What is the theme of Araby by James Joyce?

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gmuss25 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

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. 

sensei918 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

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.