Style and Technique

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Told from the first-person point of view, the story is a convincing representation of the voice of an observant, impressionable, naïve young boy. At the same time, through the deft use of language, symbol, and allusion, a world of feeling beyond the boy’s experience is conveyed to the attentive reader.

First, the story is firmly rooted in time and place: The Joyce family lived on North Richmond Street in 1894, and the young James (then twelve years old) attended the actual Araby bazaar held between May 14 and 18 of that year. All the historical, geographical, and cultural references in the story are true to life.

Second, the language is carefully designed so as to convey a complex, yet highly controlled range of meanings. Consider, for example, the use of the words “blind,” and “set . . . free” in the first sentence, the various uses of “stall” in the body of the story, and “driven” and “eyes” in the last sentence. These motifs support the chivalric and religious themes in the story and subtly link them to its emotional core.

Third, the story is rich with the symbolism of romance, Roman Catholicism, and the Orientalism popular at the end of the last century. The various allusions—to Sir Walter Scott, James Clarence Mangan, Caroline Norton’s poem The Arab’s Farewell to His Steed, the Freemasons, Mrs. Mercer—can enlarge the relevance and appeal of the boy’s private adventure for the attentive reader.

Finally, the story reaches its climax with what Joyce calls an “epiphany”: a term borrowed from theology and applied to a moment of unexpected revelation or psychological insight. Such moments are not conventionally dramatic, nor are they explained to the reader. Here the epiphany occurs in the boy’s consciousness when he overhears the petty and incomplete conversation at the bazaar. He believes himself to have been self-deluded: He has placed too much faith in Mangan’s sister and the values she represents. His early religious training and ignorance of human relations have caused him to adore a mere petticoat.

Setting

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"Araby" is set in North Richmond Street, Dublin, at the turn of the twentieth century. Joyce describes it as "a quiet street," with an "uninhabited house of two stories at the blind end," and lined on either side with brown houses facing each other. In addition to the streetscape, where the young narrator catches glimpses of Mangan's sister as she steps out of her house onto the doorstep, scenes in the story take place in the interior of the house the narrator shares with his aunt and uncle. The "musty" house had been previously occupied by a priest, who had died in the back drawing room, a room that provides a refuge for the narrator on a dark, rainy evening when he wants to be alone to think about his love for the girl. Upstairs are "high cold empty gloomy rooms." The final scene in the story is set in the Araby bazaar, a church-sponsored festival held in a "big hall girdled at half its height by a gallery." As the festival is closing, the lights are shut off and the narrator at last is left "gazing up into the darkness."

Literary Style

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Through the use of a first person narrative, Joyce communicates the confused thoughts and dreams of his young male protagonist. Joyce uses this familiarity with the narrator's feelings to evoke in readers a response similar to the boy's "epiphany"—a sudden moment of insight and understanding—at the turning point of the story.

Point of View

The first-person point of view in "Araby" means that readers see everything through the eyes of the narrator and know what he feels and thinks. If the narrator is confused about his feelings, then it is up to the readers to figure out how the narrator really feels and why he feels that way, using only the clues given by the author. For example, when the narrator first describes Mangan's sister, he says that "her figure [is] defined by the light from the half-opened door.'' In other words, she is lit from behind, giving her an unearthly "glow," like an angel or supernatural being such as the Virgin Mary. Readers are left to interpret the meaning behind the narrator's words, because the boy is not sophisticated enough to understand his own longings.

Symbolism

The symbolism Joyce includes also helps readers to fully understand all of the story's complexities. The former tenant of the narrator's house, the Catholic priest, could be said to represent the entire Catholic church. By extension, the books left in his room—which include non-religious and non-Catholic reading—represent a feeling of ambiguity toward religion in general and Catholicism in particular. The bazaar, Araby, represents the East—a part of the world that is exotic and mysterious to the Irish boy. It could also represent commercialism, since it is really just a fundraiser used to get people to spend money on the church. Mrs. Mercer, the pawnbroker's widow, represents the uncle's debt and irresponsibility; she too could represent greed and materialism. To the narrator, Mangan's sister is a symbol of purity and feminine perfection. These qualities are often associated with the Virgin Mary, who also symbolizes the Catholic church. While the boy is at Araby, the various, and often contrasting, meanings of these symbols converge to produce his epiphany.

Stream of Consciousness

Joyce is famous for using a stream-of-consciousness technique for storytelling. Although stream of consciousness does not figure prominently in "Araby,'' a reader can see the beginnings of Joyce's use of this technique, which he used extensively in his subsequent novels, Ulysses and Finnegans Wake. A major feature of stream-of-consciousness storytelling is that the narration takes place inside the mind of main characters and follows their thoughts as they occur to them, whether those thoughts are complete sentences or not. Although this story uses complete sentences for its storytelling, the narration takes place inside the boy's mind. Another feature of stream-of-consciousness narration is that the narrator's thoughts are not explained for the reader. This is true of "Araby" as well, especially during and after the boy's epiphany.

Literary Qualities

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Through the use of a first-person narrative, Joyce communicates the confused thoughts and dreams of his young male protagonist. Joyce uses this familiarity with the narrator's feelings to evoke in the reader a response similar to the boy's epiphany at the climax of the story.

The first-person point of view in "Araby" means that readers see everything through the eyes of the narrator and know what he feels and thinks. If the narrator is confused about his feelings, then it is up to the reader to figure out how the narrator really feels and why he feels that way, using only the information given by the author. For example, when the narrator first describes Mangan's sister, he says that "her figure [is] defined by the light from the half-opened door." In other words, she is lit from behind, giving her an unearthly "glow," like an angel or supernatural being such as the Virgin Mary. Readers are left to interpret the meaning behind the narrator's words because the boy is not sophisticated enough to understand his own longings.

The symbolism Joyce includes also helps readers to fully understand all of the story's complexities. The former tenant of the narrator's house, the Catholic priest, could be said to represent the entire Catholic Church. By extension, the books left in his room— which include non-religious and non-Catholic reading—represent a feeling of ambiguity toward religion in general and Catholicism in particular. The bazaar, Araby, represents the "East"—a part of the world that is exotic and mysterious to the Irish boy. It could also represent commercialism, since it is really just a fundraiser used to get people to spend money on the church. Mrs. Mercer, the pawn broker's widow, represents the uncle's debt and irresponsibility; she too could represent greed and materialism. To the narrator, Mangan's sister is a symbol of purity and feminine perfection. These qualities are often associated with the Virgin Mary, who also symbolizes the Catholic Church. While the boy is at Araby, the various, and often contrasting, meanings of these symbols converge to produce his epiphany.

Joyce is famous for using a stream-of-consciousness technique for storytelling. Although stream-of-consciousness does not figure prominently in "Araby," a reader can see the beginnings of Joyce's use of this technique, which he used extensively in his subsequent novels, Ulysses and Finnegans Wake. A major feature of stream-of-consciousness storytelling is that the narration takes place inside the mind of main characters and follows their thoughts as they occur to them, whether those thoughts are complete sentences or not. Although this story uses complete sentences for its storytelling, the narration does takes place inside the boy's mind. Another feature of stream-of-consciousness narration is that the narrator's thoughts are not explained for the reader. This is true of "Araby" as well, especially during and after the boy's epiphany.

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