A Comparative Study of Symbolism in Araby and The Dead


西江文艺 2016年6期

李锦 蒋佳琦

【Abstract】: This paper explores the comparative study of symbolism in two short stories written by James Joyce. One is named Araby, a short story about a boys hazy love for a girl who dies in the face of reality. The other one is The Dead, which is about an Irishmans knowing about his wifes true emotion and then feels depressed. Araby indicates the love in adolescence while The Dead depicts the love in adulthood. Coincidently, these two short stories are both settled in the background of Ireland in the early 20th century, when the society is dark and hopeless. At the end of these two short stories, the main characters encounter the surprising events, which reflect the same theme of the coldness and distance between people in the Irish society, and a search for a national identity.

【Key words】: Araby, The Dead, Symbolism, Settings, Characters

1. Introduction

Araby(1914)and The Dead(1914) are part of the collection of short stories——Dubliners(1914). Dublinersis(1914) a collection of fifteen short stories written by James Joyce, first published in 1914. The author used epiphany and symbolism in the stories to show the disillusionment and the identity of human nature.

2.Symbolic Settings in Two Short Stories

2.1. Symbolic Settings in Araby

Dublin is the living, symbolic background of the story. The gloomy atmosphere of North Richamond Street actually shows what lies ahead for the little boy in the bazaar of Araby.

At the beginning of the story, the first sentence immediately shows us a “blind”street. A quick scan of the important adjectives in the first paragraph —“blind”, “quiet”, “uninhabited”, “imperturbable”—immediately shows a world that is practical, simple, and stultifying. The boys are able, somehow, to discover some beauty and wonder even from these simple surroundings, but also they must become connoisseurs of darkness. The description of the street and the lives the boys live on it serve as the background that we will use to understand how much more imaginative the Araby market will or will not be.

2.2 Symbolic Settings in The Dead

In winter, the flowers wither; the trees are bare; the animals hibernate. Everywhere is lifeless. This lifeless atmosphere is in correspondence with the main theme of death in the story. Dublin is a city in winter, both realistically and spiritually. There is a stagnant atmosphere in the entire city and even in the whole country, and it is hard for new life to survive. Oppositely, the heavy snow outside at the end of the story brings new and fresh air to people. The snow contains hope. It makes people energetic and awake in the cold season.

2.3 The Similarities of the Settings in Two Short Stories

Both of the two short stories are set under disappointing surroundings. In Araby, the author uses dark and gloomy references to create the mood or atmosphere. James Joyce uses darkness to make the boys reality more believable through more vivid, precise descriptions. The ending of the story is filled with images of darkness and light. James Joyce uses the lights of the bazaar to illustrate the boys confrontation with reality. This is when the boy finally realizes that life is not what he has dreamed it to be.

In The Dead, Monkstown and Nuns Ireland both symbolizes a place without love, where people are spiritually dead. The continent represents the advanced culture of Europe, especially Britain, while the west of Ireland stands for Irish culture and Irish identity.

3.Symbolic Characters in Two Short Stories

3.1 SymbolicCharacters in Araby

The little boy in Araby is ignorant and innocent. At the beginning of the story, he lacks the understanding ability necessary for evaluation and perspective. Having fallen in love with the girl, he is still interpreting the world in the images of his dreams. It is only after he comes to Araby that he realizes he has placed all his love and hope in a world that does not exist except in his imagination. The boys experience is not restricted to youths encounter with first love. Rather, it is a portrayal of a continuing problem all through life: the incompatibility of the ideal, of the dream as one wishes it to be, with the bleakness of reality.

3.2 Symbolic Characters in The Dead

The story begins with the caretakers daughter Lily running off. The girl named Lily must be pure and innocent like the pure white flower—lily. However, in the story, Lily was “a slim, growing girl, pale in complexion and with hay—colored hair”. The appearance of the girl indicates she may be ill. This illness might be both physical and spiritual.

3.3 The Similarities of the Characters in Two Short Stories

The main characters in the two stories go through the disillusion of their dreams and find out the reality of the world. The boy, who enters the new experience of first love, treats this love at the degree of religion. The quest ends when he arrives at the bazaar and realizes with slow, tortured clarity that Araby is not at all what he imagined. The male character----Gabriel---- has an ideal wife and they should have been the most perfect couple. However, in his wifes heart, there always exists another man who died years ago. His dream of marriage was shattered.


Dubliners begins with disillusion of a young boys love and ends up with the disillusion of marriage. The dark settings in these two stories also symbol the dead endings. The little boy and the married man are the representatives of people in different ages in real society. James Joyce has used symbolism to support the theme of the stories—spiritual paralysis of the people and the disillusion of dreams. In the meanwhile, he wants to awake peoples awareness and hope someone to bring new, fresh air to the society.

Works Cited:

[1]Sun Yang. Dreams and Reality—About Impression and Epiphany in Araby. Overseas English[J]. 2012: 187-188.

[2] Yu Chaoqin. The Application of Symbolism in James Joyces The Dead. English on Campus[J]. 2012(09): 115.

[3] Liu Ying. The Recycling of Death and Rebirth in The Dead. Proceedings of the Third Northeast Asia International Symposium on Language, Literature and Translation. 2014(01).

[4] Shi Xiaojing. Analysis of James Joyces Araby. Overseas English[J]. 2013(19): 189.