Benstock notes because "Araby" is narrated in first-person "Araby," we are experiencing what life might have been like for Joyce as a young boy. The boy, while we do not know his age, is still young enough to be influenced by certain "larger than life" images of the girl and the priest. Barnhisel maintains that the narrator in this story is a "sensitive boy, searching for principles with which to make sense of the chaos and banality of the world" (Barnhisel). This is a sensitive age because the mind is open to experience and knowledge but without reason. The events he experiences are also "well within the framework of ordinary childhood occurrences" (Benstock). One of these occurrences is the disappointment of his puppy love with Mangan's sister. The narrative, since told through his perspective is "recorded by the limited perception of an intelligent but nonetheless inexperienced and susceptible consciousness" (Benstock). It is worth noting, however, that as with many of Joyce's stories, we find our narrator reaching an epiphany at the end of the tale that pushes him closer to being an adult than he would like to admit. Before arriving at the bazaar, the narrator imagines himself to be a chivalrous knight, the "sordidly ordinary bazaar defeats him" (Benstock). The conclusion of the story is more shocking to the narrator because of his ideals than it actually is in the real world. He realizes she is not what he dreamed her to be and certainly nothing that he would want. When he sees her for what she actually is, he sees that she could only disappoint and hurt him.
Symbolism is important in the story. Joyce uses Catholicism to reinforce certain beliefs and attitudes. The narrator attends a Catholic school and the library to which he is attracted once belonged to the priest. Barnhisel asserts the narrator "takes the Catholic idea of devotion to the Virgin Mary and finds a real-world substitute for the Mother of God" (Barnhisel), which is the Mangan's sister. He also maintains that at the end of the story, the "various symbols Joyce employs converge" (Barnhisel). The light, which is associated with the girl, suddenly meets the dark hall as the bazaar closes. Barnhisel writes, the narrator "begins to see Mangan's sister not as the image of the Virgin, but as a mundane English shop-girl engaging in idle conversation" (Barnhisel). She and everything attached to her was nothing but an illusion. Barnhisel writes, "His quest, he now realizes, was misconceived in the first place, and he now recognizes the mistake of joining his religious fervor with his romantic passion for Mangan's sister" (Barnhisel). The symbols in this story work well as they illustrate the power that individuals allow others to have over them. Allowing someone to assume the stature of some kind of religion is dangerous and can only lead to disappointment. Joyce is correct to allow this boy to see this girl in some exaggerated fashion because this is not unusual for many people. When we fall in love or lust, we tend to give people far more power than they deserve. The image of an idol is perfect for immature love.
"Araby" is a story of a young boy coming of age. Joyce does well to incorporate powerful imagery and symbolism in the story to illustrate his points of how a young boy living in a bleak environment can conjure up idealistic images of a girl. We find similar circumstances that can be related to Joyce's life in Dublin. The Catholic undertones and the dreary backdrop of the Dublin setting provide this story with much of its imagery and symbolism. The perspective of this young boy will change from beginning to end as he learns that things actually are different than they appear to be -- especially in the mind of an impressionable young boy. The incident is important because everyone, at one time or another, will experience what the narrator does and have to turn and walk away from a sad realization, beginning a lonely walk home -- a long walk with the truth.
Greg Barnhisel. "An overview of Araby." Short Stories for Students. 1997.GALE Resource
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