Well, this blog post is the worst because your area of specialty is James Joyce so it’s a little intimidating trying to write anything intelligent or fresh or worthwhile about his writing style having only read two short stories.
But anyway, Ezra’s talking about what I guess is this pretty recent technological innovation—underground electric railways—which I imagine was probably even more shocking a development than the steam engine. I mean, trains in the open air are one thing, but put ’em underground and they’re doubly scary, right? Anyway, so he calls what he’s seeing an apparition, which means it’s got this ghost-like quality to it, or maybe it’s literally a ghost. And yeah, it’s kind of a ghostly, creepy scene. You’re underground, and it’s really crowded, and everybody’s standing around just waiting, and it’s probably damp and cold, and the lighting’s probably bad, so people’s faces maybe have this pale unearthly glow, and after all they’re working in factories and traveling underground so they probably start to look pale and sickly and overworked and just in bad shape—inhuman. And everybody’s there together, but there’s no sort of spirit of community or any bonds that are shared, but rather just isolation and alienation. Anyway, then he compares their faces to petals on a black, wet tree branch. Which makes sense. These people are delicate and fragile and precious and have a strange sad beauty (the petals having been separated from the flower—broken, incomplete, but still pretty) and could be blown away at any moment.
So Ezra paints what to me seems to just be a real bleak snapshot picture of life in the modern industrial world. “Araby” too comments on some aspects of modern life. Joyce mentions that the field where the kids used to play became the site for some new and improved building project. Joyce includes a crowded train station in his story. “Araby” too is pretty bleak. It depicts this kid’s loss of innocence—how he goes from playing stupid games in the street with his pals to falling in love with his buddy’s sister to realizing by the end kind of how powerless he is. All he’s been dreaming about for weeks—buying his crush a present from the Bazaar—all his dreams are just kind of dashed against the rocks. His uncle forgets to come home early, so he’s late to the fair and most of the stalls are shut down, and the shopkeeper at the stall that is open doesn’t take him seriously, and he doesn’t have enough money to buy anything. He realizes he’s just a kid, and that dreams get shattered, and that he’s alone, and that it’s a tough world, and all that stuff. “Araby” too uses a lot of poetic language. There’s some really beautiful lines, and I compiled some that seemed most notable:
“The space of sky above us was the colour of ever-changing violet and towards it the lamps of the street lifted their feeble lanterns. The cold air stung us and we played till our bodies glowed.”
“But my body was like a harp and her words and gestures were like fingers running upon the wires.”
“The other houses of the street, conscious of decent lives within them, gazed at one another with brown imperturbable faces.”
“I had never spoken to her, except for a few casual words, and yet her name was like a summons to all my foolish blood.”
“Through one of the broken panes I heard the rain impinge upon the earth, the fine incessant needles of water playing in the sodden beds.”
“The air was pitilessly raw and already my heart misgave me.”
“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.”
“Gazing up into the darkness I saw myself as a creature driven and derided by vanity; and my eyes burned with anguish and anger.”
Joyce gives a lot of detail to sensory experience. He says a lot in this story just like, “I heard this” or “I saw this” or “I felt the wind”—just real factual and detailed. And that seems kind of poetic to me. Overwhelming the reader’s senses. Putting them there in the moment.