Themes and Characters
As in many stories of adolescence, the protagonist of "Araby" suffers both isolation and alienation. He never shares his feelings concerning Mangan's sister with anyone. He isolates himself from his friends, who seem terribly young to him once his crush begins, and from his family, who seem caught up in their own world. Mangan's sister is also completely unaware of the narrator's feelings for her. Consequently, when he suddenly realizes how foolish he has been, his anger at himself is intensified by his alienation from everyone and the resulting feeling of isolation.
The narrator experiences emotional growth—changing from an innocent young boy to a disillusioned adolescent—in the flash of an instant. This insight occurs through what Joyce called an "epiphany," which is a moment of intense insight and self-understanding. Although the narrator suddenly understands that he has allowed his feelings to get carried away, this understanding makes him neither happy nor satisfied. If anything, he is very angry with himself for acting foolishly. This realization marks the beginning of his maturation from a child into an adult.
At the beginning of the story, the narrator sees himself as a religious hero and sees Mangan's sister as the living embodiment of the Virgin Mary. He has not yet learned how to separate the religious teachings of his school from the reality of his secular life. Part of his understanding at the end of the story involves his...
(The entire section is 1132 words.)
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The narrator of this story is a young, sensitive boy who confuses a romantic crush and religious enthusiasm. All of the conflict in this story happens inside his mind. It is unlikely that the object of his crush, Mangan's sister, is aware of his feelings for her, nor is anybody else in this boy's small world. Because the boy's thoughts only reveal a part of the story, a careful reader must put together clues that the author gives. For example, the narrator mentions that the former tenant of the house he shares with his aunt and uncle was a priest, a representative of the Catholic church, who left behind three books which became important to the narrator. One is a romantic adventure by Sir Walter Scott; one is a religious pamphlet written by a Protestant; and the third is the exciting memoirs of a French policeman and master of disguise. These three books are not what a person would expect a Catholic priest to have in his library. So if this priest has non-religious literature in his library, then how devout can an average churchgoer be expected to be? This turns out to be the case for the narrator, who confuses religious idealism with romance.
The boy confuses the religious and secular worlds when he describes himself at the market with his aunt. He bears the chalice—the Communion cup—through a "throng of foes." He also describes Mangan's sister in terms often associated with the Virgin Mary. For the narrator, then, an ordinary grocery-shopping trip...
(The entire section is 460 words.)
Mangan is the same age and in the same class at the Christian Brothers school as the narrator, and so he and the narrator often play together after school. His older sister is the object of the narrator's confused feelings.
Mangan is one of the narrator's chums who lives down the street. His older sister becomes the object of the narrator's schoolboy crush. Mangan's sister has no idea how the narrator feels about her, however, so when they discuss Araby, the bazaar coming to town, she is only being polite and friendly. She says she would like to go to the bazaar but cannot because she has to attend a school retreat that weekend. The narrator promises to buy her something at the bazaar if he goes, but it is unlikely that she takes this promise seriously. While on the one hand the narrator describes her romantically, he also describes her in reverential terms which call to mind the Virgin Mary. This dual image description of Mangan's sister represents the religious and romantic confusion of the narrator.
Mrs. Mercer is the pawnbroker's widow who waits at the house for the narrator's uncle, perhaps to collect money that he owes her. Joyce includes her character to show that the uncle is unreliable in the payment of his debts.
The narrator's aunt, who is a mother figure in the story, takes the narrator with her to do the marketing....
(The entire section is 445 words.)