Why does the protagonist in Araby feel "driven and derided by vanity?

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durbanville eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Araby is one of James Joyce's short stories from The Dubliners' collection. The stories all have similar enduring topics. In some instances, as with Araby, there appears to be a sense of hope when opportunity presents itself, but it is often overshadowed by hopelessness, as a kind of paralysis or apathy and indifference dominates the characters' surroundings.  

The boy's actions are prompted by his boyhood crush and he thinks of Mangan's sister, the object of his pursuit, in the most unlikely of places, her name always inspiring him: "Her name was like a summons to all my foolish blood..." He promises to bring her a gift from the bazaar and is excited to have actually spoken with her.

Having waited anxiously for his uncle to return home so that he can leave for the bazaar, he arrives at the bazaar very late and hurries inside the "magical" building. He is disappointed that many of the stalls are closed or closing and a conversation which he overhears brings him to a stark reality that the bazaar is certainly not the amazing and exotic place he anticipated, with the possibility of improving his chances with Mangan's sister. He can see now that he is insignificant in the scheme of things.

This ultimate realization, his epiphany, when, even as a child, he comes to the conclusion that his actions are misguided, even  futile, and that he is "driven and derided by vanity," makes the boy feel quite ridiculous and even irritated with himself that he has been so naive as to expect the bazaar where he now stands looking at objects that hold no real value, to have been the turning point in his life, in his transition from boyhood to manhood. This self-realization is difficult to accept.  

poetrymfa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In James Joyce's short story "Araby," which appears in his collection Dubliners, the young narrator is captivated by the sister of Mangan; he watches the girl from his window and follows her through the streets, entranced by the idea of her and in the throes of his own sexual awakening. When the girl finally speaks to him, she inquires if he will be going to Araby, a church-sponsored fair that will be happening in Dublin.

While the girl can't make it to the bazaar, the narrator promises to go to it and bring her back a gift. He anxiously awaits the arrival of the fair, but on the night that he is supposed to go to it, his uncle comes home late; the boy hurries to the fair with the coin that his uncle has given him, but when he finally arrives, the fair is closing down.

Witnessing this and overcome with emotion, the narrator comments that he is a "creature driven and derided by vanity" and that his "eyes burned with anguish and anger." The narrator feels this way because he has failed on his hero's journey to purchase the gift for the girl and, thus, to win her love; in light of this truth, the narrator feels ridiculous and childish. He realizes that he is powerless in this situation, that his romantic ideals are ultimately delusions,  and that he likely will never achieve the dreamlike, picturesque vision of love and happiness that he so desires. 

Susan Hurn eNotes educator| Certified Educator

At the conclusion of the story as the narrator leaves Araby, he looks up into the darkness of the nearly empty hall and says, ". . . I saw myself as a creature driven and derided by vanity . . . ." At this point, he has failed in his quest to win the affection of Mangan's sister by bringing her a special gift, and he has realized that the romance and enchantment of Araby has lived only in his mind. He feels foolish and disappointed to the point of despair. His eyes burn with "anguish and anger." He feels contempt for himself for having had such dreams.

Calling himself "a creature" indicates that he does not see himself as an independent, intelligent, reasoning person, but one whose pride, conceit, and self-absorption have brought him to this crushing defeat. That he would think in terms of vanity, a deadly sin, suggests the strong influence of the Catholic Church in his life. The reality of his drab life has destroyed his romantic illusions. He blames himself for ever having believed that he could find love, beauty, and enchantment.