James Joyce’s Araby, one of the short stories in his celebrated Dubliners, is a quite impressive work, despite the intricacy of the plot. It well indicates the development of the short story as a distinct literary form with its complexity and psychological profundity. Combined with the realistic details of drab Dublin life, the story has a symbolic undertone that leaves a deep impression in spite of its rather intricate note. The theme of the story bears out the symbolic aspect with which this is concerned, and that particularly adds to its complexity.
Araby was the name given to a grand oriental fate, held in Dublin between the 14th and the 19th May, 1894. It was a sort of bazaar in the English usage, in which different goods were usually sold for the benefit of charities and side shows were also provided for the amusement of the visitors. It served the two-fold purpose of beneficence and entertainment.
Against the background of remote Araby, a haunting place of romance for the child-mind, the story expresses James Joyce’s childhood craving for beauty amid the drab surrounding in Dublin. The author, as a boy, had a longing for visiting Araby which was to him a place of romance and charm, particularly for bringing a present for the girl of his romantic adoration. He secured his uncle’s permission for the purpose, but because of the late arrival of the latter, he entered Araby rather late in the night, when the stalls were almost empty and the hall was almost dark. The author went and moved there with much expectation and yearning for the full enjoyment of romance and thrill. He could not, however, at all appease his appetite for beauty there. His dream of Araby remained unrealized. The dull counting of coins and the prosaic talk of a lady and some other persons in some stalls shocked his long-cherished dream of the place. He left the place, disgusted and despondent, like ‘a creature driven and derided by vanity’.
The name Araby has a symbolic significance and represents the ideal that is cherished by the human craving. This is the ideal of romance and beauty, which haunts the mind, that is lost in the dull reality of a mechanized city. The author’s fondness for Araby, his resolve to go there in quest of beauty and for bringing a gift for the girl of his dream, and his bitter experience there are all indicative of the human frustration, caused by the failure to realize an ideal of beauty, much cherished and desired.
Araby has not much of the story element in the conventional sense. It is a kind of memoir, and contains, along with the details of Dublin life, an interesting revelation of human psychology, a subtle exposition of the inner corridor of dreams and desires. It is a probe into the subconscious level of mind. The author’s description of his own boyhood days, of the street, of the atmospheric gloom, during his return from the play daily, are all psychologically delicate and deep. The image of Mangan’s sister, the author’s poetic adoration of her very movements and his promise to her about a present from Araby are all presented with the delicate touches that have more of vision than of a reality, more of a dream-like sensation than of the actual experience of life. This is, however, befitting to the adolescent mood that is delineated by the author.
The very name Araby has a haunting romance, a dreamy association. Joyce’s story is one of dreams and desire for beauty and romance. The story implies a crude contrast between reality and dream, between the drab surroundings of a commercial center and the romantic environment of all beauty and dream. The theme of the story corporates both the reality of drab metropolitan life and the romantic longing of a young heart. The boy symbolizes the universal man, his romantic passion for Araby and Mangan’s sister are the universal search for an ideal of romance and beauty and his ultimate anguish and anger represents the universal frustration of human life. Here the story symbolically sets down man’s universal and universally frustrating search for a much-cherished ideal of life.