The main characters in “Araby” are the narrator and Mangan’s sister.
- The narrator is an unnamed young boy. Over the course of the story, he transforms from an idealistic child into a burgeoning adult as he is forced to face the often disappointing realities of life.
- Mangan’s sister is the recipient of the narrator’s affections. She seems unaware of the narrator’s feelings for her.
Last Reviewed on May 5, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 890
The unnamed narrator is a boy who lives with his aunt and uncle on North Richmond Street in Dublin. Throughout “Araby,” the narrator undergoes a journey of personal growth, from a carefree child playing in the street to a young boy who experiences his first encounter with what might be considered adult life. Over the course of the story, he finds himself falling into an obsessive love with his friend Mangan’s older sister. Hoping to find some sort of object or trinket to woo her, he goes to Araby, a bazaar, but finds himself ultimately disappointed by the experience.
The narrator is clearly impressionable. For instance, while his love for Mangan’s sister touches on blasphemy due to its religious nature (he prays to her and venerates her as the Virgin Mary), readers understand that he probably does not know any other way to express love. He has also learned that adult lovers buy one another keepsakes, and he mimics being an adult when he dismisses his schoolwork as child’s play. Even so, through the bulk of the story his is characterized most by innocence, and it is this innocence that is tainted at the end of the story.
Mangan’s sister is the object of the narrator’s affection. Still, readers know little about her, and any description of her is unreliable, as the narrator is infatuated with her. So little is known about her, in fact, that she is not given a name. This suggests that the idea of her is more important than her real-life presence. In the instances that she is physically in the story, she represents a counterpoint to the narrator’s romanticized infatuation with her.
Mangan’s sister is first mentioned as the one who fetches her brother to come in from playtime. Later, she appears in a scene where Mangan and two other boys are fighting over their caps. This offers a contrast between her, who does not engage in such foolishness, and her brother. Finally, readers learn that she would like to go to Araby but is instead attending a retreat with her convent. All of these instances suggest that, unlike the narrator, Mangan’s sister concerns herself with practical affairs and is generally responsible. Further, there is no evidence presented in the story that she is aware of the narrator’s affection for her.
The Narrator’s Aunt
The narrator lives with his aunt and uncle. His aunt takes him to the marketplace every Saturday and argues the narrator’s case when the narrator’s uncle is reluctant to provide him with money. Little else can be surmised about her, although she is likely Catholic and is concerned that Araby might be a “Freemason affair.” (The Catholic Church found the secret society of the Freemasons to be anti-Catholic.)
The Narrator’s Uncle
The narrator’s uncle is his other caretaker, and he is only mentioned because the narrator needs money from him to spend at Araby. This likely means that he is the primary source of income for the family. However, he is presented as unreliable and likely a drinker. Although the narrator reminds his uncle on Saturday morning that he needs money for Araby, his uncle does not come home until the bazaar is nearly closed. He has been out all day, talks to himself as he enters the house, and needs to be reminded several times about the bazaar before he finally gives the narrator any money to go. When speaking to the narrator, he engages in a non sequitur, asking if the narrator knows a poem. These signs suggest that he may have been drinking.
Mrs. Mercer appears briefly in the story and is described as “a pawnbroker’s widow, who collected used stamps for some pious purpose.” She eats dinner with the narrator and his aunt on the night of Araby. With the name “Mercer,” which is similar to “mercantile,” and her status as a pawnbroker’s widow, she is clearly associated with money. She offers a parallel to the narrator’s religious quest, which is also to gain material possessions for his idol (Mangan’s sister). While the narrator realizes that his religious quest is, in fact, naive, there is no indication that Mrs. Mercer will stop collecting stamps for her own pious purpose. She acts as a symbol of the way that religion is inextricably associated with money, one of Joyce’s many criticisms of the Catholic Church.
The narrator interacts with the shopkeeper at the end of the story. She is a seller at Araby, speaking with two English men when the narrator enters her stall. She dutifully asks the narrator if he would like to buy anything, though “the tone of her voice was not encouraging.” She seems to be the antithesis of the narrator’s idea of Araby. Rather than a friendly woman who sells exotic wares with which the narrator can woo his crush, she is associated with the English, generally understood as Ireland’s enemy, and clearly wishes to close her shop. She anticipates the epiphany that the narrator will have soon after interacting with her and represents the unromanticized boredom of adult life, a clear contrast to the narrator’s idolization of Mangan’s sister and his high hopes when he arrives at Araby.
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