Discovering Fiction: The Lost of Innocence in James Joyce’s “Araby” and Ernest Hemingway’s “Indian Camp”

Jacques Fleury
Spare Change News

Ah, Childhood, a time when our slates were clean and fresh like the morning dawn; a time when we saw life very much as we saw a new toy, something to be observed and explored. This innocence lasts up until that moment when, one day, everything changes; the tooth fairy’s mask falls off and we see “mom” and Santa Claus becomes just “dad.” The stories “Araby” by James Joyce and “Indian Camp” by Ernest Hemingway depict the stories of two boys who are on this passage from innocent childhood to early adulthood. The stories capture that period of time when each of us was innocent and optimistic about everything. But once the truth comes to light and exposes the harsh realities of life, one of the boys surrenders his “innocence” to “insight,” while the other remains a child.

Nick, in “Indian Camp,” is a young boy who is about to embark on a boat trip with his father, a doctor, who is on his way to see a woman who has been in labor for an extended period of time. Because he is the nearest physician, Nick’s father agreed to go and help the woman even though he is without his tools. He takes Nick with him, believing that the experience will be good for his son.

The boy in “Araby,” who is nameless (perhaps implying that he represents every adolescent boy), is lovesick for a young woman. Once he realizes that going to a bazaar in Araby could mean possibly buying the young woman a gift, and thus enhancing his imagined relationship with her, he is absolutely inspired. Though he does not know what lies ahead, he welcomes the opportunity. Hence it seems to me that the boy is making an unconscious decision to grow up.

The train in “Araby” and the boat in “Indian Camp” facilitate the boys’ journeys, symbolizing the crossing over to the adult world. The train, which is faster, symbolizes the “Araby” boy’s expedited rate of mental growth. While the boat, which is slower, symbolizes Nick’s delayed mental growth rate. The water Nick travels over has a diffused, vast surface, leading to all possible destinations; this represents Nick’s uncertainty, vulnerability, and his tendency to “follow the wind.”

The bridge the “Araby” boy travels on represents a symbol of determination and self-governing attitude; bridges lead to a specific destination. The boy made a conscious decision to go to Araby; thus the bridge portrays the lovesick boy’s sense of direction and possibly further development ahead.

The “Araby” boy’s journey from innocence to insight is again hinted at when he reaches 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, handing a shilling to a weary looking man.” The phrase “passed in quickly” here hints that the 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 entrance reserved for children.

On the other hand, Nick demonstrates unwillingness to leave childhood. After his father delivers the baby, he asks his son, “How [does he] like being an intern?” to which Nick responds, “All right.” Nick’s words are belied by the fact the he is “…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 yet.

The “Araby” boy has no father to shelter him from the experience of growing up; thus hastening the passage from child to adult. Nick, on the other hand, has a father to protect him. I find that children often grow up faster when they lack adult supervision and protection. The drawback for these children is that they are robbed of their childhood that much sooner.

As I read “Indian Camp,” I anticipated that Nick 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 hints to the reader that Nick did not grow up at all, he remains still a child.

In contrast, the “Araby” boy did seem to get something from his experience. At the end of the story, he thinks 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 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 disappointments — but finds that with each disappointment, one tends to get more insightful about life. It’s like driving a car and being lost. Life happens when you try to find your way out.

So, unlike Nick in “Indian Camp” who kept his innocence, lover boy in “Araby” inadvertently traded 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 Contact Jacques at:

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