On Wednesday, April 6, Daniel R. Schwarz ’63 enlightened Union English majors with his unique and refreshing perspective on James Joyce’s “Dubliner’s Araby.”
Schwarz is the Frederic J Whiton Professor of English Literature and Stephen H. Weiss Presidential Fellow at Cornell University since 1968 and blogs frequently for the Huffington Post.
He also has written 16 books, his most recent being, “How to Succeed in College and Beyond-The Art of Learning,” which served as his primary topic of discussion of the previous night, Tuesday, April 5 in the Nott Memorial
Schwarz immediately conveyed a personable but nevertheless dignified demeanor, as he strolled around the room distributing papers to students, addressing some by name.
He started the conversation by interacting with the students, inquiring what or whom dominated Ireland at the time “Dubliners” was written. I answered, stating that it was the Catholic Church. He nodded in approval, then added that England also predominately controlled Ireland during this era. Schwarz emphasized that we cannot fully understand the entirety of a work without taking into account historical context.
Schwarz then started to discuss Joyce’s intricate and threefold language usage. It is through “scrupulous meaning” style that Joyce effectively conveys images, whereas a “hyperbolic romantic” style ads grandiose detail, bathing these images in an idealistic light.
Finally, the third style Joyce utilizes equips the story with its final flair and message; it emphasizes the grand power of the Catholic Church. Joyce injects Catholic verbiage into the text to hint at Catholicism’s perverseness and the paralysis it inflicted on the Irish during this time.
Equally emphasized in “Araby” is the concept of epiphany, the moment of revelation. Schwarz noted that the story opens with a bicycle pump; the story starts with a sense of inflation. Ironically, the story ends with deflation, as the lights go out in the market and he unsuccessfully buys a present for the girl. Thus this is the boy’s epiphany, he finally comes to terms with his defeat.
After discussing Joyce’s varying writing style, we started to dissect the text. At the end of the story, when the boy fails to buy the girl he likes a present, he unnecessarily excoriates himself, reprimanding himself for arriving late to the fair and wrongly committing the sin of pride.
Of course, this is not what the reader believes. As Schwarz cleverly brought to our attention, the boy’s epiphany is not the same as the readers. Schwarz urged us to look through Joyce’s lenses instead of our own. That is, Joyce desires us to believe that the boy’s shame is blasphemous.
Schwarz then addressed the peculiarity of the story’s point of view. Obviously, the boy does not tell the story, and although often mistaken, Joyce does not tell it either. Schwarz brought to our attention that the story is indeed told by an outsider and we can tell this is the case because the teller depicts the boy’s epiphany in an incorrect manner. Perhaps Joyce is looking ironically at the teller, bringing attention to the oppressing force of Catholicism during this time.
Schwarz closed the discussion with a particular provocative scene in “Araby.” He asked one of the students to act the scene out with him, again engaging not only that particular student but also the entirety of the class with his interactive lecturing.
They both read the scene together; the one in which the girl that the main character has feelings for looks down upon him while standing on a bannister, with light pouring through the windows and covering her back and neck. When the boy speaks to her, she tenderly twirls her silver bracelet and her strap gingerly falls over one of her shoulders.
Schwarz then inquired what the light represented, to which one of the professors responded that the light was like a “heavenly light” and the scene conveyed that the girl is imprisoned by Catholicism while simultaneously hinting at her sexuality.
Schwarz stated that this evident depiction of entrapment is Joyce’s voice permeating through; he’s commenting on the suppression that Ireland experienced under England’s hold. The reader can infer that she is emitting sexuality because of the falling strap and the way in which she softly touches her bracelet.
He then attempts to speak to her, but twelve words are all he can muster. This showcases his immaturity and innocence, as he is star struck by her apparent sensuality. Thus the concept of Catholicism and sexuality are intertwined; “Araby” highlights how Catholicism inhibits one’s sense of sexuality at this age.
To claim that English majors were fortunate to hear Schwarz’s analysis on “Araby”is an understatement. Schwarz stressed particular details and messages uncovered by most.