“Araby” is one of the most widely taught short stories from James Joyce’s Dubliners. Told in the first person from the perspective of a boy in his early teens who has an infatuation with a neighborhood girl (Mangan’s sister), “Araby” ends with a dark epiphany. The boy, who envisioned himself on a quest to purchase the girl some trinket at an Arab bazaar, ends up seeing himself as “a creature derided by vanity.” This complex story raises some fascinating literary questions about:
- Narrative point of view. The boy’s narrative voice is at once that of an adolescent and that of an older individual looking back on this episode in his life.
- Joyce’s method of “Scrupulous Meanness,” the economical Flaubertian attention to detail, in which all details resonate with symbolic or psychological meaning.
- Myth and Genre. The boy departs on an archetypal quest to gain a prize for his “princess.”
- Desire and male gaze. The reader follows the boy’s eyes as they settle suggestively on the often glowing features and body parts of Mangan’s sister.
- Sociological realism. The novel depicts the “blind” streets and daily rituals of the Dublin residents.
The text, however, pairs excellently with excerpts from Plato’s Republic or just The Allegory of the Cave. One of the most compelling dimensions of the story is epistemological, about how we see the world around us, often through illusion. The boy is deceived by his own physical vision (his eyes), one tinted by an adolescent desire that creates an illusory reality in his mind.
An ideal pairing would be to read and discuss The Allegory of the Cave first and then move to “Araby.” However, many of these philosophical questions can be asked about “Araby” alone, even if you haven’t read Plato. “Araby” alone or in conjunction with Plato could be a part of an early lesson on epistemology.