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.
Escapism and the Exotic Theme Icon

In the text both Mangan’s sister and the Araby market offer an escape from the ordinary, from the dull, brown picture of Dublin that the narrator otherwise describes as the world he lives in. The narrator makes his boredom with everyday life very clear when he refers to his former boyhood antics as the “career of our play,” making even play seem like a kind of work. Similarly, his descriptions of school paint a picture of busywork, with a “master” most concerned about whether his pupils might be “beginning to idle.”

Mangan’s sister offers a mental escape from this world. He thinks of her “even in places most hostile to romance,” and daydreams about her rather than doing his work in school. The Araby market seems to offer the narrator a similar kind of escape—yet the market offers an escape he not only can daydream about, but one he can actually go to. In the narrator’s sheltered world, the word “Araby” alone indicates something foreign to him, as it refers to an Eastern “Arabian” world that is so distant from the narrow, cloistered world of Ireland that he is used to (the story is set well before globalization would have made the rest of the world seem accessible to people living in Ireland; rather the narrator’s world is one in which people who live in Ireland are unlikely to travel very far away from their home, much less ever leave the country). The narrator constantly refers to Araby as “eastern” and clearly relishes in the exotic connotation of the “magical name.”

However, when the narrator actually reaches the market, he is disappointed by the reality of what he finds: “porcelain vases and flowered tea-sets” and people talking in English accents. He realizes that the Araby market is not truly exotic, not truly an escape, but rather little more than a thin veneer of exoticism lamely pasted over his own regular world. And in this realization about the Araby market, he also seems to see that his own sense of his “exotic” love for Mangan’s sister was similarly just a mask, a fake “escape” rather than a real journey to a new and distant place. He also realizes that his sense that he could truly escape to these “exotic” places – both the market and love of Mangan’s sister – was vanity, a mistaken belief in his own specialness, his own uniqueness. And, further, the fact that the Araby market exists at all, and that young men and women flirt within it to pass the time, suggests that even his desire for an escape from the everyday is itself common and everyday.

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Escapism and the Exotic ThemeTracker

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Escapism and the Exotic Quotes in Araby

Below you will find the important quotes in Araby related to the theme of Escapism and the Exotic.
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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Her image accompanied me even in places the most hostile to romance. … We walked through the flaring streets, jostled by drunken men and bargaining women, amid the curses of labourers, the shrill litanies of shop-boys who stood on guard by the barrels of pigs’ cheeks, the nasal chanting of street-singers, who sang a come-all-you about O’Donovan Rossa, or a ballad about the troubles in our native land.

Related Characters: The narrator (speaker), Mangan’s Sister
Page Number: 22-23
Explanation and Analysis:

The narrator’s description here captures how Mangan’s sister offers him a mental escape from the gritty reality of Dublin. Here he daydreams about her as he accompanies his aunt on errands through the noisy, dirty Dublin market. Her image acts for him as a kind of shield, giving him access to “romance” even in places full of the unromantic, both the everyday hustle and bustle of life and the political tensions in Ireland implied by the references to O’Donovan Rossa and the “troubles.” The narrator thinks himself in love with Mangan’s sister, but it seems rather that he delights in the escape his infatuation with her offers to him.

These noises converged in a single sensation of life for me: I imagined that I bore my chalice safely through a throng of foes. Her name sprang to my lips at moments in strange prayers and praises which I myself did not understand.

Related Characters: The narrator (speaker), Mangan’s Sister
Page Number: 23
Explanation and Analysis:

Here, for the first time, the narrator first describes Mangan’s sister in religious terms. He describes her as a “chalice,” which is the cup used in the Catholic ritual of the Eucharist and a symbolic reference to the Holy Grail. He goes on to compare the act of saying her name with praying, as though he is worshipping her like a divine idol.

On the one hand, the narrator’s use of Catholic imagery suggests that his Catholic upbringing has provided much of the basis for how he sees the world and describes strong emotional feelings. Since this is the first time the narrator is experiencing any kind of romantic love, he is equating it with divine love because this is the only other kind of love he is familiar with, aside from familial love. On the other hand, his treatment of Mangan’s sister as a kind of idol would be seen by other Catholics as a kind of heresy, as the worship of any idol other than God is strictly forbidden. The story then captures the way that the narrator’s religious upbringing creates a kind of muddle for him by defining the terms in which he thinks about the world, but in then informing his interactions with that world causing him to act irreligiously. The narrator’s Catholicism functions as a kind of trap for him, even if he isn’t entirely aware of it.

The image of the chalice also serves to illustrate how Mangan’s sister operates as an escape for the narrator from the everyday life he despises. His use of the word “foes” to describe the people around him in the market implies that he resents everyday Dublin and its people, while at the same time showing how his ideas about Mangan’s sister allows him to transform his routine and monotonous everyday experience into a kind of epic romance with him as the hero.

The syllables of the word Araby were called to me through the silence in which my soul luxuriated and cast an Eastern enchantment over me.

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

Even the word “Araby” itself excites the narrator with its exotic sound. He begins to fantasize about the “Eastern” escape the bazaar could provide. Given that the narrator has grown up on a dead-end street and in a sheltered environment, this is probably his first encounter with the prospect of anything vaguely “Eastern” and that makes it even more exciting for him. The word “enchantment” implies that he feels he is being drawn to the idea of Araby as though he is being manipulated by magic. It is as though Araby has some kind of divine power over him. The use of the word “soul” also implies there is a spiritual element to how he feels about the Araby bazaar as well, and that the narrator is perhaps combining his excitement for the bazaar with his religious background, and equating Araby with a spiritual experience.

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.

Remembering with difficulty why I had come I went over to one of the stalls and examined porcelain vases and flowered tea sets. At the door of the stall a young lady was talking and laughing with two young gentlemen. I remarked their English accents and listened vaguely to their conversation.

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

The narrator has come to the Araby market to try to buy something for Mangan’s sister, but now faced with the market itself he loses his excitement. The market itself, which he had expected to bathe him in a kind of “Eastern enchantment,” to give him an escape from his everyday world, is in fact filled with everyday things like “porcelain cases and flowered tea sets.” That the people in the market don’t have exotic accents or backgrounds, but in fact are English reinforces the sense that the Araby market is just a sham meant to attract suckers just like the narrator who are looking for the exotic. Further, that the people in the market have English accents would be even more important during that period in Ireland, when England ruled Ireland. The Araby market, then, seems like a trick played on the Irish, and the narrator, by the English who rule them, and so his own gullibility would feel even worse.

In addition, the shopkeeper’s flirting with the two young gentlemen also pierces the narrator’s romantic illusions. He had imagined his romantic feelings for Mangan’s sister to be unique and special, but in these flirting young adults he sees that it is nothing special at all, it’s just typical attraction. Further, the way these people casually flirt implies not just that the narrator’s own feelings for Mangan’s sister are commonplace, but that his romantic conception of love is just as unrealistic as was his romantic vision of what the Araby market would be. The ideas that had made him feel both grown up and given him a sense of escape from his everyday world are revealed to him as empty.

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.