What connotations does the word Araby have for the narrator?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The word Araby connotes the exotic for the young man who is the narrator of James Joyce's short story, and it is also suggestive of the Orient in contrast to the Christian country of Ireland. Whereas the boy has perceived Mangan's sister in terms of a saint with an aura of light surrounding her, a saint for whom he seeks the "grail" when he goes to Saturday market, he later in the narrative switches his perception of this Oriental fete held in the capital city for Christian charity. It changes to an arena of money-changers and idolatry and the pre-Christian custom of offerings to gods. For, while he talks with Mangan's sister and she tells the boy that she cannot come to the bazaar because she is going to a religious retreat, his eyes focus on the silver bracelet that she twists back and forth, saying he will buy her a gift that will match the bracelet in value. At this point, some critics feel the boy teeters close to idolatry and the ancient custom of offerings to the gods. 

But the crushing force of reality changes these images and connotations for Joyce's narrator. When he finally arrives at the bazaar it is dark and the place unfriendly and counterfeit as the vendors speak in English accents about petty issues. The word Araby changes its connotations from the exotic, titillating, and mysteriously romantic place to one of petty smallness and insignificance. It suggests the boy's journey from romantic love to despair.

Gazing up into the darkness I saw myself as a creature driven and derided by vanity, and my eyes burned with anguish and anger.