Significance of the Title Araby by James Joyce
The title of James Joyce’s short story ‘Araby‘ is highly symbolic. It is the name given to a ‘Grand Oriental Fete’ (i.e. festival; rejoicing) held in Dublin from May 14 to May 19, 1894. It was practically a bazaar which means ‘a special event at which goods are sold for the benefit of charities, and sideshows are provided for amusement.’
In the story it was Mangan’s sister, beloved of the boy hero, who, to his great surprise, one day asked him whether he would go to Araby. She said that there would be a splendid bazaar there. She added that she would have loved to go there had there been no retreat (=withdrawal from external merry-making) that time in her convent school. Then with a tone of encouragement she entreated him to go there. With deep emotion he replied that he would certainly bring something for her if he went there.
Her image lay impressed in his mind. He remembered how she was turning a silver bracelet round and round her wrist while she spoke to him. He could also bring to mind how the light opposite their door caught the white curve of her neck, lit up her hair that lay on her neck, and shone brightly the hand that rested on the railing. He could also distinctly remember how the light fell over one side of her dress making the white border of a petticoat (short, light, and sleeveless garment worn below the skirt) just visible as she bowed herself towards him holding the railings. Naturally a request coming from such a sweet and beloved girl was for him something which could not but be complied with.
Since the evening she had made the proposal he was engaged in innumerable follies that laid waste both his waking and sleeping thoughts. He wished to annihilate the tedious days that were vet to pass. He was vexed with the work of school. Her image flashed on the pages as he attempted to read. His master suspected he was idling and became angry. It became difficult for him to bring together his wandering thoughts. He had hardly any patience with the serious work of life which eventually became ugly monotonous child’s play. Nothing but the bazaar could hold his attention. He began to imagine that the girl was uttering to him the syllables of the word Araby through the silence of the night. It was a fancy in which his soul luxuriated.
The word Araby cast an Eastern enchantment over him. Imaginative by nature, the boy thought his going to Araby would be a kind of fulfilment. His sensitive nature made him feel his journey there was nothing but the end of his quest for beauty, his quest for the ideal. His buying a gift from there and giving it to her might be felt by him as a pure and chivalrous knight’s restoration of the chalice (=the wine-cup that Jesus used during the last supper) to its proper place after carrying it carefully and secretly through a throng of wicked and malicious foes.
‘Araby‘ is, however, associated not only with enchantment and romance, dream and desire, it is also linked up with sorrow and frustration, anger and anguish. From the time when he sought permission to go to Araby till his reaching there the boy had to go through s series of dejection and difficulties. Despite his prior intimation the uncle reached home too late at night forgetting all about the boy’s purpose. He also tried to dissuade him from going there telling that the people were already in bed. Had not the aunt intervened, he would have got no permission to go to the bazaar. His miserly uncle gave him only a florin with which he could buy little.
At last when he reached there a few minutes before ten, he found most of the stalls were already closed and a major part of the hall was in darkness. The only sound that he heard was that of the counting of cash or a young lady’s senseless talk with two gentlemen about some insignificant matter. Before he could examine the porcelain vases and flowered tea-sets, she asked in a discouraging tone if he really intended to buy anything. He looked humbly at two great jars that caught his fancy-humbly because he found he had no cash with which he could buy them as proper gifts to his beloved. He also felt humbled and insulted, fearing that the practiced eye of the young lady had found him out as one unable to buy anything. This and his failure to bring a gift for his beloved filled him with tremendous anguish and anger. His dream was not fulfilled, and his eyes were filled with samarting tears.
The title of the story has, thus, become significant because of its association with dream and dischantment, with yearning and frustration.
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