Araby Summary

James Joyce


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Araby Summary

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The story of Araby is one in James Joyce’s collection, The Dubliners, published in 1914. In it, Joyce describes the magic of childhood and the perceptions of love for those just on the brink of awakening into adults.

The story is told in first-person and opens on the dull lives of the people who live on North Richmond Street. The only light in the whole place is the imagination of children, who even in the winter, insist on playing outside until their “bodies glowed.” Joyce takes care to describe the magic of their imaginations and the way the drab surroundings send them to great heights of magic and fantasy.

The boys are still children and play in the streets as such, but they are all on the cusp of adulthood. They are interested in the adult world now, and they spy on the adults around them. They watch the narrator’s uncle when he comes home from work, and they follow Mangan’s older sister. They are in awe of the mysteries of the opposite sex, and they are eager to know more.

One one rainy evening, the narrator secludes himself from everyone else and makes his declarations of love to her. His feelings for her are romanticized, and he idealizes her. When he speaks to her, he is so overcome with these feelings that he can barely put sentences together. She finally asks him if he’s going to the market in Araby and he is unsure of how to answer. When he finally says yes, he vows that moment to bring something back for her when she sadly says that she is unable to go.

The narrator is anxious to go to the market now and procure something amazing for his love. His aunt frets over its safety, and his uncle arrives home so late from work that he almost misses it; the narrator leaves the house with a florin (two shillings).

The market is nearly closed, and the narrator’s idealized notions of the bazaar are dashed. Most of the stalls are closed, and when he stops at one of the only ones remaining open, the woman there is too busy talking to two young men to serve him. She only grudgingly and quickly acknowledges him before returning to her conversation.

This encounter destroys his vision of the Araby bazaar and his idealized vision of Mangan’s sister. He rethinks his romanticized ideas of love, and with shame and anger, he is left alone in the bazaar.

The story is one of growing up and losing the imaginations of childhood. The narrator is an adult looking back on a formative period of his childhood. At the time, his growing interest in the adult world led him to idealize Mangan’s sister, so much so that he begins to alienate his friends and neglect his studies. When he is unable to buy the object of his affection something suitable at the market, this is his first experience with love in the adult world.

Unlike other coming of age stories, the narrator’s newfound adulthood leaves him with a sense of discontent instead of satisfaction. We are not given the arc of his pivotal experiences becoming an epiphany. Rather, his experiences with the Araby market lead him to disillusionment with his childish ideals. He’d put Mangan’s sister on a pedestal, and in failing to achieve a trophy for her, his dreams are dashed.

The narrator’s experience suggests that his loss of innocence wasn’t necessarily worth the experience. Adulthood and adult knowledge isn’t necessarily something someone should look forward to. Its knowledge is a dark sort, one that tears away our veil without replacing it with something better. The author’s tone is wistful and seemingly longing for the days of the magic of childhood.

The other prevailing idea is that something different offers an escape from the dullness of everyday life. The author views the exotic nature of the Araby market as a way to escape his day to day boredom, and because it’s an actual place, he can realize this dream. Mangan’s sister, on the other hand, is a mental escape that is relegated only to dreaming. He begins to imagine her in places even hostile to romance and is unable to concentrate on the tasks of everyday life.

When the narrator arrives in the market, he realizes that its exotic appeal is only a thin veneer over what he already knows. It pretends to be exotic, but it is just an extension of his current world. Men and women speak in British accents, and cheap tea sets are for sale. When the narrator confronts the cold face of reality, he realizes that neither the market in Araby nor his idealized love of Mangan’s sister can bring him out of his circumstances.

Many coming of age stories are filled with hope, but in Araby, James Joyce chooses to address the idea that not all innocence lost is worth the epiphanies we have. Sometimes, we’d rather have the magic of childhood back untarnished.