Where do we find the use of epiphany in "Araby"?

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favoritethings eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The epiphany was popularized by James Joyce, an early twentieth-century writer from Dublin, Ireland, and it refers to the point in a literary text when a character has a sudden realization or insight that affects his understand in some significant way.  In this story, the narrator—an adult man reflecting on a memorable childhood experience—pursues his first real crush, his friend Mangan's sister.  

When you read the story, you'll notice that Mangan's sister is always referenced with some description of light.  When she goes outside to call her brother in to dinner, "her figure [was] defined by the light from the half-opened door."  The narrator says that "Her image accompanied [him] even in places the most hostile to romance.  We walked through the flaring streets [...]."  When he thinks of her, he seems to notice, even in the midst of the ugly street with the drunkards and bargaining merchants, the lights flaring—not the ugliness of the setting.  When he finally speaks to her, he says that "the light from the lamp opposite our door caught the white curve of her neck, lit up her hair that rested there, and, falling, lit up the hand upon the railing."  As he finally makes his way toward Araby, he sees the streets "glaring with gas," which, he says, "recalled to [him] the purpose of [his] journey."  He also recalls the "twinkling river" and the "lighted dial of a clock."  While he feels himself to be in love, all is light.

However, when he gets to the bazaar, he has to spend a lot of his money just to get in.  Once inside, all is silent but for the vapid flirting of the young woman and her customers and the clinking of coins being counted.  Suddenly, he hears

a voice call from one end of the gallery that the light was out.  The upper part of the hall was now completely dark.  Gazing up into the darkness I saw myself as a creature driven and derided by vanity; and my eyes burned with anguish and rage.

When the narrator experiences his epiphany, everything has gone dark, literally, and this seems to imply some figurative meaning as well (i.e. light/dark is symbolic).  The narrator saw the world as a light and bright place when he felt love for Mangan's sister; everything felt lit up.  However, once he realizes that Araby, the bazaar she so wanted to visit, is actually no more exotic than an English tea service, no more worldly than counted coins, the narrator also realizes that his love is nothing special either.  It's as though he expected everything to work out for him and his love simply because he willed it—this is the "vanity" part of the epiphany—and he realizes that the world doesn't care about him or his love: it cares about money.

susan3smith eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The epiphany in James Joyce's short story "Araby" from the collection Dubliners occurs at the very end:

Gazing up into the darkness I saw myself as a creature driven and derided by vanity; and my eyes burned with anguish and anger.

Joyce's idea of an epiphany is a moment of sudden enlightenment, a moment in which one sees the world for what it is, or realizes a truth about him or herself.

In this short story, the narrator is filled with romantic notions of buying the perfect gift for Manghan's sister, a gift that will represent his passion for her.  He goes to Araby, a bazaar, as a knight on a quest, hoping to complete his mission.  Throughout the short story, however, the audience sees the dark world of Dublin that the narrator inhabits--we see the poverty of his neighborhood, the stagnation of the adult world, the squalor of the marketplace.  However, the narrator is so caught up in his infatuation that he thinks of little else and is oblivious to the world around him.

It is not until he arrives late to the the bazaar, when everything is shutting down, and he looks at the cheap, overpriced trinkets that he sees himself and his mission for what it is:  a futile attempt to escape the reality of Dublin.