February 26, 2008

Primer to a uniquely Japanese Experience

A lot of people have come across something in their lives that has a tendency to highly influence our actions, wants, and desires. Some things outright possess us. Johnny is in to baseball cards and won't quit until he gets that 97' Donruss platinum press proof signature card of Mark MacGwire, and Derek won't stop playing guitar until his fingers hurt, or Chrysalis records affords him a recording contract. When other things rather than our goals and worthy pursuits, take us away from what we really should be doing, we find ourselves akin to what James Joyce in his Araby would call, "...a creature driven and derided by vanity...". Because we give these our infatuations, adorations, admirations a lot of attention, we lose track of where we are, who we are, and what we are doing. We could term a "confused adoration" or obsession with someone an infatuation. In Araby we see how this obsession, or romantic adoration (infatuation) has a way of controlling the main character's (whom no name is given) actions, ideas, and thoughts as he progresses through the story. In reading Araby, we can see how his intense adoration for a one Mangan's sister, takes over his world. It takes over his attitude toward school, the things which he should be doing and seems to compel to the sudden realization(epiphany) that he has been on the wrong track for the wrong reasons.
From a distance, the young man (the main character of Araby) has a youthful crush on Mangan's sister after scoping her out through the eyes of pious rendering. The story is set in the early 1900's in Dublin Ireland. A time at which every proper person feels it necessary for some sort of church and state. We find out that his house used to belong to a priest, now deceased.The imagery we get about the neighborhood, in which they live, is a very serene, not so post- Victorian Dublin, Ireland.
James Joyce is very descriptive in giving the setting. I particularly like the way he describes the way the boys play ,"We played 'till our bodies glowed. Have you ever played football after school, when the air is cold and stingy? You work up a sweat and your body seems to glow with the hot perspiration inside your coat, when you take it off your body sort of glows. The young mans aunt has a concern about the Freemasons causing a ruckus at dearly beloved Catholic church. No good Irish man could be without his Catholicism. So to begin the tale, we find the tone of the story to be somewhat, religious. As the story progresses, we come to see how the young man becomes overtaken with his adoration for Mangan's sister.
The young man tells us the way in which he first sees her. The narrator in first person tells us that she would call for her brother to come to tea. "I stood by the railings looking at her." So to begin with, he does a lot of looking. The young man describes her, "Her dress swung as she moved her body and the soft rope of her hair tossed from side to side."In the early 1900's it was still a big thing to see a girls petticoat. That petticoat, idealized in the young mans mind, repeating over and over in his mind mental images of this girl, could be seen as one way the author Joyce found to perpetuate his infatuation.
As far as character is concerned, the young man is rather round. We know a lot of a little bit, everything but his name.We are given details that he is young, in school and that he lives with his aunt and uncle. You ever notice other stories in which the main characters live with their aunts and uncles. Like uncle Owen and Aunt Em for Luke Skywalker in Star Wars or Dorothy's uncle Oz (just kidding). I wanted to ask ,' Where is his real mother and father? Will these details given by the narrator perpetuate the mood in which we see his infatuation?'
We know nothing of his relatives, and Mangan's sister would appear to be somewhat flat. But as we analyze her character with a little post thought, we come to find out many things which the author only implies. I would say with careful thought she is a rather complex character affecting the whole gamut of this short story.We know that she has a white neck and a really sexy petticoat and other minute details. It doesn't really matter that we know a lot about the girl. What we do know is our young man is 'head over heels' about her, and it affects his thoughts and deeds.What we should do, is find out how this adoration is affecting him.We also know that when the young man and Mangan's sister first talk, they discuss a fair, entitled Araby, that is going to take place soon and whether or not he is going. The young man now finds the impetus that drives his infatuation. When she tells him that she cannot go due to obligations concerning a retreat at her convent, he unwittingly obliges himself to bring her something back. Since she is involved in nunnery, we could possibly label her as a good girl, but due to the young man's extreme idealism, to him, she might be viewed as a sort of Madonna, a woman that is near perfect.
From this point on, the young man determines to bring her something from the fair, thus, perpetuating another meeting with his most adored. (Perhaps the only type of women that were around in his town were nunnish.) The young man views her almost as a religious artifact, her image was his chalice, and every where the young man went, he imagined that he "...bore my chalice safely through a throng of foes." Everything seems colored with this religious tone. It even seems as if he prayed to her. "I pressed the palms of my hands together until they trembled, murmuring: "O Love! O Love!" many times." His idealized sweetheart, the girl he so much adored, was his holy Grail. "Her image accompanied me even in places the most hostile to romance." No matter what pressing matters were at hand, no matter how much distractions he might have had, he stayed true to his adoration keeping her image with him through the day.
His mind was occupied constantly with this 'confused adoration'. I feel the theme of Araby is a theme of extreme adoration or infatuation and the way in which it has an affect on our well being, on our actions and even how we think and act towards others. Are we driven by our obsessions, or do we drive them. The next few paragraphs will be on incidents that occur in the story that can show us how this overwhelming adoration, unquelled had affected him. It really affected him, and vanity could certainly drive and deride us, if we are not careful.
We can see how a his preoccupation to thoughts on her led his teacher to suspect that he might be beginning to idle. Even other people notice the changes brought about by his infatuation. He didn't have much motivation to do anything, that didn't concern Mangan's sister. He only wanted to see her again, he had been given the chance to impress her with vanity by bringing her something cool back from the fair.James Joyce's use of diction in the following excerpt helps illustrate how the young man felt about anything that didn't have to do with her, " I chafed against the work of school." Did he get a rug burn or something? This is probably just another way of saying that he felt his school work was getting in the way. Getting in the way between that which he desired and that which was tedious.When we are obsessed with something or someone, we don't appreciate things getting in the way of our adoration. He says, "... I wished to annihilate the tedious intervening days... and could not call my wandering thoughts together. I had hardly any patience with the serious work of life's which, now that it stood between me and my desire, seemed to me child's play ugly monotonous child's play." See cause being in love with somebody is serious adults business right?
If there is a point to be made, it is that usually our obsessions and infatuations take over and control us , not that we have any control over or possibly could control our obsessions. Other than that which we adore things seem monotonous. Everything is more boring, and more dull than that which we adore. It just isn't as interesting. "Her name sprang to my lips at moments in strange prayers and praises which I myself did not understand." Just her name was, if he heard it, "...was like a summons to all my (his) foolish blood ." Just her name and the name Araby were powerful influences over him. If someone so much as mentioned the word Araby it jostled his imagination of the exotic, "...it cast an Eastern enchantment over me." Even he recognizes that this infatuation controls and influences the stupid or foolish things which he might do for the cause of romantic obsession.
The young man seems to be a dynamic character. In a way even before his epiphany, he admitted to himself the possibilities of repercussions for having such a confused 'adoration'. The young man observed, "What innumerable follies laid waste my waking and sleeping thoughts after that evening." The evening in question is their simple meeting, where he actually conversed with her (the Madonna). His adoration rendered him incapable of dealing with his daily routine. Not being able to concentrate at school only worsened his condition to be driven by vanity. He thought only on the promise of going and seeing an exotic, enchanting bazaar, and the promise of meeting and talking with her again in hopes that he might impress her with the trinket or the 'something' he was going to bring back for her.
Here is another point to ponder. Julie proposed it to me in our reading of the great works. It is something like this. When we idealize things (or humans), we think the best of them. We only see what we want to see, even if the thing (or human) isn't really what our mind pictures or desires. We all have a pair of rose colored glasses with which to perceive and view our world and the persons in it. We can view them however we want even though we may not know a single thing of truth concerning what kind of person they are. So I keep that in mind as I consider how the young man must have seen things.
In Araby, he didn't know too much about Mangan's sister, after all, they only talked that once, but to him she was top choice. The young man never ever got to tell her that he likes her. Instead, the plot becomes such that he was given an opportunity to show her that he liked her by bringing her soemething back from the bazaar.
His sole purpose was to show her his adoration. He probably wasn't even very familiar with such a bazaar, but simply because it was the main topic of their sole conversation prompted him to treat this as a very important matter. The young man asked his uncle about going to the bazaar, but his uncle didn't give him 10% assurance about it. This uncertainty, almost like a fear, the what if? the what if I don't go? complex syndrome. When his mind turned to uncertainty abut getting to the fair his heart missed a beat, an actual physical manifestation. He says, "The air was pitilessly raw and already my heart misgave me. He had to wait till his uncle got home in order to get the shillings and the florin to enter the bazaar. Just imagine how dreadfully impatient he was that night. His uncle seemed somewhat compassionate and caring, but not as so as the aunt. Upon seeing how badly he wanted to go to the bazaar, his aunt became his spokesperson for love. In her simple language she pleads for her nephews cause, saying energetically, "Can't you give him the money and let him go? You've kept him late enough as it is. " Have you ever seen someone want something or want to do something soooo bad, that you help them get it. Joyce represents here in a very few words a very human experience, a plea for someone's cause due to their overwhelming desire to possess it.
The young man's extreme idealism had turned him in. This bazaar wasn't the great, fantastic, enchanted, magical place he had envisioned it. It was a bit unruly. He even had trouble remembering why he had come. Isn't that ironic. He would have just about died to get to this bazaar, but now he was getting nearer to a keen insight into his character, the epiphany. He noticed how this whole affair had affected him and what position he lay in now. At a bunk bazaar, with some stupid wench flirting with some guys not even caring about the wares. He must of thought to himself, ' Is this all?' That is where he saw how he was driven and derided by vanity, the vain puffed up stuff. Costly apparel, looking good in the eyes of others. Fancy buggies and expensive petticoats. He must have thought how worthless, how vain. Nothing could have been so ordinary; there was nothing so important or stifling even to have come in the first place. He realized that he was the sole proprietor of his actions, he concluded that he was a lowly creature like a pig in its mire.
The sudden realization or insight into who this young man really was helps us to add another point to what we consider the them. It is true that he was infatuated with her, but the reason was was because of the vain things of the world, just to be showy, like hey look at me in my new silk socks and look at all this very cool, tres hip stuff that we can get at the bazaar, got to get it or you aren't cool. To be liked by her he would have to be somewhat vain. The girl flirting with the guys is one way Joyce shows vanity. It is hard for the young man to come to grips with what was really driving his infatuation. He sums the realization up in the very last sentence of Araby and also the quote I used first in this paper, "Gazing up into the darkness I saw myself as a creature, driven and derided by vanity; and my eyes burned with anguish and anger." The choice of words here makes me instantly think of a creature as being a lesser animal, but I particularly envisioned an owl. A creature driven by falsehood or deceit. Was he deceiving himself or was he being deceived?
to be continued with an Japanese Experience next blog.... stay tuned...