In "Araby," what does the Araby bazaar symbolize or represent to the narrator?    

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mwestwood eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The bazaar first becomes a symbol of the exotic and romantic; later it represents his disillusions.

The young boy, who acts as the narrator of James Joyce's story, becomes infatuated with the sister of one of the boys in the neighborhood. Mangan's sister inspires in the boy romantic dreams as the light of his door catches "the white curve of her neck." As he watches Mangan's sister, the boy conjures dreams in his bedroom at night and he sees her image on the pages of the book he tries to read.

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.

When the boy has the opportunity to speak to Mangan's sister, she asks him if he plans to go to Araby. Further, she informs him that she has a retreat to attend, so the boy promises to bring her something if he goes. Unfortunately, the boy's expectations of an exotic place are ruined when he arrives late at the bazaar. Having had to wait for his uncle to return home and give him some money, the boy arrives when nearly all the stalls are closed. He overhears a young woman talking with two men in English accents as another man counts money. Disillusioned by this tawdry place and with Mangan's sister, the boy finds himself initiated into the real adult world: "derided by vanity, [his] eyes burned with anguish and anger."

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Michael Del Muro eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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In James Joyce's short story "Araby," the unnamed adolescent narrator sees the Araby bazaar being held in Dublin as a chance to undertake a quest (or a crusade?) in order to woo his friend Mangan's sister. The name of this bazaar is indicative of this quest into foreign lands. To the narrator, he sees his trip to Araby the equivalent of questing to the Holy Land to fight for Christianity. In his imaginings about traveling to the bazaar, the narrator says, "I imagined that I bore my chalice safely through a throng of foes."

In order to understand how this is a quest, I'll briefly explain how Thomas C. Foster explains quests in his book How to Read Literature Like a Professor. In his book, Foster explains a quest must have five things:

  1. A quester
  2. A place to go
  3. A stated reason to go on this quest
  4. Challenges and trials
  5. The real reason to go.

"Araby" has each of these present. The unnamed narrator is the quester, he wants to go to the Araby bazaar, he wants to go so he can bring Mangan's sister something back, he faces trials (his drunk uncle and the flirty girl at the bazaar), and he realizes his immature attitude regarding love, romance and women. 

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