Comparing James Joyce’s Araby and Ernest Hemingway’s A Clean, Well-Lighted PlaceAs divergent as James Joyce’s “Araby” and Ernest Hemingway’s “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” are in style, they handle many of the same themes. Both stories explore hope, anguish, faith, and despair. While “Araby” depicts a youth being set up for his first great disappointment, and “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” shows two older men who have long ago settled for despair, both stories use a number of analogous symbols, and lap over each other thematically.
At the beginning of “Araby”, the narrator describes the street’s lamps as lifting their “feeble lanterns” towards an “ever-changing violet” sky (227). The colour violet is both dark and rich. The sky, this deep, mysterious colour, and always mutating, suggests the expanse of unknown beyond mortal experience. The feeble lights which fail to lick the lowest tufts of cloud resemble the people who look out into the fog of unanswerable questions; who can never hope to find anything but the shapes one reads in, like hillside skywatchers.
The narrator’s character goes around looking up. First at Mangan’s sister: from the shadow, from the floor, and from the subordinate position of an admirer. Then, more metaphorically, he looks up to an image he’s built for himself; an expectation of beauty and treasures; an enthusiastic hope or hopeful enthusiasm that his pilgrimage to Araby will yield him if not the answer (to the question which manifests as a nameless longing), then the key to the answer. This answer is represented by Mangan’s sister (whose name is not mentioned, as with the Hebrew G-d), whom the boy hopes to access through the gesture of his quest.1 At the end, the boy looks up again, like the l…
…othing in it.
Hemingway’s old man walks away from the bar with dignity, but with hope long vanished. The older waiter, another faithless man, is resigned to nothingness. His mockery of Christian prayer is not angry, but spoken with a smile and a sigh. However, as indicated by his insomnia, Nada is a cold bedfellow.
Hemingway, Ernest. “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place”. Kirszner and Mandell 233.
Joyce, James. “Araby”. Kirszner and Mandell 226.
Kirszner, Laurie, and Stephen Mandell, eds. Literature: Reading, Reacting, Writing. Compact Fourth Edition. New York: Harcourt College Publishers, 2000.1This character may also stand as a sexual symbol. The bracelet she handles when she speaks of the convent may suggest that she is shackled to Catholic prudery. In any case, she still stands as “the desired”, physically or metaphysically.