Comment on the role and nature of the minor characters in Araby by James Joyce

James Joyce’s short story Araby deals with almost a single character. This is the hero of the story-the boy who is Joyce’s self-portrayal of his own boyhood. The story mainly treats the adolescence of the hero and his moods and mental drives in that very phase. Naturally, the key constituent in the theme is the boy’s inexplicable attachment to his friend Mangan’s sister and his fascinating vision of Araby, a centre of all romance and beauty for him.

Yet, Joyce’s story is not of a single character. There are a few other characters, not at all significant, who are to be mentioned to complete the character study of the story. Of these characters, the author’s uncle, aunt, and Mrs. Mercer are to be mentioned specifically. Of course, Mangan’s sister, a much-loved girl of the boy and his center of attraction, is there. But she is more a figure of a shadow than a real human being to communicate with the hero, except in her talk with him about the visit to Araby.

Of these three minor characters, the boy’s uncle comes first. He seems to be an open-hearted, jolly man who was quite frank in his behaviour with his nephew. When the boy sought his permission to go to the bazaar on the next Saturday night he did not object but silently approved. He did not mind, too, when the boy reminded him on Saturday morning that he would going to Araby that evening. He promptly assured him that he was well aware of that. He was thus quite homely and amiable to the boy who had nothing to complain against him.

Unfortunately, the uncle was somehow responsible for the frustration that the boy had to face in his visit to his much cherished and much-fascinated realm of Araby. He came rather late at night about 9 o’clock. He admitted that he had forgotten the boy’s program, but gave him the necessary money promptly. Of course, he reminded him that it was too late, and most people were in their bed and after their first sleep.

The boy, much excited over the matter, did not pay any heed to his warning and hurriedly went to Araby, the place of his dream. But it was too late and the bazaar was almost closed and ultimately the whole hall became dark. The boy could not have what he had expected there. He could not purchase any present for Mangan’s sister, as promised by him. The whole matter was of an utter disappointment and filled him with anger and anguish: “Gazing up into the darkness I saw myself as a creature, driven and derided by vanity and my eyes burned with anguish and anger.”

Unknowingly and unintentionally, the uncle became somewhat responsible for the boy’s grave discontent in his much-desired visit to Araby.

The aunt has very little role in the story. All that can be said about her is her gentle and sympathetic behavior to the boy. Of course, she was surprised to find his excitement and jokingly wondered to ascertain whether he was involved in some “Freemason affair”. When his uncle came late, it was she who advised him to give the boy necessary money and let him go at once. She was definitely helpful here to his visit to Araby.

Mrs. Mercer was actually a neighbour of the boy’s family. “She was an old, garrulous woman, a pawn-broker’s widow, who collected used stamps for some pious purpose”. She was in the habit of visiting her neighbors now and then and bore them with her old age practice to gossip. On the day of the boy’s visit to Araby, she came and had tea with the family. The boy had to endure her idle gossips of the tea table. Of course, she had to go away after 8 o’clock, giving the excuse of her old age and the inclement weather. Her character is very sketchy, as the aunt’s, and neither of them has any positive role in the story.

Joyce’s Araby is an ideal short story. Naturally, it has a very character- the boy-hero of the story and a few more mentioned already. These few characters, as presented by the story-teller, have little to contribute to and signify in this story.

Also read; Discuss the symbolism of James Joyce’s short story “Araby”