People are often inclined to speak about selfhood and identity with references to adult persons who try to find themselves in this world. However, the role of one’s identity can be even more critical for children and adolescents who seem to confront the reality in order to learn who they are. In his short story “Araby” (1914), James Joyce depicts a boy who lives on North Richmond Street, a dark street in Dublin, where only children can forget about their gloomy surroundings and play all day long.
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Bruno and Shmuel, the main characters of the movie The Boy in the Striped Pajamas (2008) directed by Mark Herman, are also young boys who are used to live and play under the pressure of dramatic external conditions. In this context, the young characters in both stories try to balance between preserving their vision of self, opposing the surroundings, and accepting the situation. Although the characters in Joyce’s “Araby” and The Boy in the Striped Pajamas are young boys who are expected to forget about their identity because of pressures they experience daily, the children’s approaches to viewing the world round them and understanding their selfhood are rather life-asserting.
Children in Joyce’s “Araby” and The Boy in the Striped Pajamas are depicted as promoting their self-identity and opposing the situation because of their child nature. However, the extent to which they are ready to fight for their selfhood depends on the external difficulties. Those children who are portrayed in Joyce’s “Araby” live in social conditions which they cannot change. Nevertheless, these children can change the attitude to situations and develop their own vision of the reality with the help of imagination and constant playing. The narrator of the story notes: “When we met in the street the houses had grown somber … The cold air stung us and we played till our bodies glowed. Our shouts echoed in the silent street” (Joyce 180). It seems that almost nothing can prevent children from playing and enjoying the life in the gloomy environments.
In addition, boys in “Araby” experience all challenges and barriers typical for the process of personal growth and development, and they are inclined to focus on first romantic feelings and idealizations as almost any other boy in the world. Thus, the narrator in “Araby” states that the image of Mangan’s sister, who was the first romantic interest for him, accompanied him “even in places the most hostile to romance” (Joyce 181). In this context, the boy is represented as focused on his feelings in spite of pressures of the external world. The personal life, first feelings, and selfhood are the priority for the young male narrator of “Araby” who is not broken. However, there are situations when a person cannot oppose the reality in spite of the strength of mind or readiness to maintain the particular vision of self.
Shmuel, an 8-year-old male character of The Boy in the Striped Pajamas has to remember about his identity every day of his life because he is a Jew, and this fact is a cause of all his sufferings. On the one hand, Shmuel seems to accept the reality in which he lives because he cannot change anything. When Bruno asks about the electric fence and the reasons why Shmuel cannot be allowed to go out, “What have you done?”, Shmuel just says “I’m a Jew” (“The Boy in the Striped Pajamas” par. 4). On the other hand, Shmuel uses each opportunity to feel happy even in such a tragic situation with the help of his new friend Bruno.
In his turn, Bruno also does not want to live according to the standards set by other people because he cannot understand why Jew people should be regarded as bad and why his friend Shmuel should be discussed as bad as well. The only moment when Bruno seems to betray his vision of self is when he betrays Shmuel and says about the boy: “I’ve never seen him before in my life” (“The Boy in the Striped Pajamas” par. 4). Still, Bruno is one of those boys who have their own vision of what is right and bad and who chooses to protect people’s individuality. Thus, Bruno rejects accepting the ideals of the Nazi propaganda, he does not want to admit the fact that Jews are awful, and he chooses to help Shmuel find his father in spite of other people’s visions.
Young male characters from the story by James Joyce and from the movie The Boy in the Striped Pajamas have their own opinions on self and try to find the paths to explore their identities in spite of the external pressures. If male characters in “Araby” have to live in the poor district of Dublin, why should they feel depressed? Moreover, if it seems that Shmuel admits his fate, it does not mean that the boy forgets about his selfhood. How can this boy betray his identity of a Jew if he is born to be a Jew? Finally, why should Bruno believe everyone that his personal vision of Jews is wrong? This boy chooses to live according to his vision of selfhood and people round him. The characters of these stories represent young fighters who do not want to choose suppression in situations when they can resist pressures.
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Joyce, James. “Araby.” The World’s Greatest Short Stories. Ed. James Daley. New York: Dover Publications, 2006. 180-184. Print.
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas 2008. Web.