In “Araby,” Joyce describes the setting of the story in great detail. Please help me to understand how the setting of the story reflects the emotional condition of the narrator.

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mdelmuro eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The word "blind" plays a particularly strong role here. The narrator grows up on a street that is "blind" on one end (a dead-end) and often describes himself as sitting in the dark and looking through the "blinds." This word "blind" is symbolic of the narrator's emotional condition in this story. This blindness motif continues through the end of the story when the narrator reaches his climactic epiphany regarding Mangan's sister:

"Gazing up into the darkness I saw myself as a creature driven and derided by vanity; and my eyes burned with anguish and anger."

Throughout the story, the narrator is driven by a burning desire for Mangan's sister. In fact, the desire with which the narrator has for this girl reads somewhat like a romance novel as he watched her as "Her dress swung as she moved her body and the soft rope of her hair tossed from side to side." Whenever someone mentions her name, it feels "like a summons to all my foolish blood." This desire evolves into a feeling of helplessness as the narrator describes his body as a harp "and her words and gestures were like fingers running upon the wires." 

This desire, almost awe, for Mangan's sister drives the narrator into hiding. He sits in a darkened room listening to the rain and "was thankful that I could see so little. All my senses seemed to desire to veil themselves and, feeling that I was about to slip from them, I pressed the palms of my hands together until they trembled, murmuring: 'O love! O love!' many times." In addition, this isolation continues as he sits in his house not playing with his friends outside instead imagining Mangan's sister seeing "nothing but the brown-clad figure cast by my imagination, touched discreetly by the lamplight at the curved neck, at the hand upon the railings and at the border below the dress."

The story's final setting, the Araby bazaar is also filled in darkness as nearly all the stalls were closed. The boy, in this bazaar, realizes his errors in undertaking this quest for Mangan's sister and despairs and leaves with tears in his eyes. 

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Araby

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