Theme of Epiphany: Joyce said that one of his literary aims was to portray what he called (borrowing from religious language) epiphanies: moments of revelation, often brought on by commonplace occurrences, that transform an individual, giving a deeper, truer understanding of life. A popular critical approach to Dubliners is to see it as a collection of epiphanies, and “Araby” lends itself to that line of interpretation particularly well. The narrator’s experience at the bazaar leaves him a different person than he was before.
- For discussion: How exactly has the narrator been transformed by his experience? In the final sentence of the story he says, “I saw myself as a creature driven and derided by vanity; and my eyes burned with anguish and anger.” Is that reaction what students expected? Is this really an epiphany, and if so, in what way has the narrator gained a truer understanding of life?
- For discussion: Why did Joyce place so much importance on epiphanies? Are they really a common feature of life? Do all people have them?
Theme of First Love: “Araby” is, at its most fundamental level, the story of a boy on the cusp of adolescence experiencing his first romantic feelings. Plainly put, he has a crush on the girl who lives across the street. The theme is one of the most familiar in literature, but the details of the story firmly anchor it to a specific time and place.
- For discussion: Joyce is famous for saying, “In the particular is contained the universal.” How well does that statement apply to this story? Which aspects of it are universal and which aren’t? Do all first crushes end in some sort of disillusionment? Why or why not?
Theme of the End of Childhood: Joyce structured Dubliners so that the stories when read together take readers through the stages of life, from childhood to adolescence to maturity. “Araby” is the last of the childhood stories, and its conclusion marks one of life’s most monumental milestones: the end of childhood, and with it the end of innocence. That’s a lot of significance to place on one disappointing event, but Joyce makes it clear that what may seem like a trivial experience to an outsider is monumental to the narrator.
- For discussion: How will the narrator’s experience at Araby affect the way he feels about Mangan’s sister? How is he likely to behave toward her the next time he sees her?
Theme of Religious Hypocrisy: At the time Joyce was writing Dubliners, the Catholic Church was deeply ingrained into most facets of Irish life. Born a Catholic himself, Joyce eventually claimed to “make open war upon [the church] by what I write and say and do.” He detested the degree of control the church had over individuals and their choices, and he depicted the hypocrisy he saw there in many of his works. In “Araby,” explicit depictions are subtle—the “charity” of the dead priest, the uncle’s drunkenness on “this night of Our Lord”—but themes showing the detachment of religion’s aspirations from Dublin’s lived reality are pervasive.
- For discussion: Consider the description of the former tenant’s life of the narrator’s house, the priest. He is described as charitable, but to what extent does the class agree that these actions represent true charity?
- For discussion: Facilitate a classroom discussion on hypocrisy. To what extent do students agree with such positions as “Do as I say, not as I do”? Does being hypocritical alter or harm the message of the hypocrite?
Theme of the Repressive Forces of Society: Throughout the story there are indications of how the lives of the characters are controlled by the forces of society. The children at play in the first scene try to hide when they’re called to dinner, but inevitably they must bow to adult demands and go in. Mangan’s sister wants to attend the Araby bazaar, but she has to go to a religious retreat instead. At school, the narrator grows frustrated by the demands of his studies, which seem trivial compared to...
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