How would you describe the boy's temperament and personality in James Joyce's short story "Araby"?

Expert Answers
vangoghfan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The boy in James Joyce’s short story “Araby” is characterized in a number of ways, including the following:

  • He has a growing appreciation of feminine beauty, as when he says of Mangan’s sister

I stood by the railings looking at her. Her dress swung as she moved her body, and the soft rope of her hair tossed from side to side.

  • He becomes increasingly obsessed with Mangan’s sister, as when he reports that “Every morning I lay on the floor in the front parlour watching her door.”
  • He is a bit shy or embarrassed about his obsession, as when he notes that “The blind was pulled down to within an inch of the sash so that I could not be seen.”
  • He is emotionally stimulated by Mangan’s sister, as when he reports that “When she came out on the doorstep my heart leaped.” She becomes the focus of his life.
  • He feels awkward and self-judgmental when contemplating his feelings about Mangan’s sister, as when he characterizes himself as “foolish.”
  • He thinks and feels like a Romantic with a capital “R”:

Her name sprang to my lips at moments in strange prayers and praises which I myself did not understand. My eyes were often full of tears (I could not tell why) and at times a flood from my heart seemed to pour itself out into my bosom.

  • He actually begins to worship the girl, at least metaphorically, as when he refers to his “adoration” of her.
  • He implies his physical excitement as he thinks about her, saying that

my body was like a harp and her words and gestures were like fingers running upon the wires.

  • His romanticism grows increasingly intense as the story develops, as when he notes that

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.

  • He is obviously highly imaginative and sensitive; unlike some boys his age, he expresses no merely crude or simply physical desires.
  • Nevertheless, he becomes increasingly appreciative of her physical beauty, as when he says,

The light from the lamp opposite our door caught the white curve of her neck, lit up her hair that rested there and, falling, lit up the hand upon the railing. It fell over one side of her dress and caught the white border of a petticoat, just visible as she stood at ease.

  • As the story develops, he becomes increasingly impatient, increasingly obsessed, and increasingly frustrated. Everything else in his life, except his desire to please the girl, seems unsatisfactory to him, including his schoolwork.
  • He again shows his imaginative, Romantic nature when he contemplates the bazaar and even its exotic name.
  • He is not rebellious.  He asks for permission to attend the bazaar, and he waits – however impatiently – for his uncle to return before he boards the train.  Of course, he needs money from his uncle, but a different kind of boy might have raised the money in some other way (such as by selling something not belonging to him, by selling one of his own possessions, or by theft). Thus, the boy is not so Romantic that he is willfully disobedient.
  • He thinks of himself as increasingly mature (although this is not an especially accurate self-assessment).
  • He is determined, deliberate, and single-minded in his attitude toward going to the bazaar.
  • He is frustrated once he gets there and cannot afford a present, and he is harsh in his judgment of himself.
  • He is angry and bitter as the story concludes.