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Historical Context in Araby

The story of “Araby” is very much grounded in the reality of Joyce’s own history. When he was young his family lived in a suburb of Dublin, Ireland, and in 1894 the Joyce’s lived in a house on North Richmond Street, just as the narrator does. During that year, Joyce himself attended the Araby bazaar, which was a featured attraction in Dublin during the 19th century. Other references to the Protestants and the Freemasons reflect Irish sentiment towards these groups at the time.

Historical Context Examples in Araby:


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"Freemason affair..."   (Araby)

The Freemasons are an international order that was established on the principles of mutual help and friendship. The aunt's surprise and apprehension is based on Freemasonry's position as primarily a Protestant organization. Since Ireland is predominantly Roman Catholic, such organizations would be feared and mistrusted at this time and place.

"Araby..."   (Araby)

The Araby bazaar was a highly anticipated, annual event in Dublin in the 19th century that introduced foreign concepts such as music, literature, styles, and goods. Joyce's bazaar, Araby, was called "A Grand Oriental Fete: Araby in Dublin" and was held in May, 1894, to benefit a local hospital.

"At last she spoke to me...."   (Araby)

This paragraph exemplifies an important modernist technique: Joyce shows the boys confusion after she speaks to him by making the prose itself abrupt and fragmented (stunned). This style is again a reaction against many of the 19th-century Victorian traditions that simply described all that the characters were feeling.

"One evening..."   (Araby)

The shift from the previous scene to this one occurs without a transitional paragraph; in fact, Joyce doesn't try to portray the story of "Araby" within a continuous time frame; we don't know how much time occurs throughout this entire narrative. This is characteristic of modernist writers, who prefer to focus on intense, emotional moments rather than the 19th-century, Victorian style of providing specific details about weather, clothing, food, views, houses, etc. However, the lack of time-focused transitions can sometimes make reading a modernist work more difficult than other kinds of literature with clearly detailed timelines.

"odours arose from the ashpits..."   (Araby)

In this passage, Joyce uses olfactory cues to create a run-down, working-class image of the city. Memory is closely linked to smell and certain scents can conjure strong emotions, as shown in this passage. Smell became a more prominent mode of representing sensory perception among modernists in the early 20th century.

"a priest..."   (Araby)

Joyce was raised as a Catholic in predominantly Catholic Ireland in the late 19th century. As he grew older, he rejected religion and criticized it in his work. There is much religious imagery in "Araby," acting as a sort of imposing and inescapable source of anxiety for the narrator.

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