In James Joyce's "Araby," the unnamed narrator is infatuated with the sister of his friend, Mangan. He hopes to buy a gift for her at the Araby bazaar, which serves to him as an image of escape from the hindering environment of his neighborhood in Dublin. Through these characters and this setting, Joyce communicates the theme that in man's youthful idealism and his naive desire, he discovers an opposing disappointment, caused by his immaturity and the limitations of his world.
For the narrator, his everyday life in Dublin, Ireland is a monotonous frustration. Joyce alludes to how secluded and limited the community is in the first paragraph: "North Richmond Street, being blind, was a quiet street An uninhabited house of two storeys stood at the blind end, detached from its neighbours in a square ground" (Joyce 155). "Araby," is one story in Joyce's Dubliners collection, in which, overall, the author attempts to realistically reflect the lives of Irish readers of the time (Kelly 154). Warren Beck writes, "['Araby'] is also a specifically placed and furnished story, and thereby part of Joyce's evaluative mirroring of Dublin" (97). Surrounded by the repetitiveness of his neighborhood, the narrator is attracted apparently only to the fulfillment he expects to attain from both the "Araby" bazaar and Mangan's sister. While moving through the community, he is frequently preoccupied with what he feels is a more important desire. Beck states: "His imagination dwelt so continuously on the girl that "serious work" at school was made to seem 'ugly monotonous child's play' as her image came between him and the page" (97).
To the narrator's perceptions, his external world is unceasingly insufficient and obstructing to the possibility of his fulfillment of life. The boy nearly does not make it to the bazaar because of his uncle arrives home late after work. J.S. Atherton writes of the importance of the uncle as it relates to Joyce's depiction of Dublin: "Joyce saw the city as dominated by unpleasant, selfish, self-satisfied, self-indulgent and self-important father-figures whom the women and children feared and served" (41). The uncle's lateness is likely due to drunkenness, as: "At nine o'clock I heard my uncle's latchkey in the halldoor. 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 159).
As much as he feels he is discouraged and repelled by his community, the narrator encounters disappointment as a result of his unspoiled romanticism. Despite the irresponsibility he observes in seemingly every aspect of Dublin, he preserves one remaining trace of sanctity in his idea of Mangan's sister.
"Her image accompanied me even in places the most hostile to romance. On Saturday evenings when my aunt went marketing I had to go to carry some of the parcels. We walked through the flaring streets, jostled by drunken men and bargaining women I imagined that I bore my chalice safely through a throng of foes. Her name sprang to my lips at moments in strange prayers and praises which I myself did not understand." (Joyce 156)
The boy's enthusiasm for the bazaar is based on what he is told, what he imagines and what he believes he will find at the bazaar for the girl he is infatuated with. When he arrives late, he does not find any of it. "Nearly all the stalls were closed and the greater part of the hall was in darkness. I recognised a silence like that which pervades a church after a service" (Joyce 160). It is only "with difficulty" he remembers why he had come. The saleslady's inquires what he would like only "out of a sense of duty." Beck states, "To rouse from that apathy is for him to confront a fragmented existence, in which love absolute and single-minded is parodied by the frivolous inconclusive sparring of the saleslady's conversation with two young men, idly resumed after her perfunctory attention to the boy" (104). Reluctantly, the narrator begins to realize the saleslady's frivolous attitude and conversation, exemplifies a more common, more acceptable form of existence, as opposed to his pure and hopeful ideas of love. He even immediately participates in this false and meaningless behavior. "I lingered before her stall, though I knew my stay was useless, to make my interest in her wares seem more real. Then I turned away slowly and walked down the middle of the bazaar" (Joyce 160).
Joyce's theme of immaturity leading to one's discovery of a disappointing reality is clearly seen through the actions and conclusions of the story's narrator. At the end, the boy's pure ideals are finally destroyed. Possibly, he moves from being a young idealist, living in a community he despises, to a separated realist, whose last untainted idea is proved nonexistent. He believes now he has a more complete understanding of his misfortunate environment. Dublin is now not only a place littered with monotony, bad singing, slow-moving trains and drunken men, but a place with no noble concepts for the mind to rely on. He is, at last, alienated with reality.
Atherton, J.S. "Araby." James Joyce's Dubliners. New York: The Viking Press, 1969. 39-47.
Beck, Warren. Joyce's Dubliners: Substance, Vision, and Art. Durham: Duke University Press, 1969.
Joyce, James. "Araby." The Seagull Reader: Literature. Ed. Joseph Kelly. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc, 2005. 154-160.
Kelly, Joseph. "James Joyce." The Seagull Reader: Literature. Kelly. 154.