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Religion and Catholicism Theme Analysis

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.
Religion and Catholicism Theme Icon

The narrator of “Araby” is surrounded by religion. He attends a Roman Catholic school and all of the people around him, just like he himself, are steeped in the Catholic religion that held sway in Ireland at the time when the story was set. Joyce does not clearly indicate how strongly the narrator believes in his faith, but Catholicism plays a large role in his upbringing and he often explains things through Catholic ideas and imagery.

Most obviously, the narrator over and over again thinks about and describes his crush, Mangan’s sister, in religious terms. At one point he compares her to a “chalice” that he is protecting from a “throng of foes,” a reference that seems to compare her to the Holy Grail. At other times, he literally seems to worship her: “Her name sprang to my lips at moments in strange prayers and praises which I myself did not understand.” That the narrator doesn’t even understand his prayers to Mangan’s sister seems to imply that he is not idolizing Mangan’s sister on purpose. Instead, it seems as if his Catholic upbringing has defined the form of how he understands anything for which he feels strong emotion. Up until this point, being a child, the narrator has only ever experienced familial love and love for God (or at least an attempt to love God, one founded in the religious language he is surrounded by), which he does not know how to differentiate from romantic love. And so he thinks of romantic love in religious terms.

At the same time, the sort of idolizing of Mangan’s sister that the narrator engages in would have been seen as deeply irreligious by serious Catholics. The idolization of anything or anyone above God was considered a kind of blasphemy. When looked at in this light, it might be argued that the story exposes or at least questions the narrator’s relationship with religion. The protagonist’s infatuation with and distraction by Mangan’s sister might suggest that he is not strongly devoted to his faith. After all, while thinking of her he begins to see his studies as childish, suggesting that he is not fully invested in his religious education. However the protagonist’s regret at the end of the story could suggest a return to his religious roots. The narrator’s realization that he is a “creature driven … by vanity” is stated in religious terms, and indicates that out of individualist desire (love or infatuation) he has strayed from his true duty. The choice of the word “creature” could have religious connotations as well, in the sense of the creations of God being described as his “creatures.”

At the same time, it is also possible to interpret the text as criticizing Catholicism and religion, as implying that the narrator’s religious background may have set him up to be unsatisfied, because nothing can meet divine standards. Or, conversely, that, just as the narrator’s “worship” of Mangan’s sister is shown to be impossible because nothing can match his imaginative ideals, the story is implying that the same applies to religion in general – that worshipping anything is unreasonable and bound to end in disappointment. More broadly, the story seems to indicate that whatever the particular nature of the narrator’s epiphany, he has come to recognize that what he thought was simple – including his Catholic religion – is in fact complicated and difficult to live with, promising not just salvation but also guilt and anguish.

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Religion and Catholicism ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Religion and Catholicism appears in each chapter of Araby. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Religion and Catholicism Quotes in Araby

Below you will find the important quotes in Araby related to the theme of Religion and Catholicism.
Araby Quotes

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.


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