The Role of religion in Araby by James Joyce
‘Araby’ is the last of the Dubliners epiphanic tales that intends to ‘unveil’ the layers that the theme of the story is consisted upon and which let the unnamed identities of the characters to live in the world of illusions which eventually seduce them into reality of their secluded unknown identities. This game of epiphany that the characters ignorantly participate in is shown by Joyce as an inevitable consequence of the hollowness of these characters as individuals and this hollowness is the genesis of the spiritual resurrection within these characters who were left in a mystified state of flux which the Faith left behind in its absence.
The subtle application of religion especially as an antagonistic or conflicting agent in the theme of the story of ‘Araby’ enables Joyce to experiment with the techniques of writing from the sagacious insight of an individual’s predicaments that occur due to the lack of the spiritual strength. In ‘Araby’ the allusions made to the religious aspects are more related to rituals and of personal motives rather than for spirituality.
And such serious disturbance within the mind and soul of characters is very intensely felt and expressed by Joyce and to find the nearest possible expression for such a perturbed state of being he innovated new means and modes of expressions in his writings such as “the stream of consciousness” which later proved to be one of the most drastic modifications in the forms of expression in the literary writings.
Araby is the a story that is narrated by the first person, which aptly lets the readers get acquainted to the most true and actual thought process of the character and they experience the most vivid picture of the irony and deceptions which that character is the victim of. In ‘Araby’ the boy is ignorant of the purpose of his Christian Brothers school in his life and his liking for his expired tenant who was a priest is so casual to relate him with the books that he possessed and the amount of money and assets that he had left after his death.
The death of the priest can be a symbolic reference to the fall of the Roman Catholic Church and the legacy and the assets of the dead priest is a questionable aspect which the boy fails to question due to his ignorance that how could a priest leave a legacy of so much of money? This is can be a reference to the hypocrisy and dishonesty of the church and the clergy class. And more importantly in ‘Araby’ Joyce has used the reference of religious aspects to trace the nuances of sexuality in the characters.
This is perhaps to deduce the triviality of impact which the religion could bring in these characters as religion was no more than what the church would teach them. In the opening lines of the story the boys tells that the life of North Richmond Street is dominantly controlled by the Catholic belief but with his casual narration it is suggested that the importance is for a mere value of rituals.
The boys first experience of infatuation with Mangan’s sister provides him with a parallel world and his expressions are a confused mixture of the religious schooling and the romantic novels he had read to suffice his romantic vision. “All my senses seemed to desire to veil themselves and, feeling that I was about to slip from them, I pressed the palms of my hands together until they trembled, murmuring O love! O love! many times. ” In this way Joyce provides him with a romantic-catholic dialect which portrays his confused state of mind that transfixes his entity in the intense ‘sexual prayer’.
Joyce also refers to the Garden of Eden and its link with the evocation of the sexual instinct in a human being. This is quite obviously refered when the boy mentions the “wild garden behind the house which contained a central apple tree”. The boy’s fascination of Mangan’s sister can also be reflected to the figure of the Virgin Mary in these lines. “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.
And when the girl talks to him and while she mentions her obligatory religious duty (the retreat in the convent), she constantly twirls her silver bracelet on her wrist. This is also indicates her intense sexual desire and her lack of will and intention for that religious duty. Joyce had a great a dislike for the Catholic Church and for the damages it had done to the country so he fashioned his dislike for the church in the symbolic references in Araby.
And he exploits the Greek word “epiphany” which means “revelation” but the kind of revelation that Joyce provides his character in Araby is amply described by Stephen Dedelus the protagonist of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, in one of his passages: “By epiphany he meant a sudden spiritual manifestation, whether in the vulgarity of speech or of gesture of in a memorable phrase or the mind itself. He believed that it was for the man of letters to record these epiphanies with extreme care, seeing that they themselves are the most delicate and evanescent of moments. ”