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Araby and Sonny's Blues as Quest Narratives Essay

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The quest narrative is a common method of narration present in almost every adventure story in one form or another. One key characteristic which defines all quest narratives, irrespective of type, is the search for a “Holy Grail” – symbolic of something the protagonist desires. In a quest narrative it is often appropriate to refer to the protagonist as the hero. However, despite the connotations of the word “hero” to a figure who is flawless in both form and disposition, the hero usually does not begin the story as a perfect figure; the hero must undergo a series of trials and tribulations to which the hero emerges as a changed character. It is this journey to achieve greatness that characterizes all quest narratives. “Sonny’s Blues” (1959) by James Baldwin and “Araby” (1916) by James Joyce can both be interpreted as quest narratives because they each adhere to the archetype established by quest narrative. For instance both stories have the symbolic Holy Grail that gives objectification to each protagonist’s desires. In addition there are instances in both texts of a trial that changes the protagonist’s outlook, allowing the character to achieve realization in completing his quest. In “Sonny’s Blues” and “Araby” there is a “Holy Grail”– fulfilling the role as big brother in “Sonny’s Blues” and the girl in “Araby” – and a trial that serves as the protagonist’s rebirth – the deaths of family members in “Sonny’s Blues” and the bazaar in “Araby”; these symbols make both texts quest narratives.

The Holy Grail in “Sonny’s Blues” does not have a physical presence but is rather represented by a state of mind(being?); the purpose of the Narrator’s quest is to fulfill his role as big brother to Sonny. It is suitable to designate to Holy ...


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... – make both these texts quest narratives. These characteristics of a quest narrative have been noticed by many scholars and are present in almost all myths and fables. The hero of a quest narrative is a character many can relate to because like all human beings, we do not start out flawless but gain experience through trials and hardships. It is quite clear to see why cultures would pass down these quest narratives – they are inspirational and give hope. This is echoed strongly in “Sonny’s Blues” and “Araby”, making these texts timeless and allowing newer generations to relate to these stories just as well as the old ones.


Works Cited

Baldwin, James. “Sonny’s Blues”: The Broadview Anthology of Short Fiction. Julia Gaunce, Suzette Mayr: Braodview Press, 2005. Print.

Joyce, James." Araby". Theory Into Practice. Ann B Dobie. Toronto: Nelson Thomson, 2002. Print.


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