Commentary on "Araby" by James Joyce



text: interesting hypertext version of Araby online with linked textual commentary. The story comes from a collection of short stories called Dubliners [pdf available on this site].

sources and influences:



Interpretative leads:

Wallace Gray's introduction to the book gives you a sense of the context Joyce wrote in and what he was driving at in terms of his vision for Dubliners. Here's a quote from Joyce himself:

My intention was to write a chapter of the moral history of my country, and I chose Dublin for the scene because that city seemed to me the centre of paralysis. I have tried to present it to the indifferent public under four of its aspects: childhood, adolescence, maturity, and public life. The stories are arranged in this order. I have written it for the most part in a style of scrupulous meanness and with the conviction that he is a very bold man who dares to alter in the presentment, still more to deform, whatever he has seen and heard. (from Herbert Gorman, James Joyce, New York, 1940, V-iv.)
Araby comes from the "Childhood" section of the book. In the story, the narrator's uncle makes reference to a poem called the "Arab's Farewell To His Steed". This happens to be a poem by Caroline Norton, which you can read for yourself. Joyce is widely regarded as one of the greatest writers of the 20th century. In stories like Araby, Joyce is in full command of his artistic powers. Every image, every allusion to something outside the text, seems to have some significance or meaningful relationship to the story. The poem cited above is just one such example. The fictional device called epiphany is especially important to Araby, and the story has been used an an archetypal example of the epiphanic moment. Here, the boy, having arrived at the bazaar, experiences a terrible realization, about himself, his mission, and his devotion to Mangan's sister. Joyce, writing in another context had this to say about epiphany through one on his characters, Stephen Daedalus:
"by an epiphany he meant a sudden spiritual manifestation, whether in the vulgarity of speech or of gesture or in a memorable phase of the mind itself"
The term epiphany is adapted from its original religious use, the moment when baby Jesus is revealed to the Magi (the 3 wisemen). Interested in critical interpretations of the text? You could do worse than start with this annotated bibliography.

Araby is a story about first love, or what we would call today a "crush". Does the boy's depiction of his crush resonate with you? Joyce renders the highs and lows of such infatuation with telling detail. Many if not most of us have experienced the crush of being in love, especially an unrequited love. In this case, Mangan's sister is older than our narrator, and as is this case with many an unrequited love, simply unobtainable.