Since the mid-nineteenth century, numerous critics have attempted to determine the ultimate source of the grail legend. Perhaps the most influential strand in early critical studies, particularly outside academia, was the Ritual or Anthropological theory of origin, which sometimes flowed into the ‘cultic twalette’ (FW 344.12) of the Celtic or Folkloristic theory. The Ritual Theory suggests that the concept of the grail sprang from the putative rites associated with a vegetation god, typified by such figures as Adonis, Attis, and Osiris, who dies each year in the winter only to be ritually revived each spring. Both Stephen and Bloom make several references to the central tenets of the Ritual Theory in Ulysses, and Joyce appropriated aspects of this theory in Finnegans Wake, albeit from a sceptically humorous perspective. However, this article highlights Joyce’s essentially Christian concept of the grail in ‘Araby’: as a chalice of unattainable knowledge and unfulfilled desire, and Joyce’s construction of the boy as a type of Perceval, the original, twelfth-century grail hero. Here, Joyce draws specifically on the topos of der reine Tor, or le pur simple, which not only defines Perceval in medieval romance from his inception in Le conte du graal by Chrétien de Troyes (c. 1181–90), but also in Wagner’s adaptation of Wolfram von Eschenbach’s Parzival (c. 1200–10). In ‘Araby’, the boy is indeed a ‘young reine’ (FW 64.16), and like Perceval he fails in his quest, ‘purely simply’ (FW 241.25) because of his inability to ask the right question before darkness falls on the hall, and the opportunity is lost forever. As in the Perceval romances, this inability to pierce the veil, to fulfil the onomastic potential of the grail hero’s name, is rooted in the orientalized locus, and the question of language, or in this instance, the language question. At the close of ‘Araby’, the boy’s eminently medieval anagnoresis involves the sudden recognition of the alien nature of the very words he fails to speak as a ‘purr esimple’ (FW 561.9).


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