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Imagery in Araby

Much of the tired, gloomy imagery Joyce uses in “Araby” can be connected to the historic context of the story. Joyce specifically uses contrasting light and shadow imagery to demonstrate the difference between the bright, religious idealization and the grim reality of the narrator’s life. Mangan’s sister is often described as being bathed in a kind of holy light; while the end of the story, when the narrator makes it to the Araby bazaar, is rife with dark, dreary images.

Imagery Examples in Araby:


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"two men were counting money on a salver..."   (Araby)

Since Joyce has made the comparison between Araby and a church explicit, then this line provides a very stark image of how money and religion are mixed in this place: The two men counting money inside a church likely alludes to the story of Jesus Christ in Matthew 21:12-13 in which he throws the money changers out of the temple, and a "salver" refers to the plate on which a wine cup sits for communion in church.

"the brown-clad figure cast by my imagination..."   (Araby)

The color brown appears for the third time in the story when the boy imagines seeing Mangan's sister. Notice how his image of her is an echo of the earlier scenes, in which she is depicted religiously (the lamplight at the curved neck) and sexually (the border below the dress).

"the white border of a petticoat..."   (Araby)

A "petticoat" is a light, loose undergarment typically worn by women underneath a skirt or dress. The inclusion of this detail at the end of a paragraph full of religious imagery parallels the girl's twisting of the silver bracelet in the first line, effectively mixing the religious and sexual imagery that will continue to define Mangan's sister for the rest of the story.

"lit up her hair that rested there..."   (Araby)

The strong presence of religion in this paragraph is continued as Joyce describes the light from the lamp shining on her hair, which gives readers an image of a halo and a light streaming from heaven.

"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.

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