For the unnamed boy narrator of "Araby," the eponymous bazaar represents a world of glamour, mystery, and fantasy, all the things that are missing in his humdrum, everyday existence. The boy lives in a shabby part of Dublin, a place where nothing exciting ever happens. He can be forgiven, then, for wanting to grab any opportunity, no matter how brief, to escape his home environment and enter into a whole different world.
The bazaar offers just such an opportunity. It also offers the young lad a chance to impress Mangan's sister, on whom he's developed quite a crush. He wants nothing more than to show his feelings for the girl by heading off the bazaar and buying her a nice gift. The boy sees it as like an Arthurian quest in which the valiant hero proudly displays his chivalry to his beloved damsel.
Given how important the bazaar is to the young man, one can understand just why he feels so crushed and humiliated when he gets to Araby only to find that it's closing down. The darkness and the desolation of the near-empty hall suddenly bring him crashing down to earth.
For an all-too-brief period, he'd scaled the heights, gaining a tantalizing glimpse into a dazzling fantasy world of glamor and excitement. But now, he's been unceremoniously ejected back into the real world, the world from which he was so desperate to escape.
The Araby bazaar symbolizes romance and escape from the drab dullness of Dublin life that the young adolescent narrator seeks. He first hears of the bazaar from his friend Mangan's unnamed older sister. She asks the narrator if he is going and expresses her own regret that she will be away that weekend.
The boy has a crush on Mangan's sister, and she and the bazaar conflate in his mind. The word Araby comes to represent both the idealized fantasy of Mangan's sister that the narrator has constructed and adores (in reality, hints in the story suggest that the sister is simply a dull-minded Dublin girl) and the bazaar.
Araby is an exotic term that conjures all the romance of the Orient to the narrator. He is able to escape from his surroundings in a working-class neighborhood on a drab street by living in an intense fantasyland he has constructed around Mangan's sister and his anticipated trip to the bazaar to buy her a gift.
But as the narrator finds out, he cannot escape Dublin through the things of Dublin. Araby might conjure romance and the exotic in his mind, but in reality, his experience at this bazaar in the center of Dublin ends up being just as dull and disappointing as everything else in his home town.
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."
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:
- A quester
- A place to go
- A stated reason to go on this quest
- Challenges and trials
- 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.