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James Joyce's story, "Araby" is the narrative of a boy who idealizes his love for the neighbor he watches from his window. Through his glass of romanticized ideas, the boy ignores his "brown" and bleak, winter surroundings and perceives the girl as a maiden for whom he will venture on a "Holy Grail Quest": I bore my chalice safely through a throng of foes," he imagines one day at the market.
The word Araby connotes the exotic, the intriguing enticement of an imaginary world. In the land of Araby, the land of spices, there are also dangerous snakes. In his essay, "Araby: A Quest for Meaning," the critic Freimarck writes,
The very title of the story is the first of several images promising the apocalyptic world of romance, but containing the demonic.
The boy follows his dream to its bleak conclusion: He has been deceived by his delusions. The bazaar is filled with cheap goods and petty, gossiping people. In his epiphany, he states,
I saw myself as a creature driven and derided by vanity; and my eyes burned with anguish and anger.
"Araby" is actually a very clever title for this tale that focuses so much on the epiphany of the narrator at the end and how he dispenses with his romantic notions and exchanges them for a bitter, but more accurate, realism. Notice the associations that the word Araby has for the narrator:
The syllables of the word Araby were called to me through the silence in which my soul luxuriated and cast an Eastern enchantment over me.
The word obviously suggests lands, place and people considered exotic and mysterious by Europeans. Notice how the word casts a similar "spell" over the narrator as the spell cast on him by Mangan's daughter.
However, the reality of the bazaar is somewhat different to the knight's quest imagined by the narrator. The bazaar is only an exploitative commercial enterprise organised by normal English vendors, and thus the hopes, dreams and illusions of the narrator are destroyed. Araby therefore represents the destruction of his naive romanticism, and is therefore a very fitting title for this short story.
On the surface, the title 'Araby' refers to a real occasion, an oriental fete being held in the outskirts of Dublin during Joyce's boyhood days. But in this story, the name 'Araby' signifies a land of romance and beauty away from the mundane routine of a city life. The boy's journey to the 'splendid bazaar' is initiated by the suggestion of Mangan's sister, the suggestion breeding in the adolescent mind a great excitement, a passion for the ideal, a quest as holy as that of an Arthurian knight.
Mangan's sister asks the boy to visit 'Araby', and he promises to bring a gift for her. Ever since, his 'confused adoration' for the girl becomes an overpowering passion for the bazaar. The boy fancies to visit a land of heart's desire which doesn't exist in the real world. As he reaches 'Araby' very late at night, it is all dark and almost closed. He finds nothing exotic; he finds no gift worthy of buying for the girl; the boy discovers himself as deceived and ridiculed in the closing moment of a tragic epiphany.
It is the duality of the significance of 'Araby'--the real 'Araby' and the 'Araby' of the adolescent mind--that relates to the title. The journey to Araby is a movement away from the 'blind alley' of urban life to a 'faery land forlorn' [Keats's phrasing in the 'Ode to a Nightingale'].
In the story, 'Araby' refers to an actual marketplace on the outskirts of Dublin where Joyce as a young boy visits to please the girl he likes. The 'Araby' in a literary sense, however, refers to a romantice journey the boy has to take in order to fulfill his romance with the girl. Thus 'Araby' is not just a marketplace but a place of idealized wonder and romance to the young protagonist.
The irony in this story, however, is that 'Araby' is not what the protagonist had expected to be. It is nothing like the idealized place of romance he expected it to be but just an ordinary marketplace with people obsessed with money. This element of duality; the contrast betweent the ideal and the perceived concept of Araby, is the significance of the title.
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