50 pages • 1 hour readJames Joyce
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“Araby” is a short story by Irish writer James Joyce. The story is a part of Joyce’s renowned Dubliners collection, first published in 1914, which portrays daily life in the Irish city of Dublin in the early 20th century. In “Araby,” a young boy falls in love with his friend’s sister and attempts to purchase her a gift from the Araby Bazaar. The short story has been adapted as a song and a short film. This guide uses an eBook copy of the 2004 Barnes & Noble edition of Dubliners.
The unnamed narrator of the story is a child who lives in Dublin at the beginning of the 20th century. He lives on a quiet, dead end street on which a number of brown houses flank a Christian Brother’s school. The narrator attends the school while living with his uncle and aunt in one of the homes on North Richmond Street. The person who previously lived in the house left behind a number of possessions and the narrator takes pleasure in searching through these items to piece together the man’s life. He knows that the former tenant was a priest who died in the drawing-room at the rear of the house.
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On dark winter nights, the narrator plays on the street. He plays with his friends until their bodies are glowing in the cold air. Eventually, an older sister of Mangan—one of the narrator’s friends—calls out and brings an end to their games. During one of the nights playing on the street, the narrator begins to see Mangan’s sister differently. He develops romantic feelings for her.
Over time, the narrator becomes increasingly infatuated with his friend’s sister. He thinks about her all day. While at the chaotic, loud market in Dublin, he escapes from the noise by thinking about Mangan’s sister. He imagines freeing himself from the market by carrying her through the thick throng of people as though he were a heroic figure. However, the narrator never talks to Mangan’s sister. Instead, he courts her in his imagination.
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One day, Mangan’s sister unexpectedly strikes up a conversation with the narrator and asks him whether he plans to go to a local market known as Araby’s Bazaar. The bazaar is a church market famous for selling products from the Middle and Far East. The narrator listens as the girl explains that she would love to attend the market but cannot do so because the nuns who run her school are taking part in a religious retreat. The narrator, hoping to impress the object of his affections, promises to go to Araby’s Bazaar and purchase something on her behalf.
The narrator’s daydreams take on a new dimension. He imagines the items he will buy for Mangan’s sister from Araby’s Bazaar. He pictures the market clearly in his mind. All the daydreaming has an impact on the narrator’s schoolwork. His teacher becomes frustrated that the narrator is not focusing on his important lessons. Even though the narrator knows that his teacher is becoming angry, he cannot help but imagine the bazaar.
When Saturday morning arrives, the narrator reminds his uncle of his desire to go to Araby’s Bazaar. His uncle goes out for the day and, when the narrator sits down for dinner, his uncle has still not returned. As the narrator becomes increasingly anxious, his uncle finally returns home at around nine o’clock in the evening. Judging from the way his uncle walks, the narrator knows that his uncle has been drinking in the local pub. The narrator watches his uncle eat dinner and, as the man is halfway through his meal, the narrator asks for money to visit the bazaar. The uncle has already forgotten his nephew’s request. He tries to dissuade the narrator from the idea. However, the narrator’s aunt tells her husband to give their nephew money to visit the bazaar. Apologetically, the uncle gives money to the narrator and recites a famous poem about an Arab man who tries to sell a horse but decides that he loves the horse too much.
The narrator rushes from the house with a florin coin in his hand. He rides the train to Araby’s Bazaar and arrives 10 minutes before it closes. The bazaar is quiet, and the narrator nervously enters. He passes stalls selling tea sets and stalls selling vases. He sees two Englishmen flirting with a young female shopkeeper. When the young woman asks the narrator whether he wants to buy something, he knows that she is simply being polite to him. He declines her offer and allows her to return to her conversation, though she watches him carefully over her shoulder. As the market closes, the narrator realizes that his entire trip has been a vain pursuit. He stands in the dark and reflects on his actions, feeling anguished and angry at what he has allowed himself to become.
By James Joyce