“Araby” takes place in Dublin, Ireland, a city and country whose history has been marked with gloom. The Great Famine of 1740-41 and many years of English persecution has given Ireland an air of hopelessness and trouble. During the time that Joyce wrote “Araby,” Ireland was governed by the Parliament of the United Kingdom in London. Irish Catholics, who made up most of the population, were not even allowed representation in Parliament. Ireland is the perfect setting for developing a theme of life as meaningless. Joyce uses Dublin as it is, but does not engross himself in the details. The location helps the theme, but Joyce writes things as how “ they are, not only for
Dublin, but for every city” (Pound). This allows his theme to apply for a person from anywhere in the world.
The narrator of “Araby” is a nameless boy who lives in Dublin. Life in Dublin is dark and dreary, but the one light in his life is Mangan's sister. Although he is infatuated with her, they have never had a real conversation. He would watch for her to leave in the morning and follow her on the way to school. Finally, the narrator has a conversation with Mang...
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... or Jesus in mind, the narrator carries Mangan's sister with him in thought as he walks through places that are “most hostile to romance.” The narrator even prays to her, exclaiming “ O love! O love” (Joyce 262). When seen in person, she is surrounded by light. This alludes to the many images of Madonna, or the Virgin Mary. In a majority of paintings, the Madonna is alone with a heavenly light around her (Joyce 263). Ultimately, the narrator abandons the thought of Mangan's sister because he believes she will fail to bring meaning to his life as well.
Joyce expertly used setting, characters, symbols, and motifs to set a somber theme. The narrator learned that his life was filled with vanity, and that he cannot fill it with religion or romance to make it have meaning. Life is meaningless. People will live their lives until the light is turned out on them.
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