Society and Initiation


“A society is a body of individuals living as members of a community. ” Throughout life, people are initiated into various aspects of society, some of which have minimal and others significant effects on their view of society. In the short story Araby by James Joyce, and Privilege by Alice Munro, the adolescent main characters in both face different circumstances involving an infatuated, which ultimately leads them to a realization of their society, two contrasting realizations. In these short stories, the reader sees how a person’s society can affect how they react to certain situations. In the short stories Araby and Privilege, the main characters are initiated into elements of their society which alter their understanding of feelings of affection and cause them to be more sensitive to their society, ultimately coming to contrary conclusions.

While at school, Rose develops an infatuation with another student at the school, Cora, which progresses into nothing, similarly to the boy in Araby. Rose steals candy from her sister’s store to give to Cora secretly, however, she is caught delivering the candy and the outcome is not how she anticipates. Her infatuation with Cora is exposed, however, she comes to a quite different realization that the boy in Araby. She is not emotionally overcome as the boy was, but rather she shakes the whole incident off as being simply an unimportant event in her past. “She remembered the facts, but not the feelings (p.12).” She “was not much bothered by this loss, this transformation(p.12).” She didn’t see this as any huge loss or tragedy, but simply as something that she learned from.

When Rose’s obsession is exposed and her feelings quickly dissipate she comes to a more optimistic conclusion than the boy. She sees her feelings as simply part of life and that the cessation of them was a positive thing. She sees that just as society can be cruel, it can and does also improve. At the end of the story her society improves with the school being renovated. “The school itself got fixed up. The Government and the School board saw fit to put flush toilets in the cleaned-up basement (p.12).” Things move forward in society just as her feelings for the girl ended and her life carried on. She ultimately concludes that things change with time. Her society which improves, causes her to see her obsession, which was exposed and quickly ended, as being simply a natural development of being a young girl, which progressed and eventually changed as things throughout society do.

Although the main characters in both stories were initiated into elements of society through their feelings of affection for another person, their dissimilar environments causes them to see their society and love completely differently. It is interesting to see how Rose’s society, which changes for the better, causes her to conclude positively on her failed infatuation, whereas the boy, who’s society remains the same negative place it was in the beginning, causes him to draw a negative conclusion. In both short stories, their environment affects them to an extent that it shapes their views on love, and the society they reside in.

In the short stories Araby and Privilege, the main characters are initiated into society through affection and come to contrasting conclusions, as a result of their different societies. In the end, the boy in Araby is consumed by his feelings of loss and loneliness, while in Privilege, Rose feels rather neutral and moderately optimistic. The reader sees how important a role society plays in the development of people’s views and feelings, and how similar situations can end in such polarized ways because of a difference in societies. One can only wonder whether in reality, society truly does affect people to such an extent, or whether it affects people in a similar yet lesser way.