One of the central issues of “Araby” is the narrator’s developing crush on Mangan’s sister and the discovery of his sexuality. Joyce shows the protagonist’s evolution by first describing his sheltered upbringing, and then using physical descriptions of Mangan’s sister to highlight the protagonist’s budding sexuality.
The protagonist lives on a “blind” street, a dead end that is secluded and not frequented by outsiders. Additionally, he attends an all-boys school, which suggests that he does not know many girls. That he immediately falls for his friend’s somewhat older sister and thinks of his infatuation as a kind of worldliness only solidifies the sense of his lack of experience with girls. The protagonist’s growing sexuality is further captured in his detailed descriptions of Mangan’s sister’s physical form: “Her dress swung as she moved her body and the soft rope of her hair tossed from side to side.” Joyce here manages to capture the way that the narrator is both seeing Mangan’s sister in a physical way, and yet also how this way of seeing her is so new to him as to be almost innocent. He is not thinking of sex; he may not even know what sex is. But he is aware of and appreciative of her physicality in a way that is essentially idealistic.
However, although clearly the protagonist is infatuated with Mangan’s sister, Joyce gives little evidence that it is “love.” The narrator thinks of Mangan’s sister only in in a physical way, includes no details about her personality, and basically shares no dialogue with her. The narrator’s relationship with Mangan’s sister is just a crush from afar, and that the narrator thinks of it as a love akin to religion only makes him seem more naïve. Ultimately, as he tries and fails to buy a meaningful gift for Mangan’s sister while overhearing the girl at the stall flirt with two young men, the narrator comes to the realization that he was motivated not by love but by vanity. That vanity seems to operate in two ways: First, in seeing the flirting of the girl with the boys at the stall, he sees that his sense of his own uniqueness in his feelings for Mangan’s sister was incorrect, and that to see himself as being unique because of his “love” for her was therefore vanity. Second, he sees that his desire to please Mangan’s sister came from his desire for her approval –not because he loved or cared about her as an individual.
In the narrator’s epiphany about his love, one can also argue that Joyce is making a broader point: that what most people see as “love” in fact usually springs from vanity or the innate desire for the approval of others. Grandiose acts of love in life and literature, such as the narrator’s attempted gift-buying at the Araby bazaar, are often portrayed as selfless but, like the narrator’s actions, may in fact be motivated by selfish motives.
Love and Sexuality ThemeTracker
Love and Sexuality Quotes in Araby
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.
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.
The light from the lamp opposite our door caught the white curve of her neck, lit up her hair that rested there and, falling, lit up the hand upon the railing. It fell over one side of her dress and caught the white border of a petticoat, just visible as she stood at ease.
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.
Gazing up into the darkness I saw myself as a creature driven and derided by vanity; and my eyes burned with anguish and anger.