Araby Questions and Answers
by James Joyce

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In Joyce's story, what is "Araby" and who takes the boy there?

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Jay Gilbert, Ph.D. eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The first words addressed to the narrator of this story by Mangan's sister, the object of his distant affections, are a query as to whether he is "going to Araby." Araby, she explains "would be a splendid bazaar," to which she would love to go. A bazaar in the context of Ireland is a sort of street market or jumble-sale, usually comprised of stalls set up in a town square or in the street and selling a variety of miscellaneous items. A bazaar would not be a permanent fixture. The fact that this one is called "Araby" probably makes it appear particularly exotic to the characters in the story.

The boy promises that if he does go to the bazaar, "I will bring you something," and he asks permission of his aunt to go on Saturday night. It is suggested that his uncle agrees to take him, but when the boy reminds his uncle about the bazaar on Saturday night, "he had forgotten." The uncle gives him a florin and allows the boy to go alone. Because he is unfamiliar with the bazaar and unaccompanied, he searches in vain for "a sixpenny entrance" and in the end enters through a turnstile, for which he pays a shilling. By this point, however, "nearly all the stores were closed."

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"Araby," the title and a word that stands for the exotic, is a bazaar to which Magan's sister, of whom the narrator is enamored, wants to go.  However, because she is going to a religious retreat at a convent, the narrator promises to bring her a present from this bazaar. From then on, he cannot think of anything else in his infatuation for this girl; "the syllables of the word Araby" haunt him.

Unfortunately, on the night on which the boy is to go to the bazaar, the uncle, who has been drinking, returns home late.  Carelessly, he gives the boy a coin and asks him if he is familiar with the poem "An Arab's Farewell to his Steed" of which the name "Araby" reminds him.  The sad irony is not lost upon the reader who witnesses the heartache of the boy who arrives  by train too late to buy anything.  Bitter tears fill his eyes in his Joycian epiphany of realizing how foolish his dreams of the girl whom he has idealized as almost a "holy grail" have been.

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The title of Joyce's story Araby may refer, on the level of the real, to an Oriental fete held in Dublin for the sake of Christian charity when Joyce was a boy like the unnamed boy in the story; but, on the level of the symbolic, it alludes to an Araby of the adolescent imagination & passion: an Araby of the mind.

Mangan's sister, the girl who becomes an object of the boy's 'confused adoration', tells him of the 'splendid bazaar' & the boy's longing for the girl is immediately transformed into an engrossing longing for Araby. As the boy waits for his journey to the land of heart's desire with all the urgency of realising the ideal, Araby assumes the symbolic signification of a transcendence, a resurrection, a journey of the mind beyond the bounds of the temporal & the contingent.

At the end of a long and tedious waiting full of misgivings and apprehensions, the boy begins the journey to Araby, rather all too late, by a train, in a third class compartment, all alone. Arriving at the appointed place, the boy steals a bribed entry into the largely darkened indoor arena where almost all the stalls are closed. He finds nothing worth-buying as a gift for Mangan's sister & so his promise to bring something for his love remains unfulfilled. Araby seems to him just another market-place, with the music of the coins, the gross banality of speech as the vending girl keeps gossiping with some men, increasing darkness engulfing the hall.

Joyce's story ends with disillusion & despair as the dream of the Araby of the boyish mind breaks down in the face of the stark realities of life. Araby is not much different from the market-place the boy used to accompany her aunt to on Saturday evenings. There, like the Arthurian knight, Galahad, the boy could safely carry the Holy Chalice of the image of Mangan's sister, 'through a throng of foes'. But the Saturday night's journey of the boy to Araby during the Easter fails to ressurect his longing for love & beauty. The result is an epiphanal realisation that the pursuit for the ideal is abortive and unattainable.