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