Innocence Lost in James Joyce’s “Araby” and
Ernest Hemingway’s “Indian Camp”
By Jacques Fleury
Ah, childhood, a time when slate was clean and fresh like the morning dawn. A time when we saw life very much as we saw
a new toy: to be observed and explored.
This brings me to James Joyce’s “Araby” and Ernest Hemingway’s “Indian
Camp.” These stories depict the story of
two boys on their rite of passage to early adulthood. It identifies, to some extent, with all of us
when we were innocence and optimistic about everything. Nevertheless, this
innocence only last up to that key moment when one day, everything changes; the
tooth fairy’s mask falls off and we see “Mom” and Santa Clause becomes just
“Dad.” Children are often very curious
and restless to know about what lies ahead.
Nevertheless, once the truth comes to light and exposes the harsh
realities of life, the thinking process starts to change. We inevitably
surrender our “innocence” to “insight.”
In this case, however, one boy grows up and the other doesn’t despite
life changing circumstances.
Nick in “Indian Camp” is a young boy who is about to embark on a boat
trip with his father. His father is on
his way to see a woman in labor for an extended period of time. Subsequently, being the immediate physician,
he agreed to go and help the woman even though he was without his tools. He takes his son with him thinking that he
was going to expose him to a new but fairly predictable experience. Nick, not knowing what lies ahead, is very
inquisitive and apparently neutral about the impending situation.
The boy in “Araby” (who is nameless perhaps inferring that he is
representing every adolescent boy) on the other hand, is love sick and finds
himself extremely emotionally pre-occupied with this young woman. Once he realizes that going to a Bazaar in Araby
could mean possibly buying her something, thus enhancing his imagined
relationship with her, he’s absolutely stoked.
Not knowing what lies ahead, he welcomes the opportunity. Hence it seems to me that the “Araby” boy is
making an unconscious decision to grow up, while Nick in “Indian Camp” is
unconsciously choosing to hinder his mental development by remaining neutral
The train in “Araby” and the boat in
“Indian Camp” of which facilitated the boy's journey, symbolize the crossing
over to the adult world; leaving childhood behind for one brief moment in
time. The train, being faster,
symbolizes the “Araby” boy’s expedited rate of mental growth. While the boat being slower, symbolizes
Nick’s delayed mental growth rate. These
two comparisons are significant in that it prepares the reader for what’s ahead
for the boys.
During this journey, one boy is
autonomous: a leader if you will, and the other a follower. Nick in “Indian
Camp” journeys over a water. The water
having a weaker and more widespread surface, leads to all possible
destinations; which represents the
uncertainty, vulnerability, and the tendency to “follow the wind” attitude as
demonstrated by Nick. Hence the water
symbolizes Nick’s mentality in its paralyzed state.
The bridge the “Araby” boy travels on represents a symbol of strength,
determination and self governing attitude.
Bridges tends to lead to a specific destination. Similar to the attitude of the “Araby” boy,
who made a conscious decision to go to Araby; thus the bridge portrays the
lovesick boy’s sense of direction and possibly further mental extension and
The symbolism in both stories helps to foreshadow what might happen at
the end. Who is going to get the most
out the experience? For on the road of
life, there are passengers and there are drivers. Who do you
think gets more insightful as time goes by?!
The “Araby” boy’s journey from innocence to insight is also hinted at
when he was on his way to the Bazaar. He
says “I could not find any six penny entrance, and fearing that the Bazaar
would be closed, I passed in quickly through a turnstile, handling a shilling
to a weary looking man.” The phrase
“passed in quickly” here hints that the Araby boy is ready to leave
childhood. This is shown and expressed
when he decides to use the “adult” turnstile when he could not find the “six
penny entrance” reserved for children.
On the other hand, Nick from “Indian Camp” demonstrated unwillingness to
leave childhood when after he’s father delivers the baby and asks him; “How [does
he] like being an intern?”, to which he responded “All right” but belied his
words by “...looking away so as not to see what his dad was doing." This gesture has much impact because it shows
that Nick is not ready to step into his dad’s shoes or the adult world just
The Araby Boy has no father sheltering him from the experience of
growing up; thus expediting the passage of child to adult. Nick, on the other hand,
has a father to protect him; thus making the exact opposite happens. The father’s protection is displayed when he
tells George, the uncle, to “take Nick out of the shanty...” but then realizing
that Nick had already seen the dead man.
I find that in reality kids grow up faster when they lack adult
supervision and protection. The draw
back to that particular case is that it robes the child of his her childhood
that much sooner.
As I read “Indian Camp," I anticipated that Nick’s life is about to
take a turn for the best. He was going
to be exposed to something so profound that there was no way that he was going
to walk away from it not having grown up a little. However, on his way back with his Dad he asked
him “Is dying hard, daddy?” and to that his dad answered “no," and that it
“depends." These questions
represent a mirror of his true innocence.
In the end, he felt sure that death was not going to knock on his door;
which in reality was a way of clueing the reader that Nick did not grow up at
all. He remained still a child.
In contrast, the Araby boy did seem to get something from the
experience. At the end he thought to himself,
“Gazing up into the darkness, I saw myself as a creature driven and derided by
vanity, and my eyes burned with anguish and anger.” It’s at this point that I feel he undergoes
the transition from “innocence” to “insight”.
Despite the “darkness” that he was in, which implies the confusion and deception
that he felt was imposed on him by the adult world, he finally manage to see
“light.” He was able to see himself,
like adults often do, as a victim of life’s many disappoints and that with each
disappointment, one tend to get more insightful about life. It’s like driving a car and being lost. Life happens when you try to find your way
So, unlike Nick in Indian Camp who kept his innocence, lover boy in
Araby inadvertently trade-in his innocence for insight. This reminds me of the axiom: “life without
risks, is no life at all.”
Jacques Fleury’s book: “Sparks
in the Dark: A Lighter Shade of Blue, A Poetic Memoir” about life in
Haiti & America was featured in the Boston Globe & available at
www.lulu.com. His CD “A Lighter Shade of Blue” with the folk group “Sweet
Wednesday” to benefit Haiti charity St. Boniface is available on iTunes.
Contact Jacques at: firstname.lastname@example.org
and visit him at: www.facebook.com/thehaitianfirefly.