“Araby”, a short story by James Joyce, set before the turn of the century in Dublin, is not the story of any outward action but the story of the inner whirl of the mind. It represents the excited representations of Joyce as a young boy, to relish
and cherish beauty that was deemed as an ideal by him. In the first portion of the story, his ideal was Mangan’s sister whom he saw from a distance and felt fascinated by the very sight. The author portrays his eager watching or for a slight view of her with an idealistic yearning and romantic sensibility. Of course, he was too young to realize then what love was, but he became somehow or other a slave, to the massive power of love, and waited eagerly for a little touch or communication with her. Of course, he talked with her at long last, promised her to bring a gift from Araby and eagerly waited for the time to accomplish his promise.
By the side of this yearning, there was also another longing, his deep longing to go to Araby, the fete, which was a place of romance and beauty to him. He obtained his uncle’s permission after fixing a date for going to Araby. This vision of Araby seemed to dazzle before him and tempt him. He waited for the day of his visit and considered all his day-to-day occupations as unnecessary interruptions towards his goal of life.
Indeed, Mangan’s sister and Araby gleemed before the boy as the Holy Grail of the Grail legend which had prompted the chivalrous knights in the Middle Ages to undertake perilous journeys. His young and undeveloped mind was equally fascinated and like the medieval knights, he waited and waited for that which he could never possess nor relish. This story indeed records the longing, the lingering, the waiting for the unattainable ideal of love and the insatiable expectations for the grandeur and beauty which ever alluring and never yielding.
The experience of the boy at Araby is thoroughly disappointing. He went to the grand bazaar with many expectations but they were all illusions. Nor could appease his relish for the Great Oriental Grandeur over there neither could he fulfill his promise of bringing a gift for Mangan’s sister. His dreams were shattered. He left the place the place with utter anguish and anger.
The theme of the story is the unholy union of the lifeless and dirty reality of metropolitan life with the romantic yearning of a young heart for all the things that draws yet deceives. “Araby” has a symbolic undertone that reveals man’s frustration in his effort to attain his most cherished desires. The only universal fact of life is the anguish and frustration while searching for man’s most cherished desires.