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What does the fence symbolize in Joyce's "Araby"?The "railing" that Mangan's sister...

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majormiles | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted July 26, 2009 at 4:12 AM via web

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What does the fence symbolize in Joyce's "Araby"?

The "railing" that Mangan's sister stands behind.

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted July 26, 2009 at 4:52 AM (Answer #1)

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Since the boy idealizes Mangan's sister, the fence may symbolize the division between reality and the infatuated illusion of the boy in "Araby." 

Or if Mangan's sister came out on the doorstep to call her brother in tohis tea we watched her from our shadow peer up and down the street. She was waiting for us [Mangan and the boy], her figure defined by the light from the half-opened door.  Her brother always teased her before he obeyed and I stood by the railing looking at her.  Her dress swung as she moved her body and the soft rope of her hair tossed from side to side.

From the "sombre" shadows of the houses and the "dark, muddy lanes" of his neighborhood, the boy see Mangan's sister as an image of Mary, almost saintly with a light behind yet, yet seductive in her movements and tossing of her hair.  However, he is held at a distance from her by the "railing."  This symbolic railing, suggestive of a communion railing in an Irish Catholic church, maintains its motif throughout the story as the boy never has real contact with Mangan's sister. For instance, when he invites her to the bazaar, she cannot come because she is going on a religious retreat. 

The boy's other religious imaginings--carrying parcels on his Saturday shopping, he imagines,

I bore my chalice safely through a throng of foes.  Her name sprang to my lips at moments in strange prayers and praises...my body was like a harp

However, the relgious "railing" closes these romantic dreams for the boy as the reality he finds at the bazaar is less than exotic and romantic. After he arrives late, he hears only petty gossip and the tingling of coins.  Letting his "two pennies fall against the sixpence" in his pocket, the boy's eyes "burned with anguish and anger" at his self-deception in his idealized and religious images of Mangan's sister.


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