A sensitive boy confuses a romantic crush and religious enthusiasm. He goes to Araby, a bazaar with an exotic, Oriental theme, in order to buy a souvenir for the object of his crush. The boy arrives late, however, and when he overhears a shallow conversation a female clerk is having with her male friends and sees the bazaar is closing down, he realizes that he has allowed his imagination to carry him away. He leaves without a souvenir, feeling foolish and angry with himself.
Alienation and Loneliness
The narrator never shares any of his feelings concerning Mangan’s sister with anyone. He isolates himself from his friends, who seem terribly young to him once his crush begins, and from his family, who seem caught up in their own world. Mangan’s sister is also completely unaware of the narrator’s feelings for her. Consequently, when he suddenly realizes how foolish he has been, his anger at himself is intensified by his alienation from everyone and the resulting feeling of isolation.
Change and Transformation
The narrator experiences emotional growth— changing from an innocent young boy to a disillusioned adolescent—in the flash of an instant. This insight occurs through what Joyce called an “epiphany,” which is a moment of intense insight and self-understanding. Although the narrator suddenly understands that he has allowed his feelings to get carried away, this understanding makes him neither happy nor satisfied. If anything, he is very angry at himself for acting foolishly. This realization marks the beginning of his maturation from a child into an adult.
God and Religion
At the beginning of the story, the narrator sees himself as a religious hero and sees Mangan’s sister as the living embodiment of the Virgin Mary. He has not yet learned how to separate the religious teachings of his school with the reality of his secular life. Part of his understanding at the end of the story involves his finally separating those two aspects of his life. He realizes that the church-sponsored bazaar is just a place to buy trinkets, that Mangan’s sister is just a girl, and that he. himself is just a boy. It is not clear at the end of the story what impact the narrator’s epiphany will have on his religious beliefs. Joyce’s own disillusionment with Catholicism, however, lends credence to the possibility of the boy adopting a cynical attitude toward his religion.
Kathleen Wilson (Editor), Short Stories for Students: Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, Volume 1, James Joyce, Published by Gale, 1997.