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Symbols in Araby
James Joyce’s "Araby" is rife with symbolism, particularly symbolism that supports religious or romantic themes.
Mangan’s sister: With descriptors like “her figure defined by the light from the half-opened door,” coupled with the reverence the narrator has for her, Mangan’s sister can be interpreted as a symbol for the Virgin Mary. This acts as another example of irony, in that the object of the narrator’s supposed romantic love is a symbol of religious purity, and also serves to highlight the narrator’s ambiguous understanding of romance and religion.
Rusty bicycle-pump: Widely regarded as one of the seminal literary devices in “Araby”, the symbolism of the pump is multi-faceted. The rust represents the passing of time, and its presence in the priest’s garden reflects Joyce’s belief that the Church’s time has passed. Meanwhile, the phallic image of the pump, positioned within the garden, foreshadows impending confusion between religion and sex.
Fall: This is not an object symbol, but rather a recurring word with symbolism beyond its literal meaning. Its appearances foreshadow the narrator’s future “fall” from innocence, just like Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.
The narrator’s house: Another symbol for the demise of the Church. If we understand the house to be a representation for Ireland as a whole, then the fact that the previous tenant, a priest, died demonstrates the disdain Joyce had for Roman Catholicism.
Symbols Examples in Araby:
"I listened to the fall of the coins..." See in text (Araby)
The word "fall" makes another appearance in this passage, again supporting the notion that like Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, the boy is about to experience his own "fall" from innocence.
"Cafe Chantant..." See in text (Araby)
Throughout Europe, such cafés typically had singers, dancers, and other entertainers perform for patrons. The food and entertainment were not of very high quality, so the presence of this café at Araby suggests that the bazaar not the grand wonder that the boy has made it out to be.
"She held one of the spikes, bowing her head..." See in text (Araby)
The details in this section are reminiscent of the biblical scene during the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, where the Roman soldiers are throwing dice over the possession of Christ's clothes. This image of the crucifixion is further supported by the spike (such as those in Christ's hands and feet) that Mangan's sister is holding and the earlier comparison of her to the Virgin Mary.
"rusty bicycle-pump..." See in text (Araby)
The rusty bicycle-pump has been hailed as one of the treasures in Joyce's work. The rust on the pump represents the passing of time: the comparison of the priest's garden to Eden as After the Fall reinforces Joyce's position that the time of the Church has passed. He also foreshadows the boy's confusion of religion and sex by positioning the phallic, rusty bicycle pump within the garden.
"The former tenant of our house..." See in text (Araby)
Joyce uses the house as a representation for all of Ireland. Since the previous tenant was a priest, who has since died, Joyce implies that the Church is also dead. Joyce hated Roman Catholicism, and the influences it had on him and others fuels one of his main themes in this short story as the young boy struggles to separate the secular from the sacred.