James Joyce's "Araby" is one story taken from Dubliners, a compilation of narratives set in Dublin, Ireland, an area in which many English dominated in the political positions and better jobs of the city. There, too, the Roman Catholic Church held dominance over the lives of the Irish.
- Influence of the Roman Catholic Church
Because the authority of the Catholic Church is unopposed by the Irish, it exerts a profound influence upon the Dubliners, much more than it would in America where Protestants live among Catholics. Catholicism is, indeed, an intrinsic component of the Irish culture; priests mingle much more with their congregations and exert influence upon them.
--In "Araby" the boy's adolescent imagination and passion--an "Araby of the mind"--conflicts with the sacred symbols of religion. He views Mangan's sister with passion, but religious faith intermingles with this passion as she stands, "her figure defined by the light from the half-opened door, much as Mary and the saints are depicted with an aureole behind them. She becomes "shrouded in mystery."
--When the boy accompanies his aunt to the market, he imagines that he is like the knights who seek the Holy Grail as he narrates,
...I bore my chalice safely through a throng of foes. Her name sprang to my lips at moments in strange prayers and phrases....
--Then, in the evening, he goes into the back drawing-room where the priest who lived there before had died. Again, his infatuation with the girl intermingles with religious faith as his senses seem "to desire to veil themselves" and the boy presses the palm of his hands together praying, "O love! O love!" many times.
--When he learns of Araby, the bazaar, his aunt hopes it is "not some Freemason affair," one that then would be strictly off limits for any Catholic, as they are strictly forbidden to associate with Freemasons.
- Affect of the English presence
After the boy finally arrives at the bazaar from Westland Row Station, instead of an exotic atmosphere he is met with the sounds of a young woman laughing with two gentlemen. "I remarked their English accents" and he listens to their palaver:
"O, I never said such a thing!"
"O, but you did!"
"O, but I didn't!"
"Didn't she say that?"
"Yes, I heard her.
"O, there's a...fib!"
When the Irish boy is observed, the English girl asks him if he wishes to buy anything, but "the tone of her voice was not encouraging; she seemed to have spoken to me out of a sense of duty." When the boy declines, she turns away and joins the young men again.
In Ireland the presence of Catholicism dominates the atmosphere of Irish life, and the invasive nature of the English occupation is felt keenly by the Irish, whereas in America. there are many nationalities who reside in cities, so that people do not pay such attention to others' languages or cultures. A few critics have detected the theme of Irish nationalism in this story, with attention given to such songs as "Come-All-You" about O'Donovan Rossa, a Fenian revolutionary.