Discuss the symbolism of James Joyce’s short story “Araby”

Araby, the title of Joyce’s story, is associated with the grand oriental fete, held in Dublin, from the 14th and the 19th May 1894. Against the background of Arab, as a haunting place for romance and thrill for the boyish mind, the story expresses James Joyce’s boyhood craving for an ideal beauty in the drab surrounding of Dublin. As a boy, the author himself had the longing for going to Araby which, however, after his actual visit, proved a disillusion to him. He could not satisfy his appetite for romance there, and his dream of life remained unrealized, and he was made to leave the place in utter anguish and anger, ‘as a creature, driven and derided by vanity’.

Araby is a modern short story. Its theme is conceived rather symbolically. In the symbolism of modern literature, a theme, idea, or matter is conveyed by means of a symbol. In the short story Araby, ‘Araby’ represents an ideal of life, an ideal of romance and beauty to the young author. This is represented as the intense desire of a young mind that is lost in the dull and intercourses of material life. Araby is the symbolic conception of an idea of romance and beauty. Again, the author’s fascination for Araby, his ideal of a life of all romance and charm, proved an utter illusion after his actual visit there. This is well symbolic of the hard fact that the romantic ideal remains ever far behind man’s reach amid the hard reality of grossly material living.

Araby has not much of the story element in the conventional sense. As a sort of memoir, it contains the details of Dublin’s life as also the psychological revelation of the subconscious state of dreams and desires. The author’s
romantic sensation, his clearly cherished image of his friend Mangan’s sister, came as a sharp contrast to the atmospheric gloom in the dull, dreary environment of the streets of Dublin. There was much difference between
his vision for which he waited and the reality that he viewed in front of him. This, too, has a symbolic overtone and serves to expose the utter difference between a pleasant dream-like sensation and the dull, drab experience of life, lost in a commercial, mechanized surroundings.

Araby contains the author’s expectation for the relish of beauty and romance that he had long dreamt. His eager watching for Mangan’s sister or waiting for a slight view of her is all marked with an idealistic yearning and a romantic sensation. Her desire to go to Araby which, to her imagination, is a splendid bazaar, and his promise to go there and to bring some gift for her, all, when symbolically interpreted, sharply indicate the long-drawn human expectations, aspirations for some ideal, that is seldom realized, fulfilled.

Indeed, Araby and the girl (Mangan’s sister) gleamed before the author, like the Holy Grail of the Grail Legend, which had prompted the chivalrous Knights to undertake perilous journeys. The reference to the Holy Grail here
has a specific symbolic significance. The author’s boyhood mind was fascinated and drawn by his own ideal of romance and beauty. Like the medieval knight, engaged in the quest of the Holy Grail, he waited and waited for that which he could never possess or relish. The story, indeed, records the longing, lingering waiting for the unattainable ideal of life and the satiable expectation for the beauty that is ever-alluring, never yielding. The symbolic overtones of the story are, indeed, distinct.

James Joyce’s story Araby depicts subtly the quest for beauty of the mind that is pinned down by the grim reality of a commercial world. In the hard situation of life, this quest never reaches the goal which draws and deludes a romantic visionary. Joyce’s childhood dream of Araby as a place of romance and beauty and his desire to bring a gift for the girl of his ideal got rudely shattered by the commercialism that he found and the frivolity with which he came across there. His quest for beauty was frustrated and the story seems to highlight the tragedy of this quest, the cherished waiting for that which is deceptive. Araby, in fact, is not a mere story. It is a symbolic representation of a vivid waiting for that which is unattainable.