How does the point of view contribute to the story's effect or meaning in "Araby"?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Joyce's "Araby," in typical Modernist style, the narrative voice changes. At first there is a detached third-person narrator who begins the story, describing objectively the brown drudgery of Irish life in Dublin, but with the switch to first-person narrator, the boy's feelings and visions become real for the reader, visions that lead to the epiphany with its crushing force of reality that is vicariously experienced by the reader. 

Thus, there is a rejection of the brown drudgery of Dublin life that is initiated with the switch from third person detached to first person narrator. This switch in point of view suggests the instability of the narrator; his rejection of learning at school, which seems to come between him and his "desire" and his envisioning of Mangan's sister "defined by the light" furthers the unstable romanticism of his feelings and illusions. In the following passage, for instance, the narrator juxtaposes the mundane and degrading with religious images and carnal ectasy in his mind,

Her image accompanied me even in places the most hostile to romance. On Saturday evenings when my aunt went marketing....We walked through the flaring streets, jostled by drunken men and bargaining women, amid the curses of labourers, the shrill litanies of shop-boys who stood on guard by the barrels of pigs' cheeks, .....I imagined that I bore my chalice safely through a throng of foes. 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. 

In a similar fashion, the first-person narrator raises the bazaar to the level of the exotic in his mind. As she mundanely turns her silver bracelet, the narrator perceives her as the supplicant woman of Arthurian legend when she stands behind the rail and "held one of the spikes," like the bleeding spike of the knight's Quest for his maiden, suggests critic John Friemarck.  After this episode, the narrator states that he has "hardly any patience with the serious work of life."

Finally, when the narrator goes to the bazaar delayed by his wayward uncle who returns home late to give the boy any money, he is met at the entrance with the sound of voices with English accents, a harsh reminder of British domination in Ireland and reality. As he "allowed the two pennies to fall against the sixpence in my pocket"--the narrator is brought to the mundane as the hall becomes dark and he despairs of bringing Mangan's sister anything.

Certainly, the narrator's crushing defeat by reality is felt by the reader, who commiserates with his bitter feelings of "anguish and anger" as he at last recognizes the tragic difference between his idealized visions and reality. Indeed, the use of the first-person narrator has immersed the reader into the boy's heart and his idealism so much that the return to the naturalistic level of the author's faithfulness to Irish life evokes empathy from the reader.