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Home » » Themes In James Joyce's Araby

James Joyce’s wonderful story “Araby” is about an adolescent boy whose quest for ideal beauty and romance ends in utter failure and sheer frustration. Ostensibly the story is about a boy’s failure to buy a gift for his long-adored girl from an oriental fete named ‘Araby’. But the story involves a number of themes developed meticulously by the author. Besides symbolically exploring human being’s unsuccessful quest for ideal in life, the story also focuses on the psychological development of its protagonist, an adolescent boy. 

In addition, the themes of isolation and love are also scrupulously developed by the author. Apparently “Araby” is about an imaginative boy who is passionately in love with a girl mentioned as Mangan’s sister. For him she is the ideal of beauty, a symbol of heavenly charm, sublimity and purity. His obsession with this unnamed girl is almost abnormal. The turning point in his life occurs when one day Mangan’s sister talks to him and he promises her to bring a beautiful gift from the oriental bazaar. The teen-aged boy starts dreaming of fulfilling his dream by bringing a gift from the oriental bazaar. From that moment onward Araby becomes a magic land for the imaginative boy. In his imagination, he idealizes ‘Araby’ and dreams of coming in contact with the ideal beauty in life there. But when the boy finally goes to the bazaar, he is tremendously frustrated. Instead of it being one huge ordeal and a fascinating place, the oriental bazaar turns out to be quite small — a place which hardly attracts him. He does not find anything suitable to buy. He discovers the bitter truths of life in the frustration and anger that he encounters. 

“Araby” also traces the psychological development of the adolescent protagonist. It poignantly captures the transition of the boy from adolescence to adulthood. At the beginning the boy is full of enthusiasm and romantic imagination. He is inexperienced about the harsh realities of life. His world seems to be limited to his infatuation for his girl - Mangan’s sister. His transition into adulthood begins with his pursuit to get a gift for the girl. His failure to find a suitable gift for his dream girl makes him face the grim realities of the mundane world. His vision of an ideal place for romance beauty is shattered in the prosaic reality of ‘Araby’. His illusory dreams have left him and all he is left with is anger and aguish. At the end of the story he is a completely disillusioned man. He realizes his own position in the world. 

Other two underlying themes in Joyce’s short story are themes of isolation and of love. As it is unlikely to be both isolated and in love, there is much tension between these two themes as they each battle to become dominant. Eventually, the tensions dissolve and the main character finds himself completely isolated and alone. The theme of isolation is eminent from the opening paragraphs that describe a dark, quiet street. Gnawing isolation is there at the end of the story. After his failure to buy a suitable gift in the oriental bazaar the adolescent protagonist discovers himself as a lonely person. In the story “Araby” Joyce develops a number of themes. At the symbolic level the teen-aged protagonist’s failure stands for the “universal unsuccessful quest for beauty and ideal in the world.

The story also traces the psychological development of the protagonist. As suffers from passions of anger and anguish he learns the bitter truths of life. The author also throws light on the role love plays in one’s life. The author shows how the life of the main character changes from being lonely and isolated to being obsessed with love and then back to isolation and loneliness. In the last paragraph of the piece we find the boy isolated, in the darkness, eyes burning with anguish as he realizes he has not succeeded in his task of buying his love a gift.


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