lamp opposite her door caught the white curve of her neck, lit up her hair that rested there and, falling, lit up the hand upon the railing. It fell over one side of her dress and caught the white border of a petticoat, just visible as she stood at ease.
So, again the gaze is very erotic, but also very metonymic right. So, look at the metonymic quality of the gaze. It’s all in fragments, it is falling on her neck, falling on her little part of her hair, falling on her petticoat, falling on her shoulder; it is very cinematic. It is like a photo play of different eroticized zones which are being gazed at by this male imagination. “It’s well for you,” she said. “If I go,” I said, “I will bring you something.” So, again, it is a very knightly promise made to the beloved ‘if I go to Araby, I will bring you something’, it is a profound promise almost pompous in quality, but this is again part of the appropriation process and he is trying to appropriate the knightly rhetoric of going to inimical space go into this fantasy land, among enemies suffering enemies and dragons in the way and bring her something very romantic like a chalice or like a holy grail or something of that sort.
So, again in his imagination everything is transported into that you know knightly landscape and that’s something which is again part of the love process, part of the eroticization process which is maturing him into that kind of a landscape that is everything around him. This Banal Dublin is suddenly very banal and very childish, despite the fact that he was a part of it, like a week ago. But he is very quickly maturing into a different kind of landscape in his mind. Then, the markers have changed and the markers are being filled in with mythical knightly settings or markers in that setting ok.
And you find immediately after this everything else would become like a painful process of wait for him; everything else would become all these other practical banal things around him will be enemies for his quest and temporality, will be very interestingly represented. Suddenly, time will become very painful process of experience. It is not something that you know live, it is something which you suffer because it is stopping him from going to his quest right.
So, temporality is definitely decelerated in this point of time, everything slows down for him and it is part of the painful process, which stops them from going to Araby and it is exactly what he is said to us. And this should be on your screen. What innumerable follies laid waste my waking and sleeping thoughts after that evening! So, after the evening everything else becomes a painful process of wait. I wished to annihilate the tedious intervening days.
So, again temporality becomes part of the dragon process. Time is a dragon in this particular setting and he wants to annihilate the dragon, he wants to get to the Araby, the fantasy space and pick something for his beloved. I wished to annihilate the tedious intervening days. I chafed against the work of school. At night in my bedroom and by day in the classroom her image came between me and the page I strove to read. The syllables of the word Araby were called to me through the silence in which my soul luxuriated and cast an eastern enchantment over me.
(Refer Slide Time: 10:51)

So, again eastern enchantment is a very typically western way of looking at the orient as some kind of a exotic fantasy space which is obviously, hyper romanticized, hyper sexualized, hyper essentialized etcetera right. So, eastern enchantment is that magic gaze that is conferred on the orient which is part of the very Eurocentric process; a Eurocentric way of looking at the eastern world right. So, China, India; all these will have very exotic landscapes. So, that exotic landscape, the exotic geographical landscape is equated with the mindscape that he has in his mind.
So, in his mind Araby is the eastern land and he is going to Araby and we find that he will go in a train a Dublin a very banal Dublin train and that train will become in his mind this knightly horse that he is travelling to go to the space and pick something out for his beloved. So, again this constant transportation, this constant shuffling between different kind of markers is something which we find very interesting in the story right.
So, you know the entire the word Araby would just be conjured up in his mind and will cast an Eastern enchantment over me. I asked for leave to go to the bazaar on Saturday night. My aunt was surprised and hoped it was not some Freemason affair. So, again look at the it is how very topical, politically potent things are very casually mentioned Freemason affair. So, Freemasons were a secret society of Jesuits; this alternative Jesuit narrative in Dublin which had its branches and many of the parts other the world including Calcutta. So, Freemason society was something which was looked down upon by the Catholic church and it was attractive to the dissenters of Dublin, who most of the people who were very unhappy with the church. So, they joined the society as some kind of a dissent process.
So, the aunt was surprised that you know is there is a fear, the panic for young men; especially young men to join the freemason society and she wanted to make sure that he has not been seduced to join the Freemason affair. I answered few questions in class. I watched my master’s face pass from amiability to sternness; he hoped I was not beginning to idle right. So, again the master is obviously, a Jesuit priest and you know he is fearing that the boy is beginning to idle which is like a sin according to this you know this biblical narrative, that he is you know very firmly planted in.
I could not call my wandering thoughts together. 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 monotonous child’s play. It is very tempting to do a solid Freudian reading of this particular setting. I mean obviously, most of you know that most of Freud’s theories have been refuted, but you know it is beautifully Freudian in that sense. So, everything between him and his desire is child’s play. So, everything between him and Eros, is essentially Thanatos if you use the Freudian vocabulary. So, everything is like a death drive and he just wants to go for his desired drive and everything that stops him from his desire becomes ugly monotonous child’s play.
And interestingly, how the way child’s play is inverted is you know child’s play obviously, over here it is very banal it is very mundane it is its non-erotic is something which stops him from his erotic landscape, from his you know love landscape, from his desire landscape and you know everything that is stopping him from desire is becoming an enemy in his imagination. It’s making a monotonous; it’s making him melancholic it’s impeding his ego which wants to feed off the desire right.
So, it is very classically Freudian in that particular, this particular line, I had hardly any patience with the serious work of life. Now, that it stood between me and my desire seemed to me child’s play ugly monotonous child’s play. So, every form of banality around him, every form of practicality around him becomes a monotonous child’s play. So, notice the way in which a very condescending gaze has been conferred on his activities, since it is a child’s play, I do not take it seriously; the only serious thing that I have in my mind now is my desire to go to Araby and also look at the way in which the markers of desire keep shifting in the story.
At first was Mangan’s sister and now it has shifted to Araby. So, that is a desired place, that is a desired space, he wants to go and consume and then, come back right. So, the markers of desire the signifiers of desire keep shifting very quickly. And of course, that is reflective of very confused adolescent sexualized imagination that he is you know suffering and experiencing as an adolescent male. Ok. On Saturday morning, I reminded my uncle that I wished to go to the bazaar in the evening. He was fussing at the hallstand, looking for the hat-brush and answered me curtly: “Yes, boy, I know.”
Again, look at the way in which the absent parents is such a potent presence in the story. He is brought up by his uncle and aunt, I mean you sort of guess that the relationship he has with uncle and aunt it is not quite nice, not quite pleasant; the only adults mentioned are the uncle and the aunt and the stern schoolmaster So, it is obviously, a loveless landscape in which this boy is situated. So, his desire for love is really essentially again in a very Freudian way, he is in love with the feeling of being in love because that is quite literally absent in the landscape that he is growing up in. So, he has got a stern aunt, and a stern uncle and a stern schoolmaster. These are the only adults available to him in his growing up process.
So, for the first time in his life presumably, he is falling in love. He is experiencing love and that of course, is very erotic experience and he does not quite know how to acknowledge and experience it and hence this very confused vocabulary and which he is using to describe the process describe the experience ok. So, the curtness of the uncle’s response is reflective of the loveless-ness in which he is situated. He was fussing at the hallstand, looking for a hat brush and answered me curtly: “Yes, boy, I know.” So, again it is not son, yes boy I know. So, language is extremely important in Joyce each word tells you something, this why he is such a difficult writer to read and unpack right.
So, yes boy I know, not yes son I know, not yes darling I know ok. So, he is already addressed as a young male presumably you know he is expected to be responsible and a proper Christian in a Dublin setting. As he was in the hall, I could not get I could not go to the front parlor and lie at the window.
So, again look at the way in which the adult is stopping him, from his movement of desire as he was in a hall, I could not go to the front parlor and lie at the window, see all the adults in the story as you can see are all enemies of romance are all enemies of fantasy are all enemies of imagination. So, to say so we have this peter pan world, where all the children play and grow up together and we have this adult enemies around it, who are essentially inimical to any idea any experience of romance. So, even spatially speaking, you see how the same house is broken down into romantic zones and nonromantic zones; between fantasy zones and non-fantasy zones.
So, the presence of the adult, the non-parent adult, the non-loving adult is obviously, an enemy to romance. So, as he was in the hall I could not go into the front parlor. So, he is stopping me; spatially speaking to going from going to the front parlor and experience my romance. I left the house in bad humour and walked slowly towards the school. The air was pitilessly raw and already my heart misgave me. So, again the pitilessness of the air is important for us, the rawness of the air is important for us, and already his heart is misgiving him. So, he is already beginning to get suspicions about this entire idea of romance and he is already beginning to feel this might be a failed quest.
Because remember he is a knight in his own imagination, he is in a knight knightly situation knightly mode in his own imagination and he wants to make it as momentous and profound as a knightly narrative and obviously, his heart is misgiving him and he is desperately trying to convert Dublin into a knightly landscape into a chivalrous medieval, landscape of romance which is very hard to do given the decadence of Dublin, in this particular historical point of time. Because you know if you remember the soundscape that he described before, it is about the shrill litanies of shop boys and also numerous ballads about the troubles of a native land.
This is a Dublin which is politically very volatile; this is a Dublin which is; obviously, under the English empire, but you know under great oppression from the British and you find towards the end of the story, he will be further his romance will be further killed by British accents right. So, he will hear two people speaking in English accents and that will seal the annihilation of his love. So, the entire idea of love and romance and this very imperial presence which would come in through the accent will definitely you know squash, any idea of romance at the end of the story which we will see in due course ok.
So, when I came home to dinner my uncle was not had not yet been home. Still it was early. I sat staring at the clock for some time and, when its ticking began to irritate me, I left the room. So, again almost all the modernists were massively influenced by Henri Bergson’s theses on time. I may have mentioned this in my lectures on Eliot; specially Eliot’s early poetry, the whole idea of clock time and real time or temp and duree which were the terms used by Bergson’s. A temp is obviously, clock time, the standard time. It is shared by everyone, but that is not important in modernist imagination.
What is important is duree which is real time, or psychological time, which is an embodied time the embodied engagement with time and how that uniquely situates you apropos of time right. So, and that can be completely out of sync with clock time and that is that is something which we keep coming we keep encountering in modernism. One of my favorite examples is this Yeats poem called Vacillations, you can look it up it is a very autobiographical poem, where this is about his 50th birthday, it is the poet W. B Yeats sitting in London and he is sitting in a cafe watching the metropolis go by and then, there’s this lovely line where he says for twenty minutes more or less such was my happiness that I was blessed and could bless right.
So, the whole point of being transported to a blessedness within this timeframe of twenty minutes which is obviously, a parody of clock time and that is just superficially described and then, moved away from. But the whole point is moving to a time in which he was so blessed that he could bless right. So, that is like a transportation in time and that was an obsession that most modernists had starting with Proust of course, the entire modernism’s obsession with time starts with Proust which is you know and he has literally titled his book In Search of Lost Time. So, it is all about temporality to a great extent.
So, Joyce too, if you read Ulysses when we read Ulysses in this course, you will find again, we have the same obsession with time. It is one clock, it is one calendar day in terms of clock time. But that is completely immaterial and in one calendar day we have these numerous passages of time which come and go and sometimes you think that it is one calendar day which is like a very favorite architectonic of modernists. It is very deliberately designed, just to hammer home, the parody of time that they do it is like clock time or calendar time is completely immaterial and hence, they situate this very superficial one day deliberately just to sort of prove to us that how that one day is completely immaterial because in one day we can have so many transportations of time.
So, many passages of time. So, many experiences of time which is the most important thing. It is over here too that time is an enemy. As here very clearly mentioned temporality is a dragon to him, in his knightly quest. So, he is sitting staring at the clock which is obviously, the metaphor of the enemy and the irritating clock which is ticking by is getting on his nerves quite literally. So, I left the room. I mounted the staircase and gained the upper part of the house. Again, look at the verb gain the upper part of the house, it is like a you know triumph metaphor, victory metaphor he is already in a knightly quest. So, pay very attention; close attention to Joyce’s use of language. I mean each word means something in Joyce specially in a short story which is more economical than a longer narrative or longer novel.
So, gain, the upper part of the house is like a war he is having a battle with the adult, the loveless adult, the non-parent adult. So, in this battle he has gained the upper part of the house, it is a spatial victory. The high cold empty gloomy rooms liberated me. Interesting use of adjectives ‘high cold empty gloomy and all these rooms come together to liberate him right. So, liberation gets from those rooms and went from room to room singing. So, again it is like a metaphor of victory. So, I have just like a war victory song.
So, I gained the upper part of the house and I am enacting this victory song across the dark cold gloomy rooms and this is the really interesting bit and this is a very good example of those of you interested in any research in modernism and cinema should quote this in great details and should look at the section in great details and this is on your screen. From the front window, I saw my companions playing below in the street. I mean this is a classic example of a reversal of gaze. So, look at the way in which he is transported to the upper part of the house which he has gained out of a victory with an adult and now, he can look down upon his companions, playing down in the street.
From the front window I saw my companions playing below in the street. Their cries reached me, weakened and indistinct. So, very symbolically, he is departed from his companions. He is now eroticized into a matured imagination to a matured manliness and his companions, who are like children on the street, who had the same clock time by the way the same biological time in the bodies; but he is transported because he has experienced a different kind of existential time, a different sense of psychological time which is very erotic, very imaginative, very fantastic, quite literally and as a result of which he has his gaze of condescension, his gaze of superiorities looking down on his companions from the front window.
I saw my companions playing below in the street. It is a typical classic camera gaze that is being used to look down upon inhabitants down below and also look at the way in which the visual gaze and existential departure are equated together. This is a gold standard in modernist writing their cries reached me weakened and indistinct and leaning my forehead against the cool glass. I looked over the dark house where she lived right again look at the knightly metaphors over here.
(Refer Slide Time: 24:45)

I looked over the dark house, where she lived leaning my head in the cool glass. I may have stood there for an hour, seeing nothing but the brown-clad figure cast by my imagination, touched discreetly by the lamplight at the curved neck, at the hand upon the railings and at the border below the dress. Again, the very metonymic fragmented gaze the camera gaze looking at certain fragments of the body, the border below the dress, the curved neck, the hand upon the railings. So, this particular passage it is like a goldmine for those of you interested in visual narratives in modernism right.
So, take a look at the way in which the existential superiority of the boy is conveys to us by the way he is looking down upon his companions from a window and then of course, he looks over at the dark house. It is a panoramic long shot from the window, where she lived and then obviously, the one little passage which is again mocking clock time, I may have stood there for an hour. Does not matter, whether it is one hour or four hours, what actually matters is psychological time, where am I psychologically situated in time.
So, the clock time may have been 1 hour, it does not matter at all; but I saw nothing but the brown clad figure cast by my imagination. So, again the brown clad figure, it has a quasi-religious symbolism about it. It is something like a divine figure, but of course, it is highly erotic. It is the ultimate erotic figure for him which is that erotic quality is you know displayed immediately after this because of the figure has been touched discreetly by the lamplight at the curved neck. So, look at the way in which the lamplight and his organic gaze are equated together.
So, again this is a classic case of very complex visual narrative the lamplight and his eye light are being equated together are mapped onto each other and both of them are working together in sync to take a look at the object of desire right. The lamp light at the curved neck, at the hand upon the railing and at the border below the dress, very metonymic, very fragmented classic close up camera techniques which he uses to describe the object of desire by the male imagination ok.
So, I stop at this point today and hopefully, in the next lecture or maybe in the next couple of lectures, we’ll finish this story and then, we’ll have another rehearsal on some of the topics, which we have discussed already about Dubliners and then, we will move on to the next story in this particular collection.
Thank you for your attention.