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Trivilization of Romance

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

Lecture – 26
Araby – Part 3
(Refer Slide Time: 00:16)

So, hello and welcome to this NPTEL course entitled Twentieth Century Fiction. We were looking at James Joyce’s short story ‘Araby’ from the collection Dubliners. So, we just carry on from where we ended last time and we see how spatiality and identity, so they inform each other in the story. So, when the identity is that of a romantic knight and this is the identity that the boy wants to appropriate in the story and everything around him is inimical to that identity.
So, the identity is the process of appropriation and the space gives a very big dimension to this identity in the sense that when he gets through certain spaces, then he begins to achieve that identity in a way which is more comforting. And also we had seen how the adult world is inimical to this identity, this imaginative identity of the knight in shining armor the knight in a quest, for a romantic quest for you know getting something for the beloved right and that adult world is inimical to it and the whole idea is to conquer the adult world, conquer the adults, you know vanquish them and then achieve that identity through a process of romantic affiliation and romantic imagination.
Now, we have also seen how the visual narrative, the visual grammar in the story is veryvery cinematic, in the sense that the way the boy looks at Mangan’s sister is very-very cinematic in quality. It has got a camera gaze about it which is very metonymic and by metonymic; obviously, mean it works in fragments. So, certain fragments are focalized, certain fragments are focused on and certain fragments are magnified right. So, magnification, close ups, all these become very important in this particular short story.
Now, we just carry on from where we ended last time. So, this is a setting the situation is the boy is getting more and more impatient, because he wants uncle to come back and give him the money to go to the bazaar Araby. And we have seen how Araby becomes the utopian space for the boy, in the sense that you know that is a bazaar which supposedly, contains all the lovely, exotic, erotic things which he will through have access through and he will bring something for the girl for the girl, Mangan’s sister. And that promise that he had made to Mangan’s sister it was a very profound promise in his imagination and it had the same degree of profundity as a promise made by a knight to his beloved, to his lady love.
So, that becomes a very important thing over here ok. So, and then we see what happens when he comes down from the upper part of the house, because remember he had gone to the upper part of the house to gain access and to be himself and also look at Mangan’s sister, but when he comes downstairs the downstairs is full of adults who are like I said inimical to any idea of romance and this is what is described by the boy and this should be on your screen.
When I came downstairs again I found Mrs. Mercer sitting at the fire. She was an old garrulous woman, a pawnbroker’s widow, who collected used stamps for some pious purpose. So, again look at the very interesting and complex, conflation of a pious religious signifiers and material markers. So, the stamps which are used for commercial purposes; stamps which are used for all kinds of business purposes, they are collected over here for some pious purpose.
So, there is a degree of sarcasm in that sentence., it is some pious purpose, we do not quite know. It is kept deliberately vague and we can connect it to the very opening of the story where we have been told that the priest, the church priest who had died had left all his money to charitable institutions and the furniture to his sister.
So, the fact that he had a lot of money, it has been suggested by all his money and over here too we have someone who is a pawnbroker’s widow. So, very much someone very much embedded in the market; embedded in a profit-making enterprise; ruthlessly profitmaking enterprise and I know she supposedly collects some stamps for some pious purpose.
I had to endure the gossip of the tea-table. Mrs. Mercer sorry, the meal was prolonged for beyond an hour and still my uncle did not come. Mrs. Mercer stood up to go: she was sorry she could not wait any longer, but it was after eight o’clock and the night air and she did not like to be out late as the night air was bad for her. When she had gone I began to walk up and down the room, clenching my fists.
So, again this is a marker of impatience; a marker of anxiety; a marker of apprehension. So, he is ready for the uncle to come back and Mrs. Mercer, who would have been a visitor and who had been talking you know there is a lot of gossip spewed out by her, while having tea with the aunt of the boy and at some point, eight o’clock she got up to go, because she said that night air was bad for her.
So, again these are people who prefer to be claustrophobic; who prefer to be indoors; who prefer not to go out in night air and again if you look at the way in which these spatial differences are mapped out. a boy, the boy over here, he is dying to go out; he is dying to get out and go to Araby; dying to get out of the house essentially. Whereas Mrs. Mercer; is someone who sort of tries to avoid any interaction or any exposure to the night air. So, the adult world; the adult proclivities in a childlike world; and the childlike proclivities; it is very clearly mapped out differently.
So, as measures of difference. So, my aunt said: “I am afraid you may put off your bazaar for this night of Our Lord.” So, you know again the whole idea of using Our Lord, the bazaar of our lord, you know which the term is described, used to described something which essentially a mercantile space Araby.
So, again look at the way in which we have seen before how the very erotic experience of the boy the fact that he was getting more and more sexually attracted to the girl and how that was conveyed to her. So, to himself as well through a very confused religious rhetoric, because the whole acknowledgement of sexuality is something which is forbidden to him right. And so, the forbidden-ness and this is; obviously, part of the Catholic upbringing that he has had the very decadent control of Catholic church which had had its influences; massive influences on Irish imagination at that point of time.
So, that is something which causes the confusion; that is something which causes him to use religious rhetoric, while actually talking about very-very emotional and erotic experiences.
So, again similarly we have Mrs. Mercer who collects stamps for some pious purpose and we have the boy’s aunt telling, talking about the Araby the bazaar as some you know the bazaar of Our Lord. At nine o’clock I heard my uncle latchkey in the hall door. I heard him talking to himself and heard this hallstand rocking when it had received the weight of his overcoat. I could interpret these signs. When he was midway through his dinner I asked him to give me the money to go to the bazaar. He had forgotten.
So, again you know, if you take a look at the way in which the significance of the bazaar is so paramount on the boy’s imagination and it is so trivial in the uncle’s imagination, the demarcation, one of the adult proclivities and the child-like proclivities are very clearly mapped out. He had clearly forgotten about the bazaar which is to say that you know the bazaar which had which had had such supreme significance in the boy’s imagination, has very little significance for the uncle. He just simply forgotten about the bazaar at home.
(Refer Slide Time: 07:29)

“The people are in bed and after their first sleep now,” he said. I did not smile. My aunt said to him energetically: “Cannot you give him the money and let him go? You have kept him late enough as it is.” So, the aunt comes at rescue over here and goads the uncle to pay him, pay the boy some money just so he can go to the bazaar. My uncle said that he was sorry he had forgotten. He said he believed in old saying: “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” He asked me whether where I was going and, when I told him a second time he asked me did I know The Arab’s Farewell to his Steed.
So, the Arab’s Farewell to his Steed or the horse is a sentimental poem written around the time. so, again look at the way in which the adult world trivializes, the romantic quest of the boy had set up, set himself up to conquer. So, Araby to the boy, it means a whole world of exotic things; a whole world of erotic things; a whole world of Utopian things. That’s the essentially, the Utopia romantic Utopia for the boy which is now been caricatured by the adult world, which just looks at, hears the word Araby and then just caricatures it through a Grotesque poem the Arab’s farewell to his steed which is essentially about very maudlin sentimental romantic, not romantic, but a sweetly sentimental poem which is looked down upon as something which is very maudlin and very immature.
So, again the trivializing of the romance over here is already at play and look at the way in which Joyce gives him markers of this trivialization. the whole point of how Araby, the grand bazaar, the Utopian bazaar, the Utopian space in the boy’s imagination that is converted into this very-very cheap parody of a poem the Arab’s farewell to his steed is tantamount to, it is reflective of the different cognitive registers; different linguistic registers as play. The adult register and the childlike register.
When I left the kitchen, and was about to, he was about to recite the opening lines of the piece to my aunt. So, it is suggested over here very-very subtly that the uncle over here may be inebriated in a sense he may be drunk, because he does not seem to have control over what he is saying, he does not seem to have any memory about what he had promised earlier as well.
So, again this complete detachment of the adult world from the childlike world is part of the loveless-ness, that the boy experiences. There is no love at all. So, first of all does not have any parenting, he just talks about his uncle and his aunt which suggests that maybe he does not really have his parents and there is no love in the in the home that he is growing up in. So, the loveless-ness is underlined over and over again through oblivion; through detachment; through indifference; etcetera ok.
I held a florin tightly in my hand as I strode down Buckingham Street towards the station. The sight of the streets thronged with buyers and glare glaring with gas recalled to me the purpose of my journey.
So, the sight of streets thronging with people buyers and sellers recalled reinvigorated in him the purpose of his journey. I took my seat in a third-class carriage of a deserted train. After an intolerable delay again, the delay is always intolerable, because time is against him. So, temporality becomes part of the romantic quest over here. the fact that you know anything that stands between him and the bazaar is now an enemy to romance. So, time, at this point of time is intolerable, is an insufferable you know enemy to romance.
So, after an intolerable delay the train moved out of the station slowly. It crept onwards among the ruinous house and over the twinkling river. At Westland Row Station a crowd of people pressed to the carriage doors; but the porters moved them back, saying it was a special train for the bazaar. I remained alone in the bare carriage. So, again the whole idea of the solitary quest is important, because if you remember in the last lecture, we had seen how the transition from playing with the companions to looking down upon the companions as someone in a position of superiority and a position of height literally position of height is something which is quite symbolic in quality and likewise, the train journey over here is very-very symbolic.
So, the train over here is a commercial train anyone with a ticket can get in, but in this particular case it becomes an exclusive train for the, for the bazaar. So, the porters pushes, the porters push everyone else back. So, he remains the only person on the train.
So, that is to say that that underlines in his imagination, its nightly quality, the quest like quality of this particular journey ok. It was special train for the bazaar. I remained alone in the bare carriage. In a few minutes the train drew up beside an impoverished wooden platform. So, the word impoverished is interesting over here, because you know the whole idea of Araby being this exotic, abundant excessive space, is now about to be undercut by the reality of Araby. So, the expectation about Araby and the reality about Araby are completely at odds with each other. In this particular section the boy is about to find out shortly.
I passed out to the on to the road and saw by the lighted dial of a clock that it was ten minutes to ten. And in front of me was a large building which displayed the magical name. So, again the building displayed a magical name in front of him, but then of course, the platform that he got off it, is an impoverished wooden platform it is almost ad hoc in quality right something which is just built for that purpose, but once he gets off the platform, once he gets on the road and you know he sees a big dial clock, it is ten minutes to ten and he sees a big building which displays the magical name Araby. I could not find any six-penny entrance and, fearing that the bazaar would be closed, I passed in quickly through a turnstile, handing a shilling to a weary-looking man. (Refer Slide Time: 12:31)

So, again, if you take a look at the weary-looking man over here, you should be reminded of the weary looking woman, the knitting woman in Marlow’s Heart of Darkness, because even there when he went to the Belgian office there were these women in front of the in the front parlor of the office were knitting wood and who looked very stern and matronly and who almost had this Medusa stare at Marlow and over here too this weary looking man was very tired and the tiredness of the man is interesting, because you know that is completely at odds with his idea of Araby being as abundant, fertile, imaginative, romantic space which is actually being guarded by a weary looking man.
It is almost like a you know, a gatekeeper of hell; a gatekeeper of somewhere some space which is essentially dead or deadening. I found myself in a big hall girdled at half its height by a gallery. Nearly all the stalls were closed and the greater part of the hall was in darkness. So, again instead of illumination and exoticism and you know all kinds of magic, what we actually find is that the entire hall is submerged in darkness right. So, darkness over here becomes a symbolic darkness. It becomes the darkness of disappointment.
I recognize a silence like that which pervades a church after a service. So, again the timing is important. It is post performance; post service; post event.
So, he had; obviously and evidently reached Araby post event. So, it is full of darkness. There is a silence of a church after a service. So, it is a post service church right. So, it does not really have any significance anymore.
So, you know it is a degree of, there is a degree of devaluation going on over here. The building, the church metaphor is interesting, because the building which had some value which had some interesting you know whole idea of the merchandise, being there it had some value to it, but he reaches there at a point where all the wares are bought and sold and there is no value left.
It has been exhausted of its value, it is a degree of liquidation about a space, it is closed down right, in the sense that you know that is the church metaphor, very-very usefully used over here in a sense you know it is a church after a service. There is no, it’s not really a church anymore; it is just a bare building right.
So, likewise he reaches Araby at a time when it is not really a market anymore, its market like quality, it’s gone, it’s disappeared right. So, it is just a bare building which used to be a market at some point of time. So, it is closed down for the day essentially, closed down for the day. I walked into the center of the bazaar timidly. So, the word timidly is important over here he is timid in his walk, he is timid in his gait, he is timid in his movement.
A few people were gathered about the stalls which were still open. Before a curtain, over which the words café chantant were written in colored lamps, two men were counting money on the salver. I listened to the fall of the coins. So, again this is the very interesting biblical metaphor, you know this is the allusion to over here is; obviously, Jesus the story in Jesus’ life where he goes to a Jewish synagogue and finds priests counting money instead of performing any holy duty and he gets disgusted with it and it is the only time where Christ actually becomes angry and he remonstrates the people for being so mercenary right.
So, there is this degree of disillusionment in this boy as well and we have seen how the biblical markers and the erotic markers are all put together in a very interesting combination in the story.
Just so, sexuality and spirituality you know they all come together and in this one confused cognitive condition. So, two men counting money on a salver becomes very interesting marker of commercialization a very interesting marker of insignificance which; obviously, irritates the boy.
I listened to the fall of the coins. So, the fall is important over here. The word fall, the fall of the coins, it is almost like a sound of shattered dreams or shattering dreams right. So, the whole idea of Araby which used to be the space of abundance and fertility and imagination and romance, is now coming to an end and that end has been acoustically conveyed to him to the fall of the coins. So, the fall of the coin as an acoustic reminder, an acoustic representation of the fall of Araby.
Remembering with difficulty why I had to come I went over to one of the stalls and examined porcelain and if porcelain vases and flowered tea-sets. So, again he remembers with difficulty why I had come. So, the entire significance, the entire purpose that he had had to come to Araby is completely vanished now. So, contrast that with the master significance he had pumped himself with in terms of coming to Araby and buying something worthwhile for his beloved Mangan’s sister, but now that he is in Araby, the reality of Araby is completely at odds with, the fantasy he had projected onto the space after having consumed knowledge about it right.
So, now he has to remember with difficulty why he had come right. So, again memories failing him. At the door of the stall a young lady was talking and laughing with two young gentlemen. So, you know he sees one young lady with two young gentlemen, presumably flirting with each other. I remarked the English accents and listened vaguely to their conversation. So, the English accent over here is very-very important, because remember the boy is Irish and this is taking place in Dublin.
So, the English accent over here becomes an accent of difference. So, that; obviously, they inform an identity which is different from the boy’s Irish identity right. So, the difference in identity is demarcated or delineated with the user’s accent. The accent over here becomes marker of a different kind of identity which is a whole style, which is different from the boy’s identity, which further alienates him from Araby.
So, his experience of alienation is furthered by the difference of accents over here and this is very trivial conversation taking place which is; obviously, a flirtation between a young lady and the two men flirting with them.
“O, I never said such a thing!” “O, but you did!” “O, but I did not!” “Did not she say that?” “Yes, I heard her.” “o there is a fib !”
(Refer Slide Time: 18:24)

Now, it is interesting how Joyce gives you a series of words which are actually doing a lot of things. So, the word fib is interesting, it is not really the difference between fib and lie is a fact that fib is less significant than a lie and the fib is a deflated lie, a fib is something a fib sorry, a fib is something which does not really have any value, it does not have any impact. It is so insignificant that it does not really matter right.
So, fib is an important word over here, because it becomes a marker of insignificance, the marker of deflation of values right. So, it is not really a lie in a sense that it is not, it does not really have any grandeur of a lie; it does not really have any content rich quality of a lie; it does not really have any ontological density that a lie would normally have, there’s no density, is fib a shallow lie, a fib is a senseless lie, a fib is a casual lie.
So, the casualness, the shallowness, they all connect to the insignificance, the insignificant quality that a fib would carry in normal situations. So, the insignificant, the marker of insignificance is used over here is conveyed to us by Joyce using the word fib right. Observing me the young lady came over and asked me if I wish did I wish to buy anything. The tone of her voice was not encouraging; she seemed to have spoken to me out of a sense of duty. So, again this is a voice of the enemy, this is the voice of an anti romance.
So, she just sees him and out of duty, out of politeness she just comes over and asked him if he wishes to buy something; and obviously, it is an expensive place, he does not have the money and resources to buy anything at all.
So, he just refused to engage with her. He just says no, but he also finds how, he also discerns a degree of detachment in the lady’s voice, there is no warmth, there is no connect, there is no desire to actually sell him anything. She just seemed to have just spoken out of a sense of duty and politeness. I looked humbly at the great jars that stood like eastern guards at the either side of the dark entrance to the stall and murmured: “No, thank you.” So, the two jars over here they look like eastern guards. So, again he is trying to retain somehow desperately the markers of this nightly narrative right.
So, the two jars that are very domestic things that be equated in his mind, equate in his imagination as two massive eastern guards guarding a kingdom, guarding an entrance to the stall. So, the stall suddenly becomes a bit of a kingdom, an enemy kingdom presumably and the two jars are like eastern guards defending it, protecting the gate. So, he is still using the vocabulary of a knightly narrative, the vocabulary of a chivalrous romance, but then of course, he knows that the level of meaning or the level of experience this is actually very-very deflated, this is actually very insignificant and insignificance and a deflation the deflated quality are both conveyed with the use of the word fib.
The young lady changed the position of one of the vases and went back to the two young men. They began to talk of the same subject. So, the same inane meaningless conversation continued. Once or twice the young lady glanced at me over her shoulder.
So, she is completely cut off. So, the whole experience over here is an experience of alienation is an experience of existential alienation, linguistic alienation and also sexual alienation, because the two men they seem to be surrounding the lady and they seem to have all her erotic attention and then the boy over here who comes to buy something for his beloved, he does not find any access to that space at all. And he is further cut off by the English accent that the lady I mean the two men have.
So, that English accent is; obviously, a further form of estrangement for the Irish boy who cannot get an access to that space. So, that becomes an experience of alienation for him quite literally as well as linguistically and of course, experientially. So, once or twice a young lady glancing me over her shoulder. I lingered before her stall, though I knew that my stay was useless, to make my interest in her wares seem the more real. So, again he is trying to pretend that he is about to buy something and of course, he knows that you know his stay was useless, because first of all he does not want to buy anything; the second he does not have the money to buy anything from that store.
So, here is a whole idea of Araby has come to a very painful end, a very painful fall. Araby is quickly falling in his imagination, in his estimation. So, he had thought of the bazaar as some kind of exotic space where you just come and buy something for his beloved in a very knightly chivalrous romantic way, but now that is here he finds that he is surrounded by people who are either weary or tired as in the person or that men in the in the train station, all flirtations are flippant as in a two men and a woman who are flirting with each other and completely disregarding his presence right.
So, the flippancy, the insignificance of Araby, they are all conveyed to him you know, conveyed to us by default by the use of the word fib. Again so, I just I cannot emphasize this enough. So, why is this a lie and not a lie and the fib.
The reason why lie is not written and a fib is written, because you know Joyce is trying to convey or underline the insignificance of this entire episode; this entire experience; the entire specialty of Araby which is; obviously, part of the massive humiliation and excuse me and disillusionment that the boy suffers and experiences.
So, he just lingers in there to pretend as if a interest, his interest in her wares is real. Then I turned away slowly and walked down the middle of the bazaar. I allowed the two pennies to fall against the sixpence in my pocket. So, again look at the closeup technique. So, he was he was given two pennies by his uncle and he allowed the two pennies to fall against the sixpence in my pocket right.
So, that little symbol is very important and the fact that it fell, the two pennies fell, the two pennies were used were said exclusively to buy something from Araby for the lady love, for Mangan’s sister and the fact that he let it, he lets it fall and merges with the sixpence in his pocket is a testament to the fact that you know it is a fall of a dream, it is a shattering of a dream, it is an it is a degree of renunciation. He gives up the dream, because he knows he cannot dream it anymore. It is an, it has been entire disillusionment, entire disappointment from what he had expected or what it turned out to be. So, that release of the two pence is a very-very interesting and symbolic release ok.
So, the two pennies the release of two pennies is a very important and symbolic significance over here, which is something that you must pay attention to especially for your examination ok. I heard a voice call from one end of the gallery to the other that a light was out. The upper part of the house was not completely dark. So, it is again becoming more and more dark. The lights are going out and the fact that lights are going out, it is making it more dark and disillusioned for the boy who can barely see anything; who can barely see anything of desire in this particular space.
So, he is walking out of the bazaar now like a defeated dreamer right. So, the defeated dreamer like quality is something which is suggested by the deflation of language and then the final sentence; gazing up into the darkness I saw myself as a creature driven and derided by vanity; and my eyes burned with anguish and anger right.
So, this is how the story ends. Vanities of course, false pride and of course, the vanity; over here is he had equated himself in his mind, in his imagination with that of knight and the equation was he like a knight would go to Araby and find something romantic for his object of desire; for his object of love right. And of course, this equation of the knight had been one which is very pompous and very narcissistic and very-very proud and that equation is now you know decimated completely.
And so, the vanity is now you know something which is deriding him right. So, it is driven as well as derided by vanity, it is mocked by his own vanity and as a result of which my eyes burn with anguish and anger right. So, again he is sad as well as angry at himself at everything that it caused the fall of the dream right.
So, you know this bit is interesting, because what it does it sort of symbolically indicates the end of the dream for the boy which is also indicated when he let us go the two pennies falling against of six pence in his pocket, but now over here it gets more and more graphic and more existential when he allows himself, you know when he had he knows he had allowed himself to be vain, but now gazing up into the darkness I saw myself.
So, again this is bit of a negative epiphany and we have seen it already happening in
Marlow’s in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness were the only epiphany available to Marlow is Kurtz’s words, the horror the horror it is a negative epiphany, it’s an epiphany from darkness, as the light of darkness right and of course, we saw that again happen in the previous text that we did you know series of poems in Eliot’s early poetry were especially preludes where the fallen woman figure is looking up at a ceiling and looking at a life flickering by, looking at different images in a in a life of a life flickering against the ceiling like a montage, like a visual cinematic montage.
So, likewise over here the only epiphany available to this dreamer is that of his fall is that of his derided self which is projected on the screen for him.