Colors are a form of nonverbal communication and as such are symbolic. For example, in Western culture, white signifies purity and light, while black signifies darkness, evil, and death. In literature, symbolism joins the story's external action to the theme. This use of symbolism holds true in James Joyce's short story "Araby" where the use of color, particularly "light" and "dark" contribute to the theme and an understanding of the story.
The plot of "Araby" centers on a 13-year old boy's experiences and awakening to the reality of his life, a life of literal and symbolic darkness with only two points of light. One is the boy and his playmates, children who are too young to have become downtrodden by the drabness of their environment and existence. The street they play on is lit by feeble lantern light, and they play "till our bodies glowed" (295). The second point of light is reflected in the girl of the boy's awakening sexual desire and romantic love.
The boy lives with his aunt and uncle in a dreary, poor section of Dublin, and his environment is a key to his romantic nature, and his need to find some beauty and light in the drab world he inhabits. The story opens with a description of the dead end North Richmond Street where the boy lives, and the dark street is a symbol of the emotional dead end he lives in. The houses sit in "dark, muddy lanes" surrounded by "dark, dripping gardens" near "dark, odorous stables" (295). The setting is winter when the boy's neighborhood is even darker and more deadening. Adjectives Joyce uses to describe the street include "blind" and "somber," where the houses "gazed at one another with brown imperturbable faces" (294).
"Brown" is the most frequent color used in the story and is a form of darkness. Even the girl who represents light, Magnan's sister who is a "figure defined by light" (295) is dressed in dull brown, perhaps symbolic of her true nature that the boy discovers by story...