"Anyone still capable of wondering aloud whether the last word on Joyce has not already been published demonstrates an ignorance of the scope of the problem comparable to assuming that the Model T Ford is the last word in locomotive possibilities" (Benstock 1). This quote of Bernard Benstock serves as evidence to the complexity and the brilliance of James Joyce's works. In fact, some would say that his works were too brilliant and complex, as it took ten years for his collection of short stories, Dubliners, to be published because his publishing company refused to print it. As one critic said, "It is difficult to speak of Dubliners because these are realistic short stories…" (Jaloux 69). These stories first met resistance, but then were acclaimed as "genius" and "clear hard prose." One story, Araby, was singled out by two renowned critics as the best of the collection (Atherton 39). Joyce was notorious for using common themes in his stories and leaving them for the reader to find and interpret. The dream of escape by the lead character, a partial foundation upon real life, and frustration are all prevailing themes in Araby.
Of all the themes employed by Joyce in Araby, none were so basic to the story's meaning as the dream of escape (Atherton 13). This theme not only appears in his short stories, but in his major works as well. In Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, the leading character's name is a suggestion of escape, with Dedalus, of course, referring to the ancient Greek inventor who fashioned wings from wax and flew away. This theme is considered to be the most important of the story because escaping from the mundane reality he lives in is the whole premise behind the boy's visit to the Araby circus. None of the events that transpired in the telling of this story would have occurred had it not been for the boy's drive to escape his surroundings, even if it were only for one night.
Although there has been no argument about the dream of escape, many disagreements have risen over what causes this dream. The seemingly oppressive nature of his surroundings and the constant feeling of being trapped are certainly motivations for the boy to dream of escape. In the story, he lives in a house more or less devoid of love. Both the boy and his aunt fear the uncle, and Joyce implies that he drinks heavily and the boy knows it. The house is somewhat bare, because they cannot afford to furnish it, and behind the house was a row of slum cottages of which the children who dwelled in them were referred to as "the rough tribes"(Atherton 40). All of these inglorious contributions to the atmosphere surrounding the young boy make it impossible not to dream of escape. When he finally heard of the Araby circus and the possible escape it could provide him, there was nothing he could do to get the thought out of his head. As he states in the story, "I could not call my wandering thoughts together. I had hardly any patience with the serious work of life, it…seemed to me…ugly monotonous child's play" (Joyce 37).
Another thing Joyce relied on in his stories was their partial foundation on real life. Although it is obvious he had a vivid imagination, he used his own life experiences in his work. Araby is certainly no exception. From May 14th to 19th, 1894, in Dublin, there is evidence of a bazaar by the name of Araby that benefited a local hospital. At the time, Joyce would have been twelve years old, and then or shortly after, he resided at 17 Richmond Street North, invariably the same house described in the story (Atherton 40). Similar incidences occurred during the boy's trip to the Araby circus. For instance, Joyce's reference to not finding a sixpenny entrance, which, being half the price of admission, is what a child would expect to go in for. This suggests remembrance of an actual event and not just the motion of events as they would occur in someone's mind that had not experienced it. The final thing that upholds the sense of realism is the exact recollection of how much money is left in his