Araby Summary and Analysis: James Joyce

Read below our complete study guide on the short story “Araby” by James Joyce. Our guide covers Araby summary, introduction, characters, themes, and analysis.

Araby Introduction:

Araby is one of the fifteen short stories that with other stories make James Joyce’s collection Dubliner. James Joyce wrote the stories from1904 to 1904 but he published them in 1914. The story depicts the disillusionment of a young boy who experiences coming of age.  The story portrays the frustration of people of Dublin, Ireland by the limitations imposed by the religion.

Araby Summary:

The story takes place in late 19th and early part of 20th century Dublin, on North Richmond Street. The unknown narrator lives in North Richmond Street.  The street has a number of houses where religion seems to dominate the lives of the people. The narrator talks about the dead priest. The priest had some non-religious books which shows that they were bothered by the religious restrictions. The street has dead end and several houses along with a Christian Brother’s school, a Catholic school for boys are situated in this street. The street remains quiet, except when the school boys play in the street until dinner.

The boys discussed in the story are all children but they are at the threshold of adulthood. They take interest in the world of adults around them. They watch the narrator’s uncle when he comes home from work, and they follow Mangan’s older sister. They are more inclined towards the opposite sex, because they are eager to know more.

The sister of Mangan comes out regularly to call Mangan when it gets dark. Mangan who is a fast friend of the narrator usually teaser her sister while the narrator keeps staring at the lady. The narrator begins to notice her physical characteristics. Every morning, he waits for her to leave so that he can walk behind her on the way to school.

One day, the girl finally speaks to the narrator. She asks him if he is going to Araby- an upcoming bazar with Arabia theme.  She is unable to go, she has to attend a religious ritual on the weekend. The narrator promises that if he goes to bazar, he will find some gift for her.

The narrator gets permission from his uncle to attend the bazar. The day finally arrives, and the boy reminds his uncle that he wishes to go to the bazaar the same night. His uncle promises him that he will come on time to give him money so that he can go to bazar. The uncle of the narrator gets late that night. The boy gets disappointed but him his uncle reaches. The boy takes the money and heads off to bazar.

He arrives at the Araby market which is nearly closed, and the narrator’s idealized notions of the bazaar are abated. Most of the stalls are closed, and when he stops at the only shop opened. The girl at the shop is busy serving two young men and treats the narrator by the way in a neglecting way. This encounter destroys his vision of the Araby bazaar and his idealized vision of Mangan’s sister. He rethinks his romanticized ideas of love, and with shame and anger, he is left alone in the bazaar.

Araby Themes:

Loss of Innocence:

The story is the panorama of growing up and losing the innocence and imaginations of childhood. The narrator is an adult whose formative period of his childhood stands at the back of him and he looks at it with a surprise. At this stage when he about to enter into adulthood, his growing interest in the adult world led him to idealize Mangan’s sister to such an exalted extent that he begins to alienate his friends and neglect his studies. When he is unable to buy the gift at the market, he encounters his first experience with love and the real situation in the adult world.

Frustration:

Another theme of the story is frustration. The boy is frustrated with the limits imposed on him by his situation. He has a series of romantic ideas, about the girl. He also gets romanticized with the idea of bazar. But on the night when he is to go to bazar, his uncle comes late and it adds to his frustration. The frustration is increased when he reaches the bazar and the bazar is about to get closed so the boys does not find any gift for the girl. The bazar stands as a shadow of is dreams that he if following a mirage.

Araby Characters:

The story has several characters such as unnamed narrator, Mangan, Mangan`s sister, uncle and aunt of the narrator. But none of the character is delineated by the author except the Narrator.

The Narrator

The narrator of the story is unnamed. He lives with his aunt and uncle on North Richmond Street in Dublin. He lives a simple life, playing with neighborhood friends and attending school until he notices the sister of one of his friends.

Once he sees his friend Mangan’s sister, the narrator idealizes and romanticizes her. He notices that ”her dress swung as she moved her body, and the soft rope of her hair tossed from side to side.” He experiences sexual attraction for the first time, and he believes he is in love with the girl.

In fact, the narrator becomes obsessed with her. He promises her, when she speaks to him, that he will go Orientalist bazar and will bring a gift for her. On the day when he has to go, his uncle comes late. He reaches late to bazar and the bazar is almost closed. He gets failed in buying a gift for the lady.

Araby Analysis:

The title, “Araby,” also suggests escape. To the European scholars of nineteenth-century European, the Islamic lands of North Africa, the Near East, and the Middle East symbolized decadence, exotic delights, escapism, and a luxurious sensuality. That is why they call Araby an Orientalist Bazar in the short story.

The real point that is made here is that from far everything of Islamic lands seem glamorous and attracting but there is nothing inside. That is why the boy does not get anything in the market.

Joyce`s mentions of the houses as ‘ruinous’ may be directed to suggest to the reader the poverty or neglect that existed in Dublin at the time.

The story Araby focuses on the oppressive nature if religion in minds and lives of people in the then Dublin, Ireland. The story presents an escape. This religion oppression has caused the persona to a false perception of reality. Even the people get a false perception about the sexuality as well.