How does the physical, geographical, and historical setting relate to the boy's character in James Joyce's Araby?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Since Joyce's "Araby" is among the collection of stories entitled Dubliners, there is a clear indication that the setting is tied inextricably to the narrative.  This emphasis is also evinced as in the exposition Joyce personifies this setting, suggesting its mirroring of the people who dwell there:

North Richmond Street being blind, was a quiet street except at the hour when the Christian Brothers' School set the boys free. An uninhabited house of two storeys stood at the blind end, detached from its neighbours in a square ground The other houses of the street, conscious of decent lives within them, gazed at one another with brown imperturbable faces.

The author's use of the word blind forshadows the boy's adolescent infatuation with his neighbor while the "brown imperturbable faces" of the houses at the "blind end" hint at the Irish entrapment and desperation in the crowded streets of north central Dublin.  In addition, the mention of Christian Brothers' School, where Joyce himself was a pupil, was taught by the Jesuits, known for "a notoriously robust education" as the phrase about being set free suggests, indicates the restrictions of life for the Dubliners. 

This unforgiving description of the setting certainly transcends description and enters the realm of symbol.  The subjugation of the Irish spirit by what Joyce felt was a stultifying Irish Catholic Church is underscored by the boy's vision of his infatuation with the girl as a madonna who has an aura of light behind her in her doorway, and his desire to know her as a quest for the Holy Grail. Further, the bazaar symbolizes the boy/narrator's delusionary assignment of the exotic to his infatuation of Mangan's sister and all that connects to it. for, after he goes to Araby,all is dark and closed. 

In "Araby" there is a complex pattern of repetitions of setting and symbol in naturalistic detail that combines theme and characterization to establish a vision of life in Dublin which serves as a kind of metaphor for the spiritual paralysis of the Irish as a whole. Indeed, the physical, geographical, and historical setting all relate to the boy's character as they serve as psychological sketch of the adolescent himself.