James Joyce Short Stories Analysis: Jesse Haynes


James Joyce

Short stories obviously lack the word count of novels, so in order to make the strong impacts they deliver, they rely on other elements much more heavily than longer works. This holds very true in the selected short stories from James Joyce’s Dubliners, “Araby” and “Clay”. In both of these stories, the element that seems to link them is the way the environment/setting of the book interacts with the narrator and the emotions it brings out.

First I will look at “Araby.” My rule of thumb (definitely not necessarily true, but for some reason I have always thought this) is that when a story has a nameless narrator, the book is more about the setting than the characters. The setting drives the characters, so to speak. (For example, Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man.) This is the case with “Araby”, whose unnamed protagonist is more affected by his environment than any of his surrounding friends. For a great part of time in the story, he merely watches Mangan from afar with no real interaction with her. When he finally talks with her, it leads him into traveling to another foreign environment which promises hope and fulfillment, but only leaves him feeling empty and abandoned.

Next up is “Clay”, which I did not enjoy nearly as much as the first. Maria, the narrator of the story, is so unattached and extremely ordinary that she seems to be carried through the story by the setting like a piece of driftwood running through a river. This is probably a BIG stretch, but she reminds me of Ishmael in a way, who is strikingly observant throughout Moby Dick without ever really becoming too engaged in the story. When playing the game with the saucers, she touches the clay. (“She felt a soft wet substance with her fingers and was surprised that nobody spoke or took off her bandage.”) Clay apparently represents something of an “early death” in games of this nature, I had to do my research, but I take this to mean that because of the way Maria is living her life, she is facing an “early death” in her life – she is going through the motions to the point she is not an independent creature.

In both stories, the messages are sent through the walking routes of the narrators as opposed to the characters themselves. This made for two interesting reads, although I certainly enjoyed “Araby” more so. I’m not entirely sure why, however.

Also, on a completely unrelated note, my book, Creepers, is available for $0.99 on Amazon Kindle through Thursday. My publisher lowered the price for a Halloween special. Don’t know if any of you read Kindle, but I figured it wouldn’t hurt to mention. Just click HERE! Thanks.

– Jesse Haynes


2 thoughts on “James Joyce Short Stories Analysis: Jesse Haynes

  1. I agree with you as I also personally enjoyed “Araby” more. I think I enjoyed it more because of the nameless character, as the setting came to life. I did google map the streets in “Araby” and in “Clay” to try to understand more of what was going on (and I actually looked at street view pictures so I actually got to see some of the buildings).
    I see the plot similarities of the outside world. The main characters from both short stories seem intrigued by what is going on outside of their house. And so, when both of the characters leave the house, they go explore. The explorations are normal at first, but by the end both characters have a bad encounter. The main character in “Araby” does not feel wanted at the bazaar stall, with the worker asking if he wanted to buy anything, him saying no, and then feeling as if he is being stared down. In “Clay” Maria goes out to buy sweets to surprise her friends for dinner, but when she ends up in a friendly, but odd, conversation with the man sitting next to her on the tram, and cannot find her plum cake, she realizes she must have been distracted by him and left it on the tram. In both stories the outside world distracts the characters and leads them to disappoint someone they were excited to give a gift to.
    I think that the walking routes are significant to the stories meanings because they put a real place and image in the readers mind. This makes the story come to life, especially when thinking about the bad in the outside world, it can be visualized by the images of the houses on the streets and the area vibe given (not the best vibe, which I think signifies the bad of the outside world (or just outside of the house)).

  2. Your idea of the nameless protagonist is very interesting in the context of “Araby”. The setting is ultimately what drives the progression of ideas that the story is built on, so I can see some validity to the theory in this case. However, I’d speculate that the existence of a nameless narrator is less about giving necessarily giving importance to a setting (in most cases) as it is about stripping the narrator of a specific identity, and in this instance it shifts focus onto the setting. Still, I love the basis for your theory.

    Given the importance of the setting, being able to tie it to a real place and gain a more in-depth understanding of its environment serves to further flesh out the meaning and direction of the story. As the route itself is what sets up the building interest and resulting tension from the boy’s interactions with Mangan’s sister, the identity of the story becomes so intertwined with the setting as to be immutable from the themes of the work as a whole.

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