What is the significance of the title of the story "Araby" by James Joyce?

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David Morrison eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Its significance lies in the vision of an exotic world it conjures up for the story's young protagonist. This strange, exciting bazaar is suggestive of the mystical East, a far-off land full of romance and adventure. As with all of Joyce's stories in Dubliners, a stark contrast is drawn between the mundane, deadening state of contemporary Ireland and a more soulful, more intense, more fully human existence elsewhere.

Araby is an ideal world, as far removed from the boy's daily life as possible. This land of the imagination is mysterious, untouched, something infinitely desirable. Yet it remains nothing more than a fantasy. When the boy arrives at the bazaar only to find that it's closing down he's brought crashing back down to earth. His boyish infatuation with Mangan's sister is also exposed as an unrealizable fantasy. Araby stands for everything the boy wants but cannot have. Ideal love is precisely that, and so cannot be achieved. The boy's incipient romantic feelings are fantastical, far-off and completely out of reach—just like Araby.

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Eleanora Howe eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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James Joyce's short story "Araby" chronicles a little boy's attempt to impress a neighborhood girl, called Mangan's sister, by traveling to a local bazaar called Araby and buying her a gift. The boy (who, curiously enough, is never actually given a name), is fascinated by the exotic, as he's grown up reading books in the library of his home (a selection of tomes that includes a historical romance) and is prone to romanticizing women, a fact evidenced by his obsession with Mangan's sister.

The word and title "Araby" is an important reference to this overarching theme of the exotic. Joyce says, "the syllables of the word Araby were called to me through the silence in which my soul luxuriated and cast an Eastern enchantment over me," and so we can see that the word suggests a stereotypical vision of the "exotic Orient." Indeed, the word "Araby" itself seems to be fashioned in part by the words "Arab" or "Arabic." As such, the title "Araby" is significant because it signifies the author's childish preoccupation with an imagined, exotic realm that may exist in romantic fiction, but that does not actually exist in real life. Much of the story focuses on the narrator's discovery of this fact, and his realization that his fascination with the "exotic" has been nothing more than a boyhood fantasy. 

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