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Are the feelings of the boy in the story James Joyce's "Araby" justified?

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kabayan | Student, College Freshman | (Level 1) Honors

Posted October 31, 2011 at 11:27 AM via web

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Are the feelings of the boy in the story James Joyce's "Araby" justified?

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booboosmoosh | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

Posted October 31, 2011 at 1:03 PM (Answer #1)

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The narrator in James Joyce's "Araby" struggles with his sense of separation from those around him—and later with his realization that the world as he thinks he knows it, is not at all what he imagined.

The narrator (unnamed) spends a great deal of time alone, reading the books of the deceased priest who used to live with the narrator's aunt and uncle. Although Mangan is the narrator's friend, the narrator does not talk about his feelings for his friend's sister. The narrator believes he loves her, but he also sees her as some holy and mystical woman, much like the Virgin Mary.

The narrator becomes obsessed with thoughts of her; in her he imagines a figure of holiness, who he worships. He follows her everywhere:

When she came out on the doorstep my heart leaped. I ran to the hall...I kept her brown figure always in my eye...This happened morning after morning.

The narrator's preoccupation is fed by his imagination and perceptions. He has never had a conversation with this young woman. Without anyone to talk to, his feelings run rampant—without realistic boundaries.

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.

As time passes, the narrator finds that he thinks of her wherever he is. When he goes to the market with his aunt, the chaos of the place disappears—it's as if he is on a holy quest, a "crusade:"

These noises converged in a single sensation of life for me: 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...

One day Mangan's sister asks the narrator if he is going to the street fair called Araby. If he goes, she asks if he will get her something. This request becomes like a holy pilgrimage. He can think of nothing else.

However, when he arrives there as it is closing, he finds that there is nothing spectacular about this place. There is nothing mystical about it. A girl gossiping with two boys speaks to him:

...her voice was not encouraging; she seemed to have spoken to me out of a sense of duty.

In that moment, he finds the bazaar is mundane. He has an epiphany—a self-awakening—as he finally understands things as they are, not as he had wanted them to be.

Mangan's sister is as ordinary as the narrator himself. There is no special relationship between them: all that has filled his mind has been like a dream. He doesn't know her at all. She is not a source of holiness, but a kid—just as he is. He is devastated by these truths. This moment, for the narrator, is a rite of passage: moving from the unknown and the imagined into the realm of the "real world."

I don't sense that he is angry with the girl. She was unaware of his fixation on her. However, he is crushed. I don't believe he should be angry with himself, for he had no way to know exactly what was happening—his mind simply followed what his heart wanted. In the years ahead, he would be able to comprehend the innocence of his feelings. However, at that moment, he is embarrassed with himself. The story ends:

Gazing up into the darkness I saw myself as a creature driven and derided by vanity; and my eyes burned with anguish and anger.

I believe that he is justified in his disappointment, but too self-critical. Lacking experience—as with most young people—he is confuse: mixing his romantic notions with his perceptions of his faith. Life is about lessons learned, but he is too young to see it now.

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