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Lost in Love: A Comparison of “At the Pitt-Rivers” to “Araby”

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In both Penelope Lively’s “At the Pitt-Rivers” and James Joyce’s “Araby” the boy narrators have skewed views about love. Throughout his particular story however, each narrator realizes that his ideas on love were mistaken and begins to modify his muddled thinking.

In “At the Pitt-Rivers” the sixteen year-old narrator was certain that he knew all there was to know about love. “I mean, I’ve seen films and I’ve read books and I know a bit about things. As a matter of fact I’ve been in love twice myself” (25 – “At the Pitt-Rivers”). The first time was with a girl from his class at school and the later time was with a girl who came to stay with her sister, who lived around the corner from him. He was convinced that he was knowledgeable and experienced on the subject of love. However, his romanticized and idealized views of love are far from the truth. According to him, “you fancy people your own age and that’s all there is to it” (27-28 – ATPR) and attractive people only fall in love with other attractive people.

The same holds true for unattractive people. “…[T]hey’ll always be the two good lookers….”(25 – ATPR). His misconception came not only from his essentially nonexistent personal experience, but from books and movies as well. “…I’ve seen films and I’ve read books and I know a bit about things” (25). But through observing the relationship of a couple in a museum he was able to see the errors in his thinking and begins to understand more fully what love is really about. It includes things the narrator hadn’t thought about before such as talking and simply enjoying another’s company.

It is harder to grasp what the boy from “Araby” initially thinks and then learns because Joyce is not as straightforward as Lively. However, he certainly is more naïve and innocent than the teenager. He is madly in love with Magnan’s sister, a girl about whom he says, “I had never spoken to her, except for a few casual words” (16 -Araby). Much like the other narrator’s initial thoughts, the boy is convinced that he can be in love with someone he barely knows. Through his fantasies, the boy has convinced himself that he knows her better than he really does. “Every morning I lay on the floor in the front parlour watching her door. The blind was pulled down within an inch of the sash so I could not be seen” (16 -A). If a boy tells himself day in and day out that he knows a girl well and that he is madly in love with her, he will eventually start to believe it. Amazingly, one day the girl strikes up a conversation with the boy. She mentions that she is unable to go to the bazaar because of a commitment at her convent. So the boy eagerly offers to buy her something if he goes.

Days later, when he finally goes to the bazaar, he immediately begins looking at the porcelain vases and flowered tea-sets. He thinks that this is the gift most fitting for the object of his affections because white porcelain and flowers represent purity and therefore the object of his love. Magnan’s sister is the most pure person he can imagine. After further examination of the selection of gifts, he realizes that he does not have nearly enough money to buy anything. While at the bazaar, he overhears a conversation between a young woman and to young men. “‘O, I never said such a thing!’ ‘O, but you did!’ ‘O, but I didn’t!’ ‘Didn’t she say that?’ ‘Yes I heard her.’ ‘O, there’s a…fib!'” They are clearly flirting, but the boy is confused. He has been brought up in a culture which taught boys that women are the most pure beings in the world. Yet she is flirting with these two men. His eyes burn as he begins to understand that women are not all perfect and that he cannot buy Magnan’s sister’s love.

In each story the narrator starts out with naïve and immature views on love. The teenager in “At the Pitt-Rivers” learns that love is not what he thought it was. Age does not matter in love and neither do looks. He discovers that being in love includes talking and spending time with another person, things he had not really considered before. The teenager learns his lessons through observing. The boy from “Araby” learns through personal experience. He realizes that no woman is perfect and that people need to know each other well before a truly successful and loving relationship can develop. In each short story the young narrator realizes that love is not what it seemed to be at first.

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