What is the theme of "Araby"?
Concerning Joyce's "Araby" the enotes Study Guide on the story lists three themes revealed within the story. I'll list the three and give a brief explanation of each:
- Alienation and Loneliness: the boy tells no one about his feelings for Mangan's sister--not his friends, his family, nor the girl herself. He is isolated in his crush and in his illusion, and later, in his awakening or epiphany.
- Change and Transformation: the boy undergoes significant emotional growth, changing from an innocent boy to a disillusioned adolescent in an instant. This is a major step toward adulthood.
- God and Religion: the boy at first sees himself as a religious hero and Mangan's sister as the embodiment of the Virgin Mary. He is unable to separate the spiritual from the secular. Later, when he experiences his epiphany, it is partly a realization that he is just a boy, Mangan's sister is just a girl, and also, that Araby is just a mediocre place to buy crap, sponsored by the church in order to make money for the church.
The principal idea of "Araby" is that youthful love is childish and foolish, but that it is also normal, overpowering, and creative. Ideally, memories like those the narrator is describing about his infatuation for Mangan’s sister should be a cause for fondness, mingled perhaps with wonder and also amusement. Much of the narrator’s memory exhibits just such beauty. If the experience of the childhood "crush" produces unhappiness at the time it occurs, a mature understanding should be able to filter out and eliminate the childhood misgivings to achieve a celebration of time past. The narrator, however, does not indicate that this process has taken place, and hence Joyce is presenting a portrait of a narrator who is still a victim of childhood inhibitions.