“Araby” opens on North Richmond street in Dublin, where “an uninhabited house of two storeys stood at the blind end, detached from its neighbours in a square ground.” The narrator, who remains unnamed throughout the story, lives with his aunt and uncle. He describes his block, then discusses the former tenant who lived in his house: a priest who recently died in the back room. This priest has a library that attracts the young narrator, and he is particularly interested in three titles: a Sir Walter Scott romance, a religious tract, and a police agent’s memoirs.
The narrator talks about being a part of the group of boys who play in the street. He then introduces Mangan’s sister, a girl who captivates his imagination even though he rarely, if ever, speaks with her. He does stare at her from his window and follow her on the street, however, often thinking of her “even in places the most hostile to romance.” While in the marketplace on Saturday nights, for example, he uses her image to guide him through the thronging crowd who yell their sales pitches and sing patriotic Irish ballads. He becomes misty-eyed just at the thought of her and retreats to the priest’s dark room in order to deprive himself of other senses and think only of her.
Finally, Mangan’s sister speaks to him. She asks if he will be attending a church-sponsored fair that is coming soon to Dublin—a bazaar called Araby. He is tongue-tied and cannot answer, but when she tells him that she cannot go because of a retreat that week in her convent, he promises to go and bring her a gift from the bazaar. From then on he can only think of the time when he will be at the fair; he is haunted by “the syllables of the word Araby.” On the night he is supposed to attend the fair, his uncle is late returning home and he must wait to get money from him. He gets very anxious, and his aunt tells him that he may have to miss the bazaar, but his uncle does come home, apologetic that he had forgotten. After asking the boy if he knows a poem entitled “The Arab’s Farewell to His Steed,” the uncle bids the boy farewell.
The boy takes a coin from his uncle and catches a train to the fair. Araby is closing down as he arrives and he timidly walks through the center of the bazaar. As he looks at the few stalls that are still open, he overhears a conversation between an English shop-girl and two young men. Their talk is nothing but idle gossip. The shop-girl pauses reluctantly to ask the boy if he wishes to buy anything, but he declines. As he walks slowly out of the hall amid the darkening of the lights, he thinks that he is a “creature driven and derided by vanity” and his “eyes burned with anguish and anger.”
Kathleen Wilson (Editor), Short Stories for Students: Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, Volume 1, James Joyce, Published by Gale, 1997.