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Modernism and Vanity in The Story “Araby”


The story “Araby” is a first-person narration of a boy who is trying to impress a girl. The narration is on behalf of a boy in love with his friend’s sister. He learns from her that she wants to go to a charity bazaar called “Araby”. He promises the girl to go to this bazaar and buy a gift for her there. He dreams of going there, choosing something from the bottom of his heart, but his dreams are broken because of the callousness of adults and his vanity. The main themes of the story are vanity and modernism, which was Joyce’s approach to delivering his epiphanies.

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In “Araby,” the aunt and uncle are the main characters, and everything is enclosed in the narrator’s inner world. He becomes the storyteller and its main commentator because he needs to find out its role in his life. It is important to note the fact that the story “Araby” was written in the past tense. In the text, there is a distance between the events and the moment of their description. It can be assumed that this episode was chosen by the narrator because he remembered it for life and can accurately reproduce it. It should be noted that all the characters from “Araby” differ in some incompleteness. The narrator does not even try to recognize others, but only focuses on his experiences. The disappointment that swept him in Araby does not arise only through the fault of relatives. The narrator is mostly blameworthy himself, who forgets that other people think differently.

In “Araby”, the narrator is confronted with this directly, and for the first time in his life, he realized the fact that his emotions, thoughts, feelings, and his entire inner “I” do not bother anyone except himself. The outside world simply does not need these things, and this causes the narrator to respond negatively. The author says: “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 3). This situation led to the fact that the narrator stopped describing only his inner world. One can state that he refused it and decided to study and, if possible, understand external reality by comprehending other people. “Araby” fully completes and closes a certain stage in the storyteller’s life. The old forms of self-knowledge have exhausted themselves, and the narrator wants to find something new that allows him to understand the world around him.


Vanity was the reason for the emotional state at the end of the story “Araby”. It is the desire to look beautiful in the eyes of others, the need to confirm their superiority, sometimes accompanied by the desire to hear flattery from other people. A person seeks to realize himself through unconscious and conscious forms of behavior. Self-expression is intrinsic to human nature; it is supposedly laid down at the genetic level. Having been born with natural inherited inclinations, an individual socializes, becomes a subject, personality, and individuality. A person’s growth is matched by his desire to act better than others and get better results, which is characteristic of the manifestation of ambition (Rozeboom 23). The pursuit of fame, recognition, and reward is closer to such a thing as vanity.

There is a thin line between the concepts of ambition and vanity, and the main thing is to realize it and not to cross. It is known that as soon as the desire for self-assertion prevails, it provokes an increase in mental stress. Power and superiority over others with an increased exertion of energy and bitterness can become an increasingly important goal for an individual. An individual might expect great triumphs, but he or she loses the sense of reality and overlooks real life, and this indicates the manifestation of a character trait of vanity.


James Joyce was an outstanding modernist of his age, and it can be observed in his texts. Modernism, as the most important artistic movement in the art of the first half of the 20th century, had a huge impact on the development of literature in many countries. In literary criticism, there is a single point of view that the main reason for the emergence of modernism is associated with the reaction of art from the beginning of the 20th century to realism. Thus, genres and forms forgotten in romanticism and authenticity with their imagery, peculiar stylistics, and unusual poetics are being revived in 20th-century literature, and forms of various polyphonic genres have become widely used in the writers’ work.

Participation in world culture, characteristic of avant-garde trends, implied greater freedom of choice of art models. Along with the organic refraction of these artistic trends in the writer’s work, the central line in it is the existence of specific elements of modernism. This is revealed in their figurative and thematic content and the specifics of the genre, and the penetration of original intonations into the musical fabric of the work. The writer’s works have great prospects for contemporary literary art, since, thanks to their diverse artistic impulses, they expand the creative potential of the artist.

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In conclusion, in “Araby”, Joyce primarily delivers his stance on vanity and its place in the context of modernism of epiphanies. The last lines of the text indicate the overall realization of how vanity can lead to foolishness and metaphorical blindness. The entire text is one of his earliest attempts at advocating and sharing his modernistic views. In addition, the author used a first-person perspective, which does not lead to direct conclusions.

Works Cited

Joyce, James. Araby. Dubliners, 1914.

Rozeboom, Grant J. “When Vanity Is Dangerous.” Philosophy Public Affairs, vol. 48, no. 1, 2020, pp. 6-39.

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