Through the use of a first person narrative, Joyce communicates the confused thoughts and dreams of his young male protagonist. Joyce uses this familiarity with the narrator’s feelings to evoke in readers a response similar to the boy’s “epiphany”—a sudden moment of insight and understanding—at the turning point of the story.
Point of View
The first-person point of view in “Araby” means that readers see everything through the eyes of the narrator and know what he feels and thinks. If the narrator is confused about his feelings, then it is up to the readers to figure out how the narrator really feels and why he feels that way, using only the clues given by the author. For example, when the narrator first describes Mangan’s sister, he says that “her figure [is] defined by the light from the half-opened door.” In other words, she is lit from behind, giving her an unearthly “glow,” like an angel or supernatural being such as the Virgin Mary. Readers are left to interpret the meaning behind the narrator’s words, because the boy is not sophisticated enough to understand his own longings.
The symbolism Joyce includes also helps readers to fully understand all of the story’s complexities. The former tenant of the narrator’s house, the Catholic priest, could be said to represent the entire Catholic church. By extension, the books left in his room—which include non-religious and non-Catholic reading—represent a feeling of ambiguity toward religion in general and Catholicism in particular. The bazaar, Araby, represents the East—a part of the world that is exotic and mysterious to the Irish boy. It could also represent commercialism, since it is really just a fundraiser used to get people to spend money on the church. Mrs. Mercer, the pawnbroker’s widow, represents the uncle’s debt and irresponsibility; she too could represent greed and materialism. To the narrator, Mangan’s sister is a symbol of purity and feminine perfection. These qualities are often associated with the Virgin Mary, who also symbolizes the Catholic church. While the boy is at Araby, the various, and often contrasting, meanings of these symbols converge to produce his epiphany.
Stream of Consciousness
Joyce is famous for using a stream-of-consciousness technique for storytelling. Although stream of consciousness does not figure prominently in “Araby,” a reader can see the beginnings of Joyce’s use of this technique, which he used extensively in his subsequent novels, Ulysses and Finnegans Wake. A major feature of stream-of-consciousness storytelling is that the narration takes place inside the mind of main characters and follows their thoughts as they occur to them, whether those thoughts are complete sentences or not. Although this story uses complete sentences for its storytelling, the narration takes place inside the boy’s mind. Another feature of stream-of-consciousness narration is that the narrator’s thoughts are not explained for the reader. This is true of “Araby” as well, especially during and after the boy’s epiphany.
Kathleen Wilson (Editor), Short Stories for Students: Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, Volume 1, James Joyce, Published by Gale, 1997.