In "Araby", Mangan's sister stands behind a fence. What does the fence symbolize?
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The fence symbolizes the fact that the sister is unattainable. The protagonist, realistically, will not be able to woo the sister, who is not interested in him romantically. She is his first real crush and this is evident by his actions, like neglecting everything else in his life to watch her. He finally realizes, though, at the end of the story, the reality of what time he has wasted obsessing over this young woman. This reality is a sobering one for the young protagonist. He realizes that he has much to learn about life.
The fence physically separates the narrator and Mangan's sister, but it also symbolizes how untouchable she is emotionally. The boy exalts and worships Mangan's sister so much that she seems almost unreal, or at least unreachable to him.
In a cultural sense, the fence also symbolizes how "cloistered" Mangan's sister is, as well as the other young women in her convent school. She mentions that she cannot go to Araby because of a school event. One gets a sense that the girls of Richmond street do not enjoy quite as much freedom as the young boys do.
Well, think about it. The fence symbolizes something different to every reader depending on how they interperet the rest of the text. To me, however, I remind myself of how many girls (and boys alike) put up walls to pretect themselves from being hurt by others. Also, as shown with history, fences have been built by countries, dynasties and homeowners all to keep the unwanted out. But on occasion these fences are built to keep the wanted in. So does Mangan's sister want out or to stay in? For example; The Great Wall of China, The Berlin Wall, and the fence in your neighbors backyard. Put that all together and you have a symbolic fence.
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