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The final paragraph of James Joyce’s short story titled “Araby” consists of a single sentence. That sentence comes at the end of a tale describing a boy’s romantic infatuation with the attractive sister of a friend. Because this young woman (“Mangan’s sister”) cannot herself attend a bazaar known as “Araby,” the boy determines that he will go there himself and buy a gift for her. When he finally arrives, after various frustrating delays, the bazaar has nearly shut down for the night, but although he approaches a counter that is still operating, he ultimately does not buy anything. The final paragraph of the story reads as follows:
Gazing up into the darkness I saw myself as a creature driven and derided by vanity; and my eyes burned with anguish and anger.
This conclusion can be interpreted in a number of different ways. We can assume that we are meant to share the boy’s harsh judgment of himself, and perhaps the mature narrator, looking back on his behavior as a boy, himself endorses the boy’s stinging self-assessment. On the other hand, we can assume that we are not meant to share the boy’s harsh judgment on himself, and perhaps the mature narrator is even smiling wryly at that judgment, aware that it is too harsh but reporting it anyway. Or perhaps, paradoxically, the mature narrator is even mocking the narrator-as-boy, judging his earlier self harshly because that earlier self had judged himself harshly.
The youthful romanticism the boy describes does not seem to merit the bitter self-condemnation the boy offers of himself. He has not seemed especially vain earlier in the story. He seems to be at an age when his emotions are extreme – extreme in his romantic fantasies and equally extreme in his reaction against those fantasies. Who knows how he might have reacted to the bazaar if he had arrived there before it was nearly closed? Perhaps it would have seemed more appealing, more exciting, less disappointing, less disillusioning if he had arrived earlier. In any case, most people will be able to identify both with the boy’s earlier romantic hopes and with his later sense of bitter disappointment.
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