18 October 2011
Reader Response Criticism of James Joyce’s “Araby”
Though there are many different theories to interpret the short story “Araby” I have chosen a reader response theory known as transactional reader response. In doing so I hope to show the connection between text and reader and how our emotions and state of mind directly reflect on how we interpret works of literature. In transactional reader response theory, presented by both Louise Rosenblatt and Wolfgang Iser, I will be using the text of “Araby” as my blueprint to guide me to my conclusions and how I interpret the text. According to Iser the text provides readers with two kinds of meanings ...view middle of the document...
As I read on in the story the narrator describes more of the area of which he lives in and the way it is described as he plays with his friend shows his contrast between the dingy surroundings and his love of playing with his friend. This lightens the tone of both the text and me. The most important aspect of this point in the story however, was the introduction of Mangan’s sister. The narrator describes the sight of her:
“Her figure defined by the light from the half-opened door. Her brother always teased her before he obeyed, and I stood by the railings looking at her. Her dress swung as she moved her body, and the soft rope of her hair tossed from side to side.” (Joyce)
In this passage from the story I began to notice that the narrator had an infatuation with Mangan’s sister. I was not expecting for her to be described in such a sensual way because of the prior reference to the priest. However, on further rereading I noticed the passage that talked of the priest and some of the items in which he had left in the young narrators house. “The Abbot, by Walter Scott, The Devout Communicant, and The Memoirs of Vidocq” (Joyce), are the three books that the narrator tells the reader of. I found that The Devout Communicant was a book that was of religious status that most priests would have read. The other two however where not, the first mentioned was a romance novel involving Queen Mary and the last book being a rather sexually explicit book. Even more interesting was that the narrator states, “I liked the last best because its leaves were yellow” (Joyce). This could have multiple meanings, one being that the last was the narrator’s favorite to foreshadow the coming relationship with Mangan’s sister or could it mean that maybe the religious concept I had previously anticipated would be tainted with darker forces as well. Therefore I placed the priest and the character of Mangan’s sister as both indeterminate meanings within the blueprint.
The idea of Mangan’s sister as a sensual figure in the narrator’s story continues into the next paragraph while he describes his daily routine of watching her with “The blind was pulled down to within an inch of the sash so that I could not be seen” (Joyce). This instantly made me think of the narrator almost as a “peeping tom” in some way even though it was innocent. This further gave me the anticipation of the character of Mangan’s sister representing a sensual figure in the story.
The narrator goes on to talk of how he thinks of his friend’s sister all the time and prays for her as well. Finally one day he speaks with her and in the moment he describes her in a very different way than before:
“She held one of the spikes, bowing her head towards me. The light from the lamp opposite our door caught the white curve of her neck, lit up her hair that rested there and, falling, lit up the hand upon the railing. It fell over one side of her dress and caught the white border of a petticoat, just visible as...