What do Mangan's sister and Araby each represent for the narrator in "Araby"?

The main character in the story is a boy who is described as being an average person with no extraordinary characteristics.

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In this coming-of-age story the young narrator discovers that he will not find the exotic and imaginative "other" that he craves in the confines of Dublin. Both Mangan's sister and the bazaar, Araby, represent that magical "other." In fact, the two conflate into one, to the point that the bazaar's potentially Asian-sounding name almost seems to be the name of the girl. Thus, the bazaar represents his friend's unnamed sister, on whom the narrator has a crush.

The narrator lives in a "blind" alley. A "blind" alley is a cul-de-sac or dead end street, but the word acts in the story as a double entendre, also representing the boy's own blindness.

When he gets too late to the bazaar, which is very ordinary after all, the narrator has an epiphany in which his eyes open. He realizes that both the bazaar and, hence, to his mind, the girl have nothing to offer him. His dreams have been a hollow illusion.

It would be interesting to analyze the girl and the bazaar in light of Edward Said's idea of "Orientalism," which argues that Europeans project their fantasies of the "other—" exotic, mysterious, and feminine—onto Asia in ways that are self-serving and unrealistic. Is the boy ahead of most Europeans in realizing the emptiness of this fantasy?

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The unnamed narrator leads a very boring, humdrum existence. He lives a peripatetic lifestyle, moving from place to place as part of a shabby genteel family that's seen better days. It's no wonder that the boy craves some excitement in his life, something vaguely exotic and out of the ordinary. The fact that he's going through puberty merely exacerbates his yearning desires.

Into this world of turbulent emotions and unfulfilled adolescence comes Mangan's sister. She quickly becomes the object of the narrator's boyish affections. He idealizes the girl, puts her on a pedestal. To him, she is the answer to his prayers. Araby, the bazaar, gives the boy the ideal opportunity to display his feelings for Mangan's sister; he's going to go there and buy her a gift.

The bazaar, like the girl, gives the narrator a tantalizing glimpse into another world, one infinitely more fascinating and mysterious than the stultifying world of the everyday which he's forced to inhabit. Yet Araby, also like the girl, is an illusion. It holds out the prospect of escape and wonder, but ultimately it cannot deliver what it promises. The idealized fantasy world that the boy has constructed for himself, built upon the twin foundations of his amorous feelings for Mangan's sister and the excitement of going to the bazaar, has been completely shattered. There's no choice, then, for the boy to retreat back to his normal life, humiliated, sad, and thoroughly disillusioned.

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The narrator in James Joyce's "Araby" is a romantic, idealistic boy who is obsessed with the exotic. For the narrator, both Mangan's sister and the bazaar called Araby represent the exotic in some sense. For instance, the narrator has a considerable crush on Mangan's sister, and we get the sense that she is the first girl he's been attracted to. Like most boys who get their first crush, the narrator views Mangan's sister in idealistic terms, and he immediately assumes that simply because she is new and different (exotic, in other words), that his simple crush is much more significant than it really is. Likewise, Araby is a bazaar that seems to evoke the Middle East, and for the boy such a location is unimaginably exotic and far away. Thus, his trip to Araby to buy a gift for Mangan's sister becomes more than a mere errand: it's a romantic adventure that gives him the chance to prove his undying devotion to his love. Of course, the exoticism of both Araby and Mangan's sister is deconstructed in the final scene, in which the boy understands his idealizations of both have been childish. Thus, much of the short story is about breaking down naive assumptions of an exotic "other," and this idea is represented by the narrator's relationship with both Mangan's sister and Araby. 

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