What is the central conflict in "Araby"?

The central conflict in "Araby" concerns the struggle between the narrator's imagination and the bleak reality of his interaction with Mangan's sister. In the story, the narrator is infatuated with Mangan's sister and daydreams about winning her heart. The narrator imagines that he is embarking on a quest and views Araby as an exotic land with precious treasures. Tragically, the narrator's expectations are shattered, and he loses his childhood innocence after recognizing the reality of his situation.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

One could argue that the central conflict in “Araby” is between fantasy and reality. The unnamed narrator, a young boy living in a shabby-genteel part of Dublin, wants to escape from his everyday world, even if it's just for a few hours. That's why he's so excited about going to the bazaar. It will give him privileged access to a whole new world, a world of exotic glamor that's about as far away from his humdrum, workaday existence as it's possible to get.

Unfortunately for the young lad, however, all his hopes are unceremoniously dashed as he arrives at the bazaar too late, just as it's closing up. All of a sudden, the fantasy world that he'd done so much to cultivate, and which had given shape and purpose to his life, has come crashing down before his eyes.

As long as it was possible for him to go to the bazaar and buy something nice for Mangan's sister, on whom he has quite a crush, it was possible for fantasy to at least keep reality at bay for a little while. But the closing down of the bazaar represents a crushing victory for reality, in all its soul-destroying bleakness.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The naive adolescent tortures himself in anticipation and likens his journey to a quest to an exotic land. In his mind, Araby is an impressive, foreign land with wonderful gifts and enchanted treasures. Unfortunately, the boy's unreliable uncle returns home late and he is forced to ride a "bare carriage" to the bazaar, which is close to closing. When the narrator arrives at the bazaar, his imaginary visions and unrealistic expectations are shattered when he sees Araby for what it really is. The narrator is disheartened by the "improvised wooden platform," the dark hall, and the numerous closed stalls.

Once he approaches a stall, he overhears a "vague conversation" between a young lady and two gentlemen and notices that the lady only speaks to him out of a "sense of duty." At this moment, the adolescent experiences an epiphany and recognizes the bleak reality of his situation by comparing the young lady's disposition to Mangan's sister's attitude. The narrator loses his innocence by realizing that his childish imagination prevented him from recognizing that Mangan's sister does not share his feelings and was simply carrying on a casual conversation. After the adolescent understands the blinding effects of his infatuation, he burns with "anguish and anger" as he leaves the bazaar.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The central conflict in this story is that of imagination versus reality. In it, a young adolescent boy longs for a richer, more satisfying life than the one he leads in Dublin in a dark house at end of a "blind" alley. The imagery surrounding his life is dull and monotonous: we learn of "decent" lived within houses that have "brown imperturbable faces."

The boy finds an imaginative alternative to the dingy, rainy, cold environment he lives in when he develops a crush on his friend Mangan's older sister. She seems beautiful to him with her "soft rope of her hair tossed from side to side."

The boy dreams of her and blots out his everyday world thinking about her. As he wraps his imagination around her he is:

thankful that I could see so little. All my senses seemed to desire to veil themselves and, feeling that I was about to slip from them, I pressed the palms of my hands together until they trembled, murmuring: 'O love! O love!' many times.

When the girl mentions wanting to go to the bazaar but not being able to, the bazaar and the girl conflate or merge in the boy's mind. They both become objects of desire. They seem apart from his dull, mundane world. Instead, they are tinged with exotic and beautiful colorings by his longings.

He decides he will go to the bazaar and bring Mangan's sister a gift. But his drunken uncle lets him down by coming home so late that the boy doesn't get to the bazaar until it is closing. What he sees is dusty and shoddy and no different from the Dublin life he wanted to escape. At the end of the story, his epiphany or realization is that he can't exchange reality for the exotic world he has imagined, because that exotic world doesn't exist for him. Because of this, his eyes burn "with anguish and anger."

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The narrator in James Joyce’s “Araby” is a young boy who experiences his first crush on a girl, Mangan’s sister, who is described in a way that lets one infer she is a bit older than the narrator.

However, the primary conflict is man versus self, because the narrator transitions from childlike innocence to the cynicism of adulthood.

At the beginning, the narrator describes imaginary play with his neighborhood friends and the enchantment he experiences in his mysterious house. He soon becomes lovestruck, and afterward he constantly pines for Mangan’s sister—to the point that he no longer enjoys anything, not even the shopping trips he takes with his aunt.

When the narrator finally arrives at the bazaar just as it is about to shut down, he realizes how foolish he has been to waste time and money on going in the first place. He only went in order to buy a gift for Mangan’s sister based on his one and only conversation he has had with her. His infatuation blinded him to the reality that this pursuit was futile and ridiculous.

Therefore, the central conflict is an internal one within the narrator and his coming of age via the experience at Araby.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial