On one hand "Araby" is a story of initiation, of a boy's quest for the ideal. Although the quest ends in failure, it results in an inner awareness and the boy's first step into manhood. On another hand the story consists of a grown man's remembered experience, for the story is told in retrospect by a man who reflects back to a particular moment of intense meaning and insight. James Joyce's fascinating double focus: the boy's first experience, and the man's reflection to the unforgotten moments of his childhood provides for the dramatic rendering of a simple story of first love told by a narrator who, with his wider adult vision, can employ the sophisticated use of irony and symbolic imagery necessary to open a window to his soul telling us more about him now than about the child that lives in his memory. As such, the boy's experience is not restricted to youth's encounter with first love. Rather, it is a portrayal of an ongoing problem that he faces all through life: the incongruity of the ideal, of the dream as he wishes it to be, with the austerity of reality.
It is important to understand the nature of the ideal, as the narrator wishes it to be, at the different stages of his life. As a child, he realizes the incongruity of the ideal with the real world when he arrives at the bazaar. His ideal concerns both sacred and earthly love. This is where the expression, "Araby", fulfills its role in the story. Araby stands for Arabia, and in the early 20th century, or about when Dubliners was written, Arabia was perceived as a place of pure and sacred love. This could be further studied in Arabic literature of that time. Because the man, rather than the boy, recounts the experience, an ironic view can...
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...ark the idea of her symbolizing the Virgin Mary. However, and underlying the boy's innocent intentions, the adult reflecting back sees the boy as more attracted to her physical attractions (her white neck, her soft hair, the movement of the brown-clad figure). By discovering that his intentions were truly sexual, the narrator infers that the strong values he acquired in his upbringing stopped him from approaching the girl.
Religion is paralleled to a jail in these scenes of events, which, places the idea into the reader's mind of the church being restrictive and entrapping. This establishes the theme of restrictiveness of Roman Catholicism and the effect it had on a decaying Irish society. In a time when open criticism of the church is ill advised, the adult living in the boy seems to be saying that to be truly free is to be free of religious restrictions.
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