James Joyce discusses the idea of breaking away from the past/the familiar and moving towards an unknown future in two chapters from Dubliners, “Eveline” and “Araby”. In these chapters the two protagonists are faced with an opportunity to explore the future, but are either too scared to take advantage of it or are disappointed after experiencing it. This concept relates back to aspects of modern poetry that focus on moving “beyond the pale” and “overflowing what were once its borders”. Although both characters are faced with similar situations, the imagism used by Joyce illustrates their opposing mindsets which are responsible for their decisions and realizations at the end of the chapter.
The nameless young boy in “Araby” is constantly comparing the future and Mangan’s sister to something light that will make him come out of the shadows. One example of this comparison can be seen when the boy states, “She [Mangan’s sister] was waiting for us, her figure defined by the light from the half-opened door” (Joyce 2219). Eveline, on the other hand, views the future and unknown as something dark and terrifying. This is evident when she describes the boat that will carry her away from her past as a “black mass”. While both characters ultimately conclude that the future will disappoint them, their thought processes leading up to their decisions are reversed. The young boy looks at the present (his schoolwork, uncle’s poetry, and the Dublin trains) as dull and in complete opposition to the joy that Araby and Mangan’s sister will provide to him. Eveline also starts out with a negative attitude about the present as she “mused the pitiful vision of her mother’s life” (Joyce 2224), however, as the story progresses she begins to look back fondly on the past and eventually decides not to abandon it.
“Araby” ends with the young boy saying, “I heard a voice call from one end of the gallery that the light was out. The upper part of the hall was now completely dark” (Joyce 2222). It is clear to the reader that Araby (which also represents the future and Mangan’s sister) did not live up to what the boy thought it would. I am curious, then, what message Joyce is trying to send about the modernization of the twentieth century