Unveiling the Layers of Faith: Religious Allegories in James Joyce’s “Araby”

Blog Post Type B

James Joyce, known for his intricate and layered storytelling, often weaves religious allegories into his works to explore profound themes. One of his most renowned short stories, “Araby,” is no exception. Set against the backdrop of Dublin in the early 20th century, the story delves into the nuances of a young boy’s infatuation and its disillusionment, all the while subtly incorporating religious undertones.

The central religious allegory in “Araby” begins with the narrator’s idyllic state of innocence. The narrator’s favorite spot, an abandoned drawing room once occupied by a priest, contains old copies of Catholic works and an apple tree in the garden, as a personal Garden of Eden. He returns there several times to pray and wonder about topics like Mangan’s sister, further making it his own religious haven.

The central adventure is the boy’s pilgrimage to the bazaar, which parallels a spiritual journey. The narrator leaves the home of his aunt and uncle, pious worshippers who prepare Saturday night for the Sabbath day, in order to reach Araby. The bazaar, symbolizing an exotic and distant place, embodies the allure of the unknown, akin to a sacred destination in religious pilgrimages. The boy’s infatuation with Mangan’s sister is also presented as a form of worship, with the girl becoming a symbol of purity and devotion. As they talk about the bazaar, with the light “[falling] over one side of her,” she becomes a religious icon, increasing her holiness in his perception.

Furthermore, the dark, decaying surroundings of the boy’s neighborhood symbolize the spiritual stagnation and moral decay present in his life. Just as the protagonist seeks to escape his mundane surroundings through the bazaar, he longs for a spiritual awakening that lies beyond his immediate environment. Yet, at the bazaar, his surroundings fall far from his expectations, finding only darkness and superficial relationships. Despite the girl’s good intentions, the narrator learns the true extent of his infatuation on his trip, and leaves a broken-hearted but wiser adolescent.

Joyce’s use of further religious imagery, such as the “brown-clad figure” and the “falling coins,” invokes biblical references, enhancing the story’s allegorical depth. The coins counted by both the men and the boy, for instance, can be seen as a metaphor for Judas’ betrayal of Jesus, foreshadowing the boy’s disillusionment of love and loss of innocence.

In “Araby,” James Joyce masterfully explores themes of longing, disillusionment, and the quest for the sacred through religious allegories. The story invites readers to ponder the significance of spiritual journeys, the consequences of blind devotion, and the inherent human desire to transcend the ordinary in search of the extraordinary, all within the confines of a modest Dublin neighborhood.

Image credit: Grand Bazaar, Istanbul, https://www.re-thinkingthefuture.com/city-and-architecture/a6309-a-journey-through-istanbuls-grand-bazaar/

One Comment

  • Brian Croxall

    I’m left wondering what parts of this were touched up by you, Hayley. In general, it’s a pretty straightforward interpretation of “Araby,” and hits on the aspects that one sees mentioned most often about this story. But it’s got some odd touches. What is “a personal Garden of Eden”? Is that a place you want to stay or leave?

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