What is the cultural significance of the setting, Dublin,Ireland, in "Araby"?
James Joyce's story, "Araby" resembles much of Joyce's own life. For, he himself lived on Richmond Street, a street with dull, brown houses that sheltered those caught in "brown" lives, lives that are insipid and trapped. Joyce also attended the Christian Brothers School and, as the story suggests at the end, Joyce and probably the main character have rejected their dominating Catholic faith.
That Catholicism dominates the young narrator's life is evident in his romanticized ideal--almost an idolizing--of Mangan's sister. For, in his romantic fervor that is confused with his religious devotion, the narrator perceives her as a madonna on the dark street on which he and his companions played: "her figure[was] defined by the light from the half-opened door." The boy stands "by the railings" like the communion railings in church, watching her, later placing his palms together in a prayer-like gesture as he mutters, "O love! O love!"
This religious devotion is further intermingled with the boy's thoughts of Mangan's sister. At the market, he imagines that he carries not the groceries for his mother, but the holy grail as he weaves his way in and out of the crowd. Still, in the dark hall of the bazaar, as the booths begin shutting down, the narrator in the end perceives, in disappointment, Mangan's sister as the Protestant English shop-girl who engages in idle conversation. His bitter tears as he stands outside suggest that he will reject both his religious fervor and his romantic ideals on his brown street in Dublin.
Critic Greg Barnhisel in Short Stories for Students, points to the significance of the cultural setting as he suggests that like Stephen Dedalus, the narrator of Araby "must free himself from the 'nets' of [Dublin] society, family, and religion in order to be entirely self-determined."