Araby by James Joyce, 1914
The magic trick:
Setting up a powerful conclusion by selling the reader on the boy’s pure love during the story’s first half
Only three stories into Dubliners, we already see the seeds of 1920s American fiction. The minimalist ambiguity of “Two Sisters” and “An Encounter” point the way toward Sherwood Anderson and Hemingway. Their lyrical way with emotion laid bare without being sentimental precedes Faulkner. So now what about Fitzgerald? Look no further than “Araby.”
“Araby” – spoiler alert – is a short, simple story of a boy who finds his idealistic teenage love for a girl undone by the shabby circumstances of his home life. It only works if Joyce absolutely nails the part of the story about the boy’s passionate love for this girl. And, of course, with a flair for what soon would become true Fitzgerald melodrama, he writes about the unconsummated love so as to elevate it to the stuff of myth. The narrator is so committed to his ideal, and the language is so extreme, the scenes almost feel like a dream. I’m still not sure if the scene in which he talks to the girl, in the rain, actually happens in any reality. It almost feels like a piece of magic realism.
Either way, the fall he suffers is heartbreaking. The love was so well set up, the heartbreak at the end can only be equally as affecting. And that’s quite a trick on Joyce’s part.
These noises converged in a single sensation of life for me: I imagined that I bore my chalice safely through a throng of foes. Her name sprang to my lips at moments in strange prayers and praises which I myself did not understand. My eyes were often full of tears (I could not tell why) and at times a flood from my heart seemed to pour itself out into my bosom. I thought little of the future. I did not know whether I would ever speak to her or not or, if I spoke to her, how I could tell her of my confused adoration. But my body was like a harp and her words and gestures were like fingers running upon the wires.