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Wednesday, February 3, 2010

James Joyce's "Araby": What is the significance of the English gentlemen in the bazaar?

The presence of the English gentlemen at the Araby brings up the theme of Ireland’s political plight and symbolically links it with the personal experience of the narrator. As the shopkeepers begin to close, the narrator notes how they count up their money “on a salver”, which according to our editor is a possible reference to Jesus’ clearing of the moneychangers from the Temple (189). It is not surprising, then, that immediately after this reference we are introduced to the two gentlemen with “English accents” (193-194). Just as the moneychangers had used the Temple as a tool of extortion, the Araby was (both in fact and as it is suggested here) run by Englishmen as a way to make money.

The Araby used to be a place of imagined “eastern enchantment” for our narrator (107). Perhaps it symbolized an escape from the dullness and hopelessness of Ireland, as the country had been dominated by the English government for centuries. But escape was impossible. Even had he traveled to the actual India, the British were there. Even in this once-in-a-lifetime chance where the East came to him in the form of the Araby, the British were there too. This colonial and financial exploitation is symbolized by the “fall of the coins” he hears (189), which contrasts sharply with the sparse “two pennies” he lets fall in his own pocket (214). Just as his country lacks the ability to decide its own destiny, the narrator lacks the funds to fulfill his own dream of buying a gift. Likewise, the Araby itself is nothing more than a puppet in the hands of English gentlemen and merchants. Thus the helpless narrator, disillusioned by the English presence, walks away empty-handed from the bazaar.


  1. You make very good points. I also was thinking of how the fact that Araby is being run by the Englishmen takes away from the authenticity of the market, which is one of my reasons for the boy not buying anything.

  2. This was one of my questions as well. I think the Englishmen represent the reality of an otherwise skewed vision of the East. British colonial presence was a large issue at that time. The fact that they are exploiting a bazaar which stands as a representation of the East for their own monetary gain elucidates the real struggles in that era of British colonialism.

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