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 finally separating those two aspects of his life. He realizes that the church-sponsored bazaar is just a place to buy trinkets, that Mangan's sister is just a girl, and that he himself is just a boy. It is not clear at the end of the story what impact the narrator's epiphany will have on his religious beliefs. Joyce's own disillusionment with Catholicism, however, lends credence to the possibility of the boy adopting a cynical attitude toward his religion.
The narrator of "Araby" is a young, sensitive boy who confuses a romantic crush with 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...
(The entire section is 1132 words.)