Araby

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Themes and Colors
Coming of Age Theme Icon
Religion and Catholicism Theme Icon
Escapism and the Exotic Theme Icon
Love and Sexuality Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Araby, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Coming of Age Theme Icon

One of the central issues in James Joyce’s “Araby” is growing up. The narrator, who is a grown man who uses mature language to describe his youthful experience, reflects back on his experience with the Araby market, providing small insights from an adult perspective. The fact that the story is told from an adult perspective indicates that the story is about growing up: the narrator is reflecting back on a formative time during his childhood.

The protagonist’s development is reflected in his relationships with his friends. As the protagonist becomes consumed by his infatuation with Mangan’s sister, he loses interest in playing with his friends as well as in school. Suddenly, the things that used to matter to him now seem less important, and he even begins to feel superior to his friends, deeming his everyday life, which now seems to stand in between him and his crush, “ugly monotonous child’s play.” He also begins to spend less time with his friends and to observe them from an outsider’s perspective. On the night of the Araby market, he watches them from the front window: “Their cries reached me weakened and indistinct and, leaning my forehead against the cool glass, I looked over at the dark house where she lived.” The glass both literally and metaphorically separates the narrator from his friends as they play in the street.

The narrator’s coming of age also becomes apparent through changes in his interactions with authority figures, in this case his aunt, uncle, and teacher. He begins to develop a more defiant personality, and grows annoyed when his aunt and uncle do not take his requests seriously. The night of the Araby market the narrator refuses to smile at his uncle’s jokes in an act of subtle rebellion. He also notices that his uncle is drunk when he comes home that night, suggesting that he is no longer entirely an innocent, and can understand aspects of the adult world. His changing relationship with his teacher also shows that he is no longer afraid of disappointing figures of authority. He observes his master becoming stern with him, and yet he still is not able to take his studies seriously. The protagonist becomes slightly more rebellious as the story progresses, which shows that he is learning to think independently of the adults around him, a key factor in his coming of age.

In a typical coming of age story, the protagonist experiences pivotal events that lead him or her toward adulthood. These events are usually trying (such as experiencing war, loss, love, rape, or economic hardship) but lead to a satisfying realization or epiphany. In Araby, Joyce shows that the protagonist is growing up through his discovery of his sexuality, his sudden distance from his friends, and his increasingly rebellious attitude, however the protagonist’s new knowledge and maturity bring him discontent instead of fulfillment. At the end of the story, the protagonist is left with nothing: he fails to buy something to impress Mangan’s sister and he is now alienated from his friends and has lost interest in his studies. Though he was hoping to escape from his mundane life, he realizes that escape might be more difficult than. The protagonist’s gained knowledge and experience, then, offer not satisfaction but instead a loss of innocence. And in this loss of innocence, the narrator becomes aware both of his previous naïveté and his religious condition as a flawed “creature.” Through the narrator’s experience, the story suggests more broadly that coming-of-age, while inevitable for every person, is not so much something to be looked forward to but rather a kind of tragedy: that the knowledge gained is of a dark and difficult sort, and not necessarily worth the innocence lost.

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Coming of Age ThemeTracker

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Coming of Age Quotes in Araby

Below you will find the important quotes in Araby related to the theme of Coming of Age.
Araby Quotes

North Richmond Street, being blind, was a quiet street except at the hour when the Christian Brothers’ School set the boys free. An uninhabited house of two storeys stood at the blind end, detached from its neighbors in a square ground.

Related Characters: The narrator (speaker)
Related Symbols: Blindness
Page Number: 21
Explanation and Analysis:

These are the opening lines of the text and also where Joyce establishes the setting, including specific details such as the street and school name. Though the narrator has yet to be introduced, the opening sentences provide a lot of insight into his character. These details establish that the narrator is coming from a sheltered environment characterized by his single-sex, religious education and secluded, dead-end street. All of these factors contribute to his coming of age and the development of his sexuality as he begins to realize there is a world outside of this dead-end street.

The uninhabited house foreshadows the narrator’s alienation from his friends that comes later as he comes of age first through his interest in Mangan’s sister and then through his final epiphany of disillusionment about himself. The fact that it’s a “blind” street perhaps indicates that the narrator is trapped in his monotonous reality or headed towards a dead-end (and implies also that Ireland itself, where the narrator is from, might operate as a kind of dead-end for the narrator), which pushes him to desire an escape (which his fascination with both Mangan’s sister and the Araby Bazaar offers him). That the alley is described as “blind” also symbolizes his initial ignorance resulting from his sheltered environment, which is also what causes him to believe the feelings he has for Mangan’s sister are love.

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I watched my master’s face pass from amiability to sternness; he hoped I was not beginning to idle. … I had hardly any patience with the serious work of life which, now that it stood between me and my desire, seemed to me child’s play, ugly monotonous child’s play.

Related Characters: The narrator (speaker)
Page Number: 24
Explanation and Analysis:

Now that the narrator has the potential to escape from his monotonous reality, even if that escape is just in the form of a daydream, he cannot focus on the activities of his everyday life. The fact that he is no longer motivated by his schoolmaster’s approval, and does not seem to be afraid of angering him, shows that he is beginning to see himself as more of an adult, which is part of the process of growing up. The fact that he is growing up is also reflected by his newfound sense of superiority. Suddenly everything that had been important before, namely school and play, seem dull and meaningless. At the same time, the narrator’s changing interests contribute to the narrator’s ensuing alienation from his friends, since they no longer share the same interests and he chooses to fantasize about Mangan’s sister as they continue to play in the street together.

At the same time, it’s important to remember that the narrator of the story is not the protagonist as a child, but rather the protagonist as an adult, looking back on his childhood. And so when he describes his schoolwork as “the serious work of life” as now seeming like “child’s play,” the narrator captures more than just the fact that he is “growing up” and leaving childish things behind. Rather, the narrator captures the idea that the boy he was in the story feels that he is growing up, and that the therefore thinks of his former pursuits as being childish, but with the implication that those pursuits in fact are the “serious work of life.” Put more bluntly, the narrator is describing himself as a young boy who thinks he is growing up, but in fact is mistaken.

From the front window I saw my companions playing below in the street. Their cries reached me weakened and indistinct and, leaning my forehead against the cool glass, I looked over at the dark house where she lived.

Related Characters: The narrator (speaker), Mangan’s Sister
Related Symbols: Light and Darkness
Page Number: 25
Explanation and Analysis:

The windowpane acts as a literal and metaphorical barrier between the narrator and his friends, signifying that he has become alienated from them. He is completely disinterested in playing with them, and after he notices their presence without much remark, he immediately turns his gaze to Mangan’s sister’s house. The words “weakened” and “indistinct” further highlight this disconnect between him and his friends since they no longer understand each other on a personal level, just as he realizes he cannot really hear or understand their cries from the street.

The symbol of darkness appears as he looks at Mangan’s sister’s “dark house.” Here, darkness most likely symbolizes ignorance, foreshadowing his bleak realization that the feelings he has for her are, in fact, common, not part of the great sophisticated romance he imagined.

Observing me the young lady came over and asked me did I wish to buy anything. The tone of her voice was not encouraging; she seemed to have spoken to me out of a sense of duty. I looked humbly at the great jars that stood like eastern guards at either side of the dark entrance to the stall…

Related Characters: The narrator (speaker), Young female shopkeeper
Related Symbols: Light and Darkness
Page Number: 27
Explanation and Analysis:

This interaction with the shopkeeper fills the narrator with a sense of self-doubt, since he perceives that her attentiveness is only part of her job and she is doubtful that the narrator is actually going to make a purchase. His self-awareness and transition toward identifying as an adult is called into question by the shopkeeper, who clearly still sees him as a child wasting her time.

His comparison of the jars to “Eastern guards” shows how out of place and intimidated he feels at the bazaar, but it also serves again to highlight that the narrator is hoping to find an escape at the bazaar. However, once the shopkeeper crushes his confidence, he realizes that the market is not what he thought it was. Once again the symbol of darkness comes in, symbolizing the cultural ignorance that inspired the choice of the name “Araby” for a market that is filled with tea sets and English accents, masquerading as an Eastern bazaar.

Gazing up into the darkness I saw myself as a creature driven and derided by vanity; and my eyes burned with anguish and anger.

Related Characters: The narrator (speaker)
Related Symbols: Light and Darkness
Page Number: 28
Explanation and Analysis:

As the lights in the bazaar go out, the narrator is flooded with the knowledge that he has been foolishly motivated by vanity. This is the grand realization, or disillusionment, that comes from his coming of age. Finally he understands that the powerful feelings he had for Mangan’s sister are actually rather ordinary, and that his desire to please her with a gift from the bazaar came from a deeper desire for her approval, rather than a selfless act of generosity or love. The narrator realizes that his means of escaping his reality, both his fascination with Araby and his feelings for Mangan’s sister, are both unsatisfying and superficial, are products of his vanity rather than of nobility or any other ideal.

As the narrator comes to this realization the hall is flooded with darkness, contrary to the expected light, which typically symbolizes new knowledge or an epiphany. The darkness highlights the grim nature of the narrator’s new knowledge. Joyce’s subversion of the symbol of darkness suggests that new knowledge does not always bring happiness or satisfaction, that coming-of-age is not an emergence into a bright world of possibility but rather a realization of one’s own failures and the limitations of the world.