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Vocabulary in Araby

Joyce sets his story in late 19th-century Dublin, and so much of the vocabulary used reflects that time period—units of currency, for example. Additionally, since much of the story (and the collection Dubliners in general) includes the influence of Catholic and Protestant religious traditions, many vocabulary items with direct or indirect religious meanings and connotations are used.

Vocabulary Examples in Araby:


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"I allowed the two pennies to fall against the sixpence in my pocket..."   (Araby)

The boy began with a florin, valued at two shillings or 24 pence. After his roundtrip train ticket and the unnecessary spending of a shilling at the entrance, he has two pennies and a sixpence, in total valued at eight pence. This small sum proves ironic in that he is left with not enough to purchase a gift, even if one were available.

"Cafe Chantant..."   (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.

"florin..."   (Araby)

Florins are a form of currency that originated in the city of Florence during the Renaissance. The coins had a likeness of St. John the Baptist on one side and one of the Virgin Mary on the other. This little fact not only subtly supports the confusion between the material and the romantic in the story, but florins from the late 19th century also depicted the British Queen Victoria on one side with a phrase on the other: "by the grace of God, defender of the faith." Since Ireland was still under British rule, this subtly reminds readers of colonialism, because the young Irish-Catholic boy has to carry around a coin that represents the authority of the Queen and the British (and Protestant) Church of England.

"Mrs. Mercer..."   (Araby)

The name "Mercer" is derived from the Old French word "mercier" or "merchier," which means a merchant. Joyce chose this name to continue the theme of mercantile love. Notice how Mrs. Mercer is also the widow of a pawnbroker, and she also collects used stamps to sell for money to donate to the church. Again, the material is mixing with the religious similar to how it was in the paragraph about the boy's shopping trip with his aunt.

"Araby..."   (Araby)

"Araby" is not only the name of the bazaar (a market in Middle Eastern countries). The boy romanticizes Araby as a symbol of the mystical allure of the Middle East. We've seen how his romantic and religious love have manifested thus far in how he imagines himself as a knight on a holy quest, and this continues when he offers to attend the bazaar in order to purchase a gift for Mangan's sister.

"a retreat..."   (Araby)

In Roman Catholicism and other religious or spiritual organizations, a "retreat" refers to location of privacy for a period of seclusion that allows the participants time to pray, meditate, receive advice, and discover ways to improve their moral lives.

"the white border of a petticoat..."   (Araby)

A "petticoat" is a light, loose undergarment typically worn by women underneath a skirt or dress. The inclusion of this detail at the end of a paragraph full of religious imagery parallels the girl's twisting of the silver bracelet in the first line, effectively mixing the religious and sexual imagery that will continue to define Mangan's sister for the rest of the story.

"to veil..."   (Araby)

Joyce uses the veil to encapsulate the blinding and stifling nature of religion. The metaphorical veil represents the narrator’s lack of clarity surrounding his feelings for Mangan’s sister due to his religious upbringing that has taught him to suppress those kinds of emotions.

"a come-all-you..."   (Araby)

A "come-all-you" was a type of street song that dealt with current events and popular heroes. These songs were also sung in pubs and other popular gathering places.

"the soft rope of her hair tossed from side to side..."   (Araby)

The choice of "Mangan" for the girl's last name also serves another interesting purpose. In Gaelic, the family name "Mangan" refers to someone with an abundant amount of hair on their head. English readers may see a connection between the original Gaelic "mong," which means "hair," and the word "mane."

"I stood by the railings looking at her..."   (Araby)

The inclusion of "railings" here is important because Joyce could count on his readers making the connection with the altar rails in Catholic churches. These rails separate the congregation from the altar and serve as locations for the faithful to kneel, pray, and take communion. By standing by these rails to watch Mangan's sister, the boy conflates her with the Virgin Mary as an object of religious veneration. However, he doesn't understand or recognize—perhaps due to repressive, religious influences—his sexual attraction to her. This confusion persists and is elaborated on in more detail.

"the areas..."   (Araby)

By "the areas," Joyce means the places in front of many Dublin houses below the level of the sidewalk. Such spaces are also prevalent in the older brownstone buildings in New York City.

"we played till our bodies glowed..."   (Araby)

The boys' bodies glowing is an important image to contrast the dreary adjectives and descriptions Joyce puts into this paragraph. Toward the end of this passage, readers will notice that Joyce repeats the word "shadow" three times. This repetition, coupled with the other adjectives here, portray the people of Dublin as ghosts. However, since the boys "played till [their] bodies glowed," readers know that they are still alive; their youth and souls haven't yet been claimed by the dreariness of Dublin.

"NORTH RICHMOND STREET being blind..."   (Araby)

Blindness supports one of the major themes in "Araby." In this first sentence, “blind” has two meanings. Literally, it refers to a cul-de-sac or dead-end street. However, figuratively, Joyce refers to the condition of the boy's, and other's, relation to reality, a kind of short-sighted naivety.

"set the boys free..."   (Araby)

Joyce was a fierce critic of the Roman Catholic Church, and this specific word choice here provides a supportive example of this position: This little phrase suggests that religion has imprisoned the boys, and they are temporarily set free at the end of each day.

"the shrill litanies of shop-boys..."   (Araby)

A “litany” is a resonant or repetitive chant. Joyce uses this word to invoke its religious connotations, as a “litany” is also a specific type of prayer in a church service. By doing so, he connects religion with consumerism and materialist culture. This word choice parallels the narrator's own inability to separate religion from secular activities and desires.

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