What is the theme of "Araby" by James Joyce?

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Taken from James Joyce's Dubliners, "Araby " tells a coming of age story, following a young boy who is infatuated with a girl, referred to in the story as Mangan's sister. I don't think any story can be really boiled down to a single theme, but taken...

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Taken from James Joyce's Dubliners, "Araby" tells a coming of age story, following a young boy who is infatuated with a girl, referred to in the story as Mangan's sister. I don't think any story can be really boiled down to a single theme, but taken as a whole, I would say that, within the story, there is a fundamental tension by which the main character's own experience and feelings are juxtaposed against the general indifference of the people around him.

Within the boy's own imagination, he casts himself as a hero of sorts. This is a mindset that is reflected in his desire to go to the bazaar, to purchase a gift for Mangan's sister. That heroic character is something which exists only in his imagination. The people around him have no insight into his own internal life, nor do they have any real interest in that internal life.

As the story proceeds, we see reality breaking the illusions he has made for himself, through his experience with the bazaar. His uncle, who promised to take him to the bazaar, is late in returning home. They reach the market late at night, just as it is closing. The entire experience proves a bitter disappointment. His childish perspective is destroyed, replaced by the grim realities of life in the world which Joyce is depicting.

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One of the story's most important themes is the extraordinary hold that fantasy can exert upon us, how it can distort our perspective of what is real.

The unnamed boy protagonist is certainly in the grip of a very powerful, intoxicating fantasy. He yearns to escape the confines of his boring, workaday existence, with its relative poverty and lack of excitement, to a world of exotic fantasy, the kind of fantasy that he believes will be provided by the bazaar of the title.

Mangan's sister, the object of the boy's affections, is a crucial component of the fantasy world he's constructed for himself. She is the main reason for his going to the bazaar as he wants to buy her a nice gift. But as the boy stands there in the darkening hall, with all the stalls being packed up, cold hard reality finally hits home, and the fantasy which had previously held him in its thrall has vanished forever.

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In this story, the narrator discovers that his feelings for Mangan's sister are of absolutely no importance to the world.

His feelings for her are so significant that they seem to overwhelm him at times, and he says that he repeats her name like a prayer. He imagines himself like some medieval hero who "bore [his] chalice safely through a throng of foes." He cries frequently and obsesses over thinking about her—reliving her movements and words—and he feels as though he is played like a harp by her every gesture.

However, on the day of the Araby, the narrator is delayed in his travels; his uncle is late to get home with the narrator's pocket money and then the trains run incredibly slowly. Additionally, it costs a lot of the narrator's money just to get into the bazaar, and when he does eventually arrive, there is nothing for sale but tea sets and other mundane objects. He hears the sound of coins clinking in a plate.

In the end, the narrator realizes that he was "driven . . . by vanity" (he was vain to believe that his feelings were important) and that the world does not care about the feelings of any individual; the only thing that matters to the world is money.

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One of the main themes explored throughout the short story "Araby" concerns imagination and reality. The narrator's infatuation with Mangan's sister sparks his imagination, and he continually daydreams about her throughout the story. When the narrator finally has a conversation with Mangan's sister, he tells her that he will bring her back something from Araby. In the time leading up to the bazaar, the image of Mangan's sister haunts his imagination, and he cannot sleep. In the narrator's mind, buying Mangan's sister a gift is of the utmost importance. His imagination has conjured endless romantic possibilities involving Mangan's sister and has exaggerated his expectations. Upon witnessing the frivolous banter between the young people at the bazaar, the narrator suddenly recognizes the reality of his situation. The narrator realizes that his short conversation with Mangan's sister was nothing more than small talk, and she would not care whether or not he brought her something back from Araby. His fantasies and exaggerated expectations are deflated instantly when faced with reality. The narrator leaves the bazaar dejected, disappointed, and angry. 

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James Joyce's short story "Araby" contains more than one theme. Joyce's stories about his fellow Irish deal with complex ideas and emotions. He tends to re-visit several of the same themes in his collection Dubliners from which "Araby" is taken. As a Catholic, Joyce often uses the themes of religion and faith. In the case of the young hero of "Araby," faith is less religious than secular, and one of the strongest themes is loss of innocence. The young boy goes to the fair a child and ends up being closer to a man. This connects to another theme: that of betrayal, that, in turn, connects back to religion. The boy is betrayed by his religion, his own foolish ideas of love, and his trust in his fellow humans. I suppose one over-arching theme here is a young man coming of age and dealing with reality over fantasy.

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