Journey to Self-Awareness

Category: Adolescence
Last Updated: 27 Jul 2020
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Tiffany Rayside September 27, 2012 Dr. Lynne DeCicco, Eng. 112 Journey to Self-Awareness The term, “coming of age” signifies a growth in a person’s identity. It is a confusing phase in which one is on the cusp of adulthood and will experience pivotal moments that will shape character and lead to some sort of self-realization. Such moments may result in a loss of innocence, the destruction of hopes and dreams, the sense of imprisonment, and perhaps lessons learned. Two literary works that illustrate such concepts are Amy Tan’s “Two Kinds” and James Joyce’s “Araby. Both pieces are narrated by the main characters, as adults, reflecting upon and portraying a better understanding of their childhood experiences. Although the affairs and outcomes recounted in each differ greatly, “Two Kinds” and “Araby” embody the foolishness commonly displayed during adolescence, as well the maturity and insight the characters gain as the stories evolve. In Joyce’s “Araby,” the un-named main character is a thirteen year old boy living in a depressed society, worn-down and devoured by “…drunken men and bargaining women…”(Joyce 92).

The boy brightens his days marveling over his best friend Mangan’s sister. The boy’s obsession becomes eerily clear as his daily ritual is revealed: When she came out on the doorstep my heart leaped. I ran into the hall, seized my books and followed her. I kept her brown figure always in my eye and, when we came near the point in which our ways diverged, I quickened my pace and passed her. This happened morning after morning. I had never spoken to her, except for a few casual words, and yet her name was like a summons to all my foolish blood. Her image accompanied me even in places the most hostile to romance (92). Rayside More often than not, the first step of the coming of age process is the loss of innocence, which is most commonly a result of disappointment. As the first true interaction occurs between the boy and Mangan’s sister, the preface for disappointment is shaped. The boy finds himself in the position to impress his fantasy girl when she asks if he will be attending the bazaar at Araby. Upon conveying her longing to attend the splendid event, the young lad seizes the moment and offers to bring her a present from the bazaar, a silent gesture of his love for her.

The following days proved tedious as he is consumed with his trip to Araby. Finally, the sacred day arrives and, although he felt he took every precaution to ensure his success, his trip is delayed due to his uncle’s late return home. The narrator realizes that his uncle has forgotten his plans due to intoxication, “I heard him talking to himself and heard the hallstand rocking when it had received the weight of his overcoat. I could interpret these signs” (Joyce, P93). The reader is immediately presented with the boy’s awareness of the harsh realities in his world and the discouragement that follows.

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The boy is of the age where one begins to acknowledge, but not quite understand, adult behavior. Likewise, Amy Tan explores the loss of innocence as an aftermath of childhood disappointment in “Two Kinds. ” Tan portrays herself as a young, first-generation AmericanChinese girl, struggling with the seemingly unrealistic expectations of her mother. Amy, who, in the story is referred to by her Chinese name, Ni-Kan, is on a quest, imposed upon her by her mother, to discover her talent so she may become a child prodigy, comparable to Shirley Temple.

After countless ‘talent tests’ given to her by her mother, Ni-Kan begins to accept the notion that she may not have a distinct talent, that she may never be a prodigy: “But sometimes the prodigy in me became impatient” (Tan 384). With this revelation came a sense of failure and 2 Rayside disappointment in herself, in contrast to the narration of “Araby. ” Ni-Kan confesses: “And after seeing my mother’s disappointed face once again, something inside of me began to die” (Tan 384). This admission results in a change in outlook that marks the beginning of Ni-Kan’s transition into adulthood, a self-realization.

Her innocent belief in her mother’s prodigy theories and eagerness to achieve such perfection has come to a halt. In this moment, Ni-Kan decides to be the person she now believes she was meant to be, and not the obedient prodigy her mother and everyone else expected her to be, however it is clear to the reader that she has not yet attained the maturity to make such resolutions. The journey through the character’s development continues as Joyce and Tan introduce the destruction of childhood dreams. As a child, one tends to believe that anything is possible because he or she is blind to possible hindrances.

When obstacles present themselves, a person may suffer a disheartening loss of faith or hope, which ultimately chips away at the belief that one’s dreams will come true. Joyce delivered an unspoiled example of this evolution through the narration of “Araby,” which is consumed with daydreams about “a romantic quest to purchase the gift for Mangan’s sister” (Fargnoli and Gillespie 2). Disenchantment struck upon the boy’s late arrival to the Bazaar, finding the exhibit nearly empty and the attendants not interested in his patronage.

In that instance, the boy appreciates that his romantic fantasy was not worth all of his troubles, which indicates a significant emotional growth of the character. Fargnoli and Gillespie also note: “…and Araby’s tawdry wares unacceptable for the portentous mission that he has undertaken” (2), further conceding to the discontent the boy felt as he identifies the items available for purchase substandard and unsuitable for his purpose. 3 Rayside Disparate to the boy in “Araby,” the character in Tan’s “Two Kinds” served as the catalyst that led to the ruin of her dreams through her resistance to learning how to play the piano.

When the time came for her to perform at the recital, she began to believe that she was going to play well, despite her lack of practicing. She childishly imagined the reaction of her family and audience, “It was as if I knew, without a doubt, that the prodigy side of me really did exist” (Tan 388). Tan went on to describe how she, “envisioned people jumping to their feet and Ed Sullivan rushing up to introduce me to everyone on TV” (388). Ni-Kan was admittedly surprised when she heard herself playing all of the wrong notes, and shamed of the embarrassment her parents must have felt as she played so poorly.

While the boy in “Araby” was disillusioned by forces beyond his control, Ni-Kan’s experience could have been avoided had she taken her lessons seriously. Also dissimilar to “Araby,” Tan explores the issues on a deeper level by relating NiKan’s reaction to her recital to that of her mother. Ni-Kan ‘s childhood dream of pleasing her mother by finding her inner prodigy would not come to fruition on that day, but the true destruction was that of her mother’s dream for her daughter to be a success: “But my mother’s expression was what devastated me: a quiet, blank look that said she had lost everything.

I felt the same way, and it seemed as if everybody were now coming up, like gawkers at the scene of an accident, to see what parts were actually missing” (Tan 389). It is clear that Ni-Kan’s mother was terribly embarrassed and frustrated by the ordeal, especially since she boasted about her gifted daughter to the other parents regularly, posing the idea that the mother learned a valuable lesson on that day. 4 Rayside Moreover, a sense of imprisonment, bitterness, and resentment is felt by the characters in “Araby” and “Two Kinds. The presence of captivity is tremendous in Joyce’s depiction of the world surrounding the boy as he speaks of the mood in the house and the unpleasantness in the air which, in itself, spawns a feeling of hopelessness. However, these feelings are not internalized until later in the story, when the reader is presented with the groundwork for disaster: “As he was in the hall I could not go into the front parlour and lie at the window. I left the house in bad humour and walked slowly towards the school.

The air was pitilessly raw and already my heart misgave me" (Joyce 93). The boy already senses his upcoming failure, and that sense is only heightened by a feeling of entrapment once he returns home that evening to find his uncle has not yet arrived, “I sat staring at the clock for some time and, when its ticking began to irritate me, I left the room” (93). The growing torture the boy is experiencing is clearly indicated as he recalls having to endure unbearable gossip which only seems to make the wait even longer, “I had to endure the gossip at the tea-table.

The meal was prolonged beyond an hour and still my uncle did not come” (93). Once the uncle does arrive home, the boy barely greets him and immediately asks for money to go to the Bazaar, refusing to smile when the uncle refers to how late in the evening it was, which points out his antipathy towards the delay in his plans. The boy’s showing of resentment is mild, yet resounding. Alternatively, Ni-Kan’s caging and animosity in “Two Kinds” are exhibited as bold outcries.

While her surroundings appear to have more pleasantries than the boy’s in “Araby,” Ni-Kan is held captive by the traditions and expectations of her mother and heritage, and her torment is evident throughout: “I hated the tests, the raised hopes and failed expectations” (Tan 384). It is at this point when Ni-Kan makes the decision to be her own type of prodigy, one that 5 Rayside was “angry and powerful” (384), with thoughts filled with lots of won’ts. “I won’t let her change me, I promised myself. I won’t be what I’m not” (384).

Clearly, Ni-Kan was going to do everything in her power to end her mother’s quest for perfection, to “put a stop to her foolish pride” (387), but soon finds that her mother’s determination was stronger than she imagined and her bitterness and resentment turns to pure anger and vengefulness: “Then I wish I weren’t your daughter. I wish you weren’t my mother! ” (389). Ni-Kan, encouraged, by her mother’s growing anger, only becomes more verbal and cruel: “And that’s when I remembered the babies she had lost in China, the ones we never talked about. Then I wish I’d never been born! I wish I were dead like them” (390).

Ni-Kan’s animosity towards becoming a prodigy blinded her from the reality of the pain she caused her mother: “It was as if I said the magic words, Alakazam” (390). In Ni-Kan’s child eyes, she won the battle of wills, but has yet to recognize all that was lost due to her harsh testimonials. Undoubtedly, the characters “Araby” and “Two Kinds” learned important life lessons, however varied in acceptance. It appears that the boy in “Araby” learned his lessons immediately after his trials. He quickly understands that he, alone, idealized his world, and reality could be cruel and hard to bear if unprepared.

It is palpable that from this day forth, he will see things from a much more pragmatic perspective and will be better prepared to manage the pitfalls. While Joyce implies that the boy instantly surrenders and accepts this lesson as a part of life, Tan’s character does not acknowledge her life lessons until much later, as an adult. Ni-Kan continues her stubborn rebellion throughout her adolescent years and it isn’t until the passing of her mother that she finally realizes the underlying truth of her mother’s constant pursuit of 6 Rayside perfection.

It took Ni-Kan more than half of her life to concede that her mother truly saw a prodigy, and she alone stood in the way of her own success. In a nutshell, “Araby” and “Two Kinds” highlight how important the seemingly insignificant events that occur during adolescence are to the development of oneself. James Joyce and Amy Tan explore the changes in perspective gained as each protagonist matures into a more enlightened adult. Innocence is lost and displeasures of reality become evident early in life. It is the time when one comprehends that he or she faces substantial pain and emptiness in the future.

The irony is that the coming of age never ends; people continue to “grow up” far beyond the stage of adulthood. 7 Rayside Works Cited Joyce, James, “Araby” (91-95). Abacarian, Richard and Marvin Klotz. Eds. Liturature: The Human Experience. Shorter 9th ed. Boston: Bedford. 2007. Print. Tan, Amy, “Two Kinds” (383 – 391) Abacarian, Richard and Marvin Klotz. Eds. Liturature: The Human Experience. Shorter 9th ed. Boston: Bedford. 2007. Print. Fargnoli, A. Nicholas and Michael Patrick Gillespie “Araby. ” Critical Companion to James Joyce: A Literary Reference to His Life and Work, Critical Companion. New York: Facts On File, Inc. , 2006. 8

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Journey to Self-Awareness. (2017, Jan 01). Retrieved from

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