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In James Joyce's short story, "Araby", the speaker's youthful idealism and naÃ¯ve fantasies are left shattered when a trip to the bazaar awakens him to the dark realities of his life. The narrator, a nameless adolescent Catholic schoolboy, is living in an oppressive and joyless environment, yet he is able to detach from the frustrating grimness of the surroundings by immersing himself in a confused infatuation for a neighborhood girl. With unrestrained enthusiasm, the boy allows himself to be consumed with foolish lust and adoration for a girl whom he "did not know if ›he would ever speak to" (Araby 112). In truth the girl, sister to the boy's friend Mangan, is a virtual stranger, but in his mind the boy has transformed the girl into an image worthy of religious devotion. The boy feels as if his feelings for the girl keep him shielded from the hostile and monotonous frustration of Dublin life, almost as if these feelings grant him exalted status and thus separate him from the masses. When the girl finally speaks to the boy she confides that she could not go to the bazaar Araby, and the boy eagerly takes this opportunity to get closer to the object of his immature romanticism by promising that he will go to the bazaar and return with a small memento for her. As he did with the girl, the boy allows his idyllic fantasies to transform his image of the bazaar into something that it is not. The boy envisions Araby as an exotic enchanted place able to somehow grant him the ability to fulfill his quixotic desires. When Araby turns out to be a drab dark place, lacking any of the vitality and exoticness the boy was depending would turn dreams into truth, the boy is faced with the harsh reality that his fantasies are not actuality, and he realizes that his devotion to this uncorroborated image of a girl does not separate him from the bleakness of his everyday life; in fact, the disappointment that is Araby awakens the boy to the fact that his immature dreams have blinded him to the cold and stagnant reality of his ordinary life.
In the descriptions of his surroundings the boy depicts a cold and dark atmosphere devoid of joy and light. The one exemption in this portrait of darkness is Magnan's sister, whom he portrays as the only source of light in this bleak world. The boy described the street he lived, North Richmond Street, on as "being blind", the houses of the street as having "brown imperturbable faces", and the rooms of his own house as being "musty from having been enclosed too long" and "littered with old useless papers" (Joyce 111). These descriptions serve to convey how repressed the boy feels by his stagnant surroundings. In contrast to the hard dark portrait of North Richmond Street, the descriptions of the girl seem riddled with lightness and ease. The image of the girl was always illuminated, whether it was "her figure defined by the light from ›a half-opened door" (Joyce 111) or "the light from the lamp . . . ›lighting up her hair" (Joyce 112), and her every movement, even "the soft rope of her hair ›tossing from side to side" (Joyce 111), suggested a soft easiness. In his mind the boy transformed the image of the girl into an angelic portrait worthy of religious devotion. The boy's infatuation pervades his every action and he clings to the image of the girl "even in places the most hostile to romance" (Joyce 111), as if his feelings were a "chalice" that could guide him "safely through a throng of foes" (Joyce 112). The boy is blinded to the bleakness of his existence by consuming himself in feelings for the girl, for he believes that his feelings are like a coat of armor that shield him from the oppression and ordinariness of everyday life.
The bazaar Araby, according to the boy's foolish thoughts, is an opportunity that can bring to life the great love he feels for the image of the girl. He thinks that Araby will be a glimpse of the free and exotic life that is ahead of him, for he believes that his feelings for the girl are leading him down a life path that will separate him from the drabness around him. As he did with the girl, the boy lets his imagination run wild and creates an extraordinary image of Araby in his mind. The boy allows the Araby of his mind's eye to "cast an Eastern enchantment over ›him", and, as he had with the girl, allows his every thought to be infused with Araby (Joyce 112). This new obsession further blinds the boy to the monotony of his existence because he now has divine purpose, getting to Araby, and everyday responsibilities can now be brushed aside as "ugly monotonous child's play" that stand between him and his purpose (Joyce 112). The boy is naively hinging all hopes for creating a different kind of life for himself on a bazaar that exists only in his mind.
The journey to Araby is a foreshadowing of the great disappointment to come. The boy embarks on his quest to Araby by train and seems surprised that the journey does not immediately place him in exotic surroundings; instead, the boy finds himself "in a third-class carriage of a deserted train" that slowly creeps past "ruinous houses" to drop him at an "improvised wooden platform" (Joyce 113). The boy does not let this first disappointment to deter him entering the "would be splendid bazaar" with his high expectations intact, but as soon as he enters the hall that houses Araby he senses that his idyllic fantasies have led him astray (Joyce 112). Instead of being greeted with the hustle and bustle of the exotic, the boy is met with a "silence like that which pervades a church after a service" permeating through a hall bathed in darkness (Joyce 114). This image of silence and darkness is no different than all that surrounds the boy on North Richmond Street, and thus no different from what he is trying to escape. The final disappointment for the boy comes when he approaches a bazaar stall staffed by a disinterested girl with an English accent, and all at once he sees that his dreams of Araby held no truth. The reality of Araby exposes the boy's fantasies as the foolish desires of an immature "creature driven and derided by vanity" (Joyce 114). This awakening to the fact that his fantasies fooled him make the boy also realize that his intense feelings for the girl, a girl he knows only by looks, are really just based in shallow vanity, leaving the boy "›burning with anguish and anger" (Joyce 114). The anguish the boy feels is most likely in part because he now has no fantasies to escape to, and must face the fact that he is an ordinary boy living a dreary and tedious life.
The narrator of "Araby" begins the story as a naÃ¯ve schoolboy confidently allowing his fantasies to shield him from the stagnant and repetitive life that is his reality. The boy was not afraid to whole-heartedly believe in his whimsy desires, and did not hesitate in thinking that his expectations would not let him down. When the pivotal moment arises and his dreams are not shown to have any basis in realism, the boy is left to angrily face his desolate life. Essentially, attending the bazaar Araby may be the experience that forced a young man to stop living in a fantasy world and start living in reality. Although this story could leave many readers with a sense of sadness and disappointment for a boy whose hopes have been shattered, it left me with a sense of sense of hope. The theme of the story was that one can not hide from the harsh realities of life, but underlying that was a not so obvious theme; that is, a theme of passion and of whole-heartedly striving for what one believes in. The boy chased his fantasy and was harshly let down, but his actions were permeated with passion and ambition. The hope I was left with was the hope that the boy could direct his enthusiasm, passion, and drive towards goals that would take him to a place void of oppression and darkness.