Interesting Literature

A Summary and Analysis of James Joyce’s ‘Araby’

By Dr Oliver Tearle (Loughborough University)

‘Araby’ is one of the early stories in James Joyce’s Dubliners , the 1914 collection of short stories which is now regarded as one of the landmark texts of modernist literature. At the time, sales were poor, with just 379 copies being sold in the first year (famously, 120 of these were bought by Joyce himself).

And yet ‘Araby’ shows just what might have initially baffled readers coming to James Joyce’s fiction for the first time, and what marked him out as a brilliant new writer.

But before we get to an analysis of ‘Araby’ (which can be read here ), a brief summary of the story’s plot – what little ‘plot’ there is. You can read the story here .

Plot summary

In summary, then: ‘Araby’ is narrated by a young boy, who describes the Dublin street where he lives. As the story progresses, the narrator realises that he has feelings for his neighbour’s sister and watches her from his house, daydreaming about her, wondering if she will ever speak to him. When they eventually talk, she suggests that he visit a bazaar, Araby, on her behalf as she cannot go herself.

The boy plans to buy her a present while at Araby, but he arrives late to the bazaar and, disappointed to find that most of the stalls are packing up, ends up buying nothing.

‘Araby’ is marked by dead-ends, anti-climaxes, things not going anywhere. The street on which the young narrator lives, North Richmond Street, is ‘blind’: i.e. a cul-de-sac or dead-end street. The narrator does go to the bazaar, Araby, but ends up turning up too late and doesn’t buy anything. His feelings for his female neighbour don’t lead anywhere: this is a romantic story in which boy and girl do not get together. Disappointments, dead ends, everywhere.

Like many of the stories in Dubliners , ‘Araby’ is marked, then, by plotlessness, by ordinariness, by describing mood and setting over action or exciting plot developments. As with the other early tales in Dubliners , ‘Araby’ is narrated in the first person by its principal character.

Joyce arranged the 15 stories in Dubliners so that they move from childhood to late middle age, progressing through the human life span more or less chronologically.

We might ask what advantage the child’s-eye view here creates. Like the narrator of the opening story from the collection, ‘The Sisters’ , the narrator of ‘Araby’ lives with his aunt and uncle. (Where are the parents? Have they emigrated, leaving the children to be looked after by relatives while they go to America in search of money and a better life? Have they died?)

But he is our voice through the story, and the other characters – with the notable exception of the girl he is infatuated with – are kept at arm’s length. There is a simplicity and innocence to his voice, describing what it feels like to experience the pangs of first love, but there is also a knowing voice at work too.

One of the most remarkable things about ‘Araby’, and one which deserves closer analysis, is the style. Style is, in a sense, everything with James Joyce: every word is used with care and towards the creation of a very deliberate effect, and no two stories in Dubliners use quite the same style or for identical reasons.

As the critic Margot Norris has observed in an analysis of ‘Araby’, the narrator describes his disappointments (failing to talk to the girl he likes at first; then, once he has spoken to her, failing to get her a gift at the Araby bazaar) in such a way as to compensate for the frustrations of real life by offering, in their place, the beauty of language.

This is there in the exoticism of the story’s title, ‘Araby’, and what it describes, a bazaar: both ‘Araby’ and ‘bazaar’ being terms which conjure the otherness and excitement of the place (based on a real travelling bazaar named Araby, which visited Dublin in 1894), in stark contrast to the more usual English-language term, ‘market’. (Note how the narrator refers to his aunt going ‘marketing’ at one point: ‘marketing’ is what people do when they need to perform household chores like shopping for groceries; but going to Araby or the bazaar is an event, a treat.)

Consider, in this connection, the narrator’s description of the impact seeing his beautiful neighbour has on him:

Her image accompanied me even in places the most hostile to romance. On Saturday evenings when my aunt went marketing I had to go to carry some of the parcels. We walked through the flaring streets, jostled by drunken men and bargaining women, amid the curses of labourers, the shrill litanies of shop-boys who stood on guard by the barrels of pigs’ cheeks, the nasal chanting of street-singers, who sang a come-all-you about O’Donovan Rossa, or a ballad about the troubles in our native land. These noises converged in a single sensation of life for me: I imagined that I bore my chalice safely through a throng of foes.

This has a peculiar effect on him:

Her name sprang to my lips at moments in strange prayers and praises which I myself did not understand. My eyes were often full of tears (I could not tell why) and at times a flood from my heart seemed to pour itself out into my bosom. I thought little of the future. I did not know whether I would ever speak to her or not or, if I spoke to her, how I could tell her of my confused adoration. But my body was like a harp and her words and gestures were like fingers running upon the wires.

This is a true but also heightened in its romanticism: true because it captures what it is to be in love with a special person, especially when in the first flushes of adolescence.

But it is also romantic in the extreme because of the religious and courtly idea (nay, ideal) of love present in that idea of being the girl’s cupbearer (‘I bore my chalice’), the crying (but then, the disarmingly direct parenthetical admission of not knowing why), and the romantic idea of Old Ireland inscribed in that harp, which also carries a frisson of the erotic (with the girl’s words and gestures acting like the finger’s touches all over the boy’s body).

There are many such moments in this shortest of short stories which repay close analysis for the way the young narrator romanticises, but does not sentimentalise, the feeling of being in love, perhaps hopelessly. ‘Araby’, then, is a story about frustration and failure, but it ends on a note of ‘anguish and anger’, without telling us what will befall the narrator and the girl who haunts his dreams. Like many a modernist story, it is open-ended even when, like the street where the narrator lives, it appears to have reached its dead end.

About James Joyce

James Joyce (1882-1941) is one of the most important modernist writers of the early twentieth century. His reputation largely rests on just four works: a short story collection Dubliners (1914), and three novels: A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916), Ulysses (1922), and Finnegans Wake (1939).

For more discussion of James Joyce, see our analysis of Joyce’s ‘An Encounter’ , our commentary on ‘The Sisters’ , our summary of ‘Clay’ , and our introduction to free indirect speech .

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4 thoughts on “A Summary and Analysis of James Joyce’s ‘Araby’”

  • Pingback: A Summary and Analysis of James Joyce's 'Araby' | collect magazine

The effect of reading Dubliners as a very young man has never left me. The ‘plotlessness’ of the stories, at the time, left me bewildered, but over the years I came to admire the style and indeed to prefer it to tacky ‘sting-in-the-tale’ or moralistic stories. my own collection of short stories is highly influenced by Joyce’s collection though not every story is plotless and, it goes without saying, my writing is a pale reflection of this great Irishman’s work. Thanks to your posts I’ve ordered the book (I think I read my brother’s copy all those decades ago) and I’m looking forward to reading it again and writing about my thoughts!

Hi – nice commentary on Araby which I’ve loved reading as part of The Dubliners several times. Interesting the way you’ve hit on the “dead ends, anti-climaxes, things not going anywhere.” I don’t think I ever noticed that.

I did notice the boy was almost paralyzed about doing anything about the up-scale girl – like other characters in other stories – like Dubliners in Ireland at the time.

I noticed the windows in almost every story with the characters either looking out at what they want or in at it, but not being where what they want is. (Pastries in another early story but elsewhere.) Sometimes there aren’t even any windows and the players are really trapped in their views (politics, religion). It’s the same theme, desire and frustration. There are so many ways to read these stories by Joyce – things to find, to interpret, to see.

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Literary Theory and Criticism

Home › British Literature › Analysis of James Joyce’s Araby

Analysis of James Joyce’s Araby


One of James Joyce’s most frequently anthologized works, “Araby” is the third in the trilogy of stories in his 1914 collection, Dubliners , which Joyce described in a letter to the publisher Grant Richards as “stories of my childhood.” Like its predecessors, “The Sisters” and “An Encounter,” “Araby” tells the story of an unfortunate fall from innocence, as a young boy comes to recognize the sorry state of the world in which he lives. On the whole, Joyce’s home city is not kindly portrayed in these stories; he set out in Dubliners to produce what he called “a moral history of my country,” with a particular focus on the supposed “centre of paralysis,” Dublin itself. “Araby” and the other stories of Dublin’s youth are tales of initiation into this gray world.

As is the case with most of the stories in Dubliners, “Araby” takes its inspiration from remembered fragments of the author’s own childhood, including the Joyce family’s sometime residence on Dublin’s North Richmond Street, the Christian Brothers’ School that Joyce and some of his siblings briefly attended, and the “Araby” bazaar that passed through the city in May, 1894, when Joyce would have been 12 years old. Yet although Joyce’s life is deeply woven into his art, neither “Araby” nor any of his other works are merely autobiographical. These remembered elements come together in a story of a young boy in the intense grip of his first love, who imagines himself dispatched on a romantic quest by his beloved, only to realize in the end that his romantic notions were the naive fantasies of a child.

araby essay prompt

The dismal state of Joyce’s Dublin is suggested in part by the gloomy atmosphere of the story. We are twice reminded in the opening moments that North Richmond Street is “blind.” At its dead end is an empty house, and along one side is a school whose description likens it to a prison. The “brown imperturbable faces” of the other houses suggest a neighborhood of pious moralists keeping each other under constant surveillance. The young boy’s own home is redolent of a past that persists in a stale and unpleasant form: The “air, musty from having been long enclosed, hung in all the rooms.” The house’s former tenant, a priest who passed away there, has left numerous uninspiring reminders of himself, from the rusty bicycle pump in the garden to the “old useless papers” scattered about the place. The narrator hints that the old man was at home among the street’s “brown imperturbable faces” when he tells us that the supposedly charitable old man left all of his money to unspecified “institutions” and only the furniture of his house to his sister.

“Araby” is set in the short days of winter, whose cold and dark further underscore its gloomy atmosphere. Throughout, light contends weakly with an encroaching darkness. The boys’ evening play takes place among houses “grown sombre” and beneath a violet sky toward which “the lamps of the street lifted their feeble lanterns.” As the boy arrives at the nearly empty bazaar in the story’s closing moments, the lights are turned off in the gallery of the hall, leaving him “gazing up into the darkness.” Amid the persistent gloom, however, stands the radiant object of the boy’s devotion, Mangan’s sister, “her figure defined by the light.”

The young boy’s ability to see dazzling light in the midst of overwhelming darkness is a function of the romantic idealism that is gradually stripped from him by his decidedly unromantic world. Even the scattered leavings of the dead priest, which include Sir Walter Scott’s historical romance The Abbot , together with the memoirs of the adventurous criminal-turned-detective, Eug ne Fran ois Vidocq, afford him fuel for his romantic imagination. Until the story reaches its sad conclusion, the boy is able to keep the darkness at bay, running happily through the darkened street with his young friends and transforming the clamor of the market on a Saturday evening into the backdrop for his imagined knight’s quest. There he imagines “that I bore my chalice safely through a throng of foes”; however, the boy’s adventure-story version of his world is challenged by the songs of the street singers, with their allusions to O’Donovan Rossa and other reminders of “troubles in our native land.” The boy imagines his adventurous life despite the political troubles whose effects are felt and sung all around him. For a while, he imagines himself able to transcend such concerns and inhabit a thrilling realm of heroism and perfect love.

However, in the end his world will not sustain these happy illusions. The name of the Araby bazaar promises an Eastern exoticism entirely absent from the tawdry affair he finally experiences. Having imagined himself a questing knight, the boy encounters in Araby his Chapel Perilous, a defiled temple where “two men were counting money on a salver,” and his heroic selfimage crumbles during his encounter with the young woman at the stall he visits, who clearly regards him as a young nuisance. He witnesses in the flirtatious but shallow exchange between the young woman and the two gentleman a version of love considerably less operatic than the devotion that brought him to Araby, and he comes to see himself as a much smaller being than the gallant hero who undertook a sacred quest for his beloved, regarding himself in the final moment “as a creature driven and derided by vanity.”

In recounting the boy’s journey from passionate innocence to jaded cynicism, Joyce employs a narrative technique that is subtle but effective. The story is told from a first-person retrospective point of view that enables us to perceive two distinct but intimately related voices in the narration: that of the devoted young boy able to imagine himself a knight-errant “in places the most hostile to romance” and that of the subdued older man, recalling his younger self with an ironic detachment born of disappointment. The narration brings us inside the mind of the youthful lover, perplexed and overwhelmed by emotions that he can interpret only in the languages he knows: that of religious devotion and the stories of adventure and romance. Throughout, though, we are reminded that the young boy’s “confused adoration” is being recalled by his older and sadly unconfused self. The gloomy opening description of North Richmond Street, with its houses “conscious of decent lives within them,” gazing at each other “with brown imperturbable faces,” clearly reflects the perspective of the older man rather than that of the boy who careened through the same street in play. And the explicit judgment in the narrator’s recollection that “her name was like a summons to all my foolish blood ” (emphasis mine) reflects an ironic self-perception that the young boy does not at that moment have. These two voices eventually converge in “Araby” ’s closing paragraph, when the narrator declares, “I saw myself as a creature driven and derided by vanity,” revealing the origin of that ironic perspective in the moment of his sad fall from romance to cynicism.

BIBLIOGRAPHY Ellmann, Richard. James Joyce. 1959. Revised edition, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982. Gifford, Don. Joyce Annotated: Notes for Dubliners and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1982. Joyce, James. Dubliners: Text, Criticism, and Notes. Edited by Robert Scholes and A. Walton Litz. New York: Penguin USA, 1996.

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Araby is a short story written by Irish novelist, short story writer, poet, teacher, and literary critic , James Joyce , between 1905 to 1907. Later on, it was published in his collection of short stories known as Dubliners in 1914.

This story revolves around a boy and recounts his disillusionment. The boy develops a big crush on his friend’s older sister. In order to get her attention, he seeks gifts for her in Araby market. However, in doing so, something brings an understanding of his epiphany.

Araby illustrates the tensions and issues of Ireland under British colonialism. It highlights political and social tumult rising as a result of the desire for freedom from British rule. Joyce also criticizes Catholic Churches. He pinpoints the flaws of Churches as well for not appropriately fulfilling its roles.

Araby Summary

The story takes place in the late 19 th century in 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 show that they were bothered by the religious restrictions.

Moreover, the street has a 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 schoolboys play in the street until dinner.

Further, 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 friend of the narrator usually teases her sister while the narrator keeps staring at her. 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 bazaar with Arabic themes.  She is unable to go; she has to attend a religious ritual on the weekend. So, the narrator promises that if he goes to the bazaar, he will find some gift for her.

The narrator gets permission from his uncle to attend the bazaar. 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 the bazaar.

However, the uncle of the narrator gets late that night. Due to which the boy gets disappointed. Finally, his uncle arrived drunk and late and tried to stop the narrator from going to the bazaar. For this, his uncle hesitates to give him coins. But ultimately he gives him some coins as his wife convinces him. The boy takes the money and heads off to the bazaar.

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 in a flirtatious way. However, she doesn’t pay any particular attention to the narrator. 

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.

Readers may find both Mangan’s sister and Araby market as an escape from the dull and ordinary life of Ireland in which the narrator is living. The narrator at first describes his mundane life. Then, Mangan’s sister becomes a mental escape for the narrator. 

He thinks of her every time even at places which are hostile for romance. Her thoughts take him away from his routine life. At some points, he could be seen daydreaming about that girl. Mangan’s sister soothes his mind when he is devastated by his mundane life.

Similarly, the narrator thinks of something foreign of Araby market. However, he found out that nothing in Araby market matches the description he made in his mind. He observes people speaking English. He noticed things there are not so foreign but all are just a thin veneer of exotics. In the end, he realizes that all his fantasies were just mistaken belief.

Religion and Catholicism

Throughout the story, one can see how the narrator is surrounded by catholic figures. He also attends a Catholic school. Catholicism plays a vital role in his upbringing. Moreover, he thinks of Mangan’s sister in religious terms and imagery. He is all linked with the Catholic religion. But all these points contradicted on the ground when he started idolizing Mangan’s sister. 

He explains her in religious terms. Given that, he thinks his studies are useless after falling in love with the girl. Explaining in light of this, it raises questions on the relationship of the narrator with religion.

Narrator’s infatuation and distraction as a result of his crush on Mangan’s sister suggest his weak faith. Joyce seems to criticize Catholicism and religion in the story. Also, the priest who was once a tenant at the narrator’s house provides the glimpses of weak faith or fake Catholicism. His belongings suggest his moral weakness, how he was inclined to read the works of crimes and romance which is not suitable for the priest.

However, the narrator’s journey towards self-realization suggests his return to religion. He admits his mistakes and felt guilty for his mistaken beliefs.

Coming of Age

The story is told through an adult perspective. One may find the language used to explain the youthful experiences of a grown man. It is elaborated from the protagonist’s behaviour towards his friends and family. He no longer enjoys playing outside and doesn’t laugh on lame jokes of his uncle. Rather, he builds up a defiant personality towards them.

Also, he develops a crush on a friend’s sister and starts praising her physical appearance. This tells about the budding sexuality of the narrator. Moreover, his desire to escape from his boredom and dull life also suggests his mature behavior. Though, the aforementioned things are the starting point towards his adulthood. His full-grown maturity is represented in the Araby market. 

There he realizes his mistaken beliefs. He gains knowledge about his naïveté that how he was trying to impress his crush through gifts. Also, how naively he developed a fanciful idea about the Araby market which in reality is in contrast.

Love and Sexuality

The narrator developing a crush on his friend’s sister thought of it as love. He started to think about her and praises his physical appearance though in religious terms yet it highlights his budding sexuality. He seems perturbed regarding the concept of love. At the end of the story, he realized that whatever he was thinking was wrong.

Characters Analysis

The narrator.

He is the protagonist of the story, a young imaginative boy. He lives with his uncle and aunt. He goes to a Catholic school and one may see how he is surrounded by catholic Irish world. He is in the habit of seeing and judging the world in religious terms and imagery.

Moreover, in the story, he falls in love with the older sister of his friend, Mangan. By falling in love with that girl, he lost all his interest, one being a child should have such as playing with friends and doing homework.

The narrator is so obsessed with religious imagery and terms that he sees his love in those terms. He is of the opinion that his love is like a prayer. At the same time, he also thinks of her as an escape from the oppression of the Irish world.

In order to gain her attention, he wants to buy a gift for her. For this, he goes to the bazaar and there he realizes his illusion of love. Also, he experiences the epiphany of his romantic ideas, his false concepts of the religious sense in terms of love and budding sexuality. 

At that time, all his delusions turn into disappointments. Hence, readers may assume it is his journey of self-realization.

The Narrator’s Uncle

He is the domineering figure in the life of the narrator. Also, he seems to provoke fear in the narrator and his friends when he returns from work to home. Moreover, readers may find him the man with bad manners i-e, drinking problems. He also owes money to a pawnbroker’s wife, Mrs Mercer.

Likewise, he doesn’t behave properly with the narrator. Speaking of which he let the narrator down by coming home late and drunk at the night on which the narrator was supposed to buy a gift for his love. Similarly, he also tries not to give money to the narrator but eventually, he gives him relentlessly.

The Narrator’s Aunt

She seems like a motherly figure to the narrator. She cares about the narrator and expresses her concern when he is going to Araby market late at night. She suggests to him that going that late isn’t a good idea. She uses religious terms while speaking in the story. However, in the end, she persuades the narrator’s uncle to allow him to visit the bazaar. This depicts her sympathetic nature before readers.

Mangan’s Sister

She is the older sister of the narrator’s friend, Mangan, with whom the narrator seems to fall in love. She shows up routinely to call her brother for tea when he is playing outside with friends. In the story, it is shown how she is interested in the Araby market. Due to her interest, the narrator seems like a gift for her in Araby market. However, no glimpses of love or interest are shown from the girl’s side for the narrator.

He is the former tenant of the narrator’s house. He made his last breaths in the drawing-room of that house. Readers may find this character from his belongings that is mentioned by the narrator, which are still present at the house. 

His belongings include The Abbot (a romance novel by Sir Walter Scott), The Devout Communicant (a work of Catholic devotional literature), and The Memoirs of Vidocq (a detective’s memoir) in which the narrator takes particular interests.

Moreover, these books also exhibit the priest’s life that he is indulged after church in works which are non-religious. These books indicate his taste of reading which includes crimes and romance novels. This raises questions on the moral codes of the Catholic Church.

In his belongings, there is also something else included. The narrator states that it is a bicycle pump which is kept hidden. This throws light on the secret outside the life of priests.

Mrs. Mercer

She is the widow of a pawnbroker to whom the narrator’s uncle owes some money. For this, she waits for him to demand his money back on the night of Araby market. She seems to be a collector of postage stamps in order to sell it further to other collectors. In this way, she earns money for a religious cause.

Young Female Shopkeeper

She is a flirtatious character. Two men approached her stall, and the narrator noticed her act of flirting with those men. Also, he noticed her English accent and of the men she is talking to. The English accent of them contradicts the narrator’s fantasies which he was having about Araby market.

Moreover, she doesn’t pay heed to the narrator and talks to him in an absurd manner, which discourages the narrator from buying anything.  Further, her flirtation brings realization in the narrator about the silliness of the attempt to impress Mangan’s sister with a gift.

Literary Analysis

This story is written between 1905 and 1907 and it recounts tensions of Ireland under British control. At that time, Ireland was the colony of Britain and Irish people resented that. Consequently, a movement called nationalism was raised.

Joyce has tactfully highlighted those tensions and issues. In the story, it is evident how Joyce has portrayed Ireland as dull and troublesome. Also, the narrator of the story wants to flee from his real-world into his ideal world. 

Joyce has inserted the element of escapism so the readers may understand the perturbed situations of Ireland. The desire of the narrator’s escapism mirrors the political and social upheaval from which Joyce himself wants to flee.

Similarly, the images Joyce has drawn provide evidence of the tensions of those times. He has set the story in winter. It not just literally depicts the coldness but also highlights the degradation of society as an upheaval in the country. Moreover, the usage of dark imagery also supports the aforementioned issues.

Likewise, Joyce criticized the religious institution and the youth of his country. He rebukes the role of religious institutions they were performing. For instance, the figure of the priest in the story recounts the hypocrisy of religious institutions. The priest who is supposed to be abiding by rules was actually deviant or nonconformist . His inclination towards romance and criminal novels recounts the clandestine life he was living after church hours.

Similarly, the narrator also seems to follow religion in every aspect. However, he also mirrors his weak faith when he is inclined to sexual desires. This throws light on the moral degradation of society.

As well as, Joyce draws readers’ attention towards political tumult of those times. He alludes to certain terms like Donovan O’Rossa. This highlights the nationalist movement which brings civil war in the country in order to get rid of British colonialism. Also, the chanting of songs “ come-all-you” mentioned in “Araby” express the spread of nationalist movement which back then was spread through songs at streets and pubs.

Moreover, people’s taste for materialistic gains is also shown. The narrator thinks buying a gift would be a better way of impressing Mangan’s sister. Also, Mangan’s sister desires for material objects from Araby market.

The story also recounts the narrator’s epiphany. At first, the narrator got astray from the path. He started walking on the road of materialism, sexual desires and delusions. He even thinks that his studies are of no use. He seems to fantasize about Mangan’s sister every time. 

However, in the end, all his beliefs proved wrong and Araby market brought the understanding of epiphany to the narrator. He once again seems to behold the support of religion which he has lost once.

Also, one can see the journey from naïveté towards maturity. Firstly, the narrator’s get stuck in the web of his mistaken beliefs. He thinks whatever his thoughts are they are true and pure. Those thoughts strike him as an escape from the real filthy world to the ideal world not only physically but mentally. Mangan’s sister provides him mental escape and the thoughts regarding Araby bazaar also provide him with an escape.

However, whatever he thought about Araby bazaar proved wrong. He thought it a place surrounded by Oriental things and people. However, he saw people speaking English there. He witnessed a flirtatious woman which also contradicts his ideals of romance. At that time, he seems to realize all his mistakes and that time mature thoughts probed into his mind. He admits his vain motives of impressing Mangan’s sister.

Significance of the Title

Joyce used this title to highlight the exoticism and ideals of romance in the story. It provides the glimpses of escapism. Similarly, it depicts the narrator’s longings of his life. However, Joyce also contradicts his title at the end of the story. The very Araby bazaar to which the narrator desperately wanted to visit, contradicts his mistaken beliefs. Also, it brings the understanding of his epiphany.

The time period of the short story is set in the 19 th century. However, the location of the story is set in Dublin, Ireland. The narrator lives in North Richmond Street where he frequently plays with his friends.

Joyce has inserted the following symbols in the text:

The color brown is used multiple times in the story. The brown color emphasizes the dullness of Dublin. The narrator describes those things brown which appear to him dull. By using this symbol Joyce portrays house as brown, even Mangan’s sister as a “brown-clad figure ” to represent the dull ordinary life.

It depicts how Dublin strikes irksome and uninteresting to the narrator both physically and mentally.

The word blind is used repeatedly in the text. It symbolizes the narrator’s naïveté and isolation. The narrator’s house is situated at the blind end which suggests its lonesomeness from the other houses. Also, it foreshadows the narrator’s isolation from his friends and routinely life.

Moreover, the narrator is figuratively blinded by the infatuation of Mangan’s sister. This makes him a secluded person. Similarly, he gets blinded to the true concept of love and his mistaken beliefs.

Joyce has used a great deal of light and darkness in the story. At first, darkness reveals the narrator’s dull life. The way he plays with his friends in a little lighted area. Also, the short days of winter depict the lack of enthusiasm in his life. Hence, darkness depicts his perturbed life and mentality.

However, in the end, the very darkness becomes the understanding of the narrator’s epiphany. When lights turned off at the Araby market the narrator started to stare at the darkness. At that time, he realized delusions and vain motives of impressing Mangan’s sister.

Joyce draws a vivid picture of the location of the narrator’s abandoned house. He shows how detached it was from the row of other houses. The narrator says “An uninhabited house of two storeys stood at the blind end, detached from its neighbours in a square ground”. This represents the loneliness of the narrator as well.

Moreover, the narrator has religious imagery to draw the picture of Mangan’s sister before readers. The narrator imagines her every time no matter where he is. In the middle of the market and hustle and bustle, he conjures up her image. In his thoughts, Mangan’s sister strikes him as a spiritual image. 

At the same time, he also imagines himself as a knight protecting his pure love from enemies. The narrator says “I imagined that I bore my chalice safely through a throng of foes”.

Similarly, he drew a coarse picture of Dublin when he was visiting the market with his aunt. He depicts it full of hustle and bustle. However, the people and things present over there were agitating. Due to undisciplined people, he collides with the people. The narrator emphasizes ill-mannered people and the dirtiness of Dublin. He says “jostled by drunken men and bargaining women, amid the curses of labourers, the shrill litanies of shop-boys who stood on guard by the barrels of pigs’ cheeks”

Literary devices

Joyce has used the following literary devices in the text:

Metaphor, Personification and Simile

Joyce uses humanly attributes to describe the view of other houses. The narrator observes that houses are “conscious” of the people living in it. Also, he notices they “ gaze ” at each other.

Moreover, the narrator uses the metaphor of “imperturbable faces” to describe the unchanging and static position of houses.

Similarly, the narrator seems to be using similes in order to convey his emotions as he talked to his crush. He feels his body “ like a harp ” and her words strike him “like fingers running upon the wires”.

The narrator has used exaggerated language to emphasize his excitement. This literary device is evident when he travels by train to Araby market.

When he gets on the train everything seems moving at snail’s pace to him due to his impatience. The narrator says “ After an intolerable delay the train moved out of the station slowly “. Further, he uses the word “ crept ” for the train’s speed in order to show how slowly it was moving.

Mostly, Joyce has used religious allusions in the text. At first, the narrator alluded to three books “The Abbot by Walter Scott”, “The Devout Communicant” , and “ The Memoirs of Vidocq “.

Moreover, one can find religious allusions in the description of Mangan’s sister. The narrator portrays her as a “chalice”. It is an allusion to the cup used in the Christian act of communion, and by extension to the Holy Grail used by Jesus Christ. Further, the narrator alluded to the search of Holy Grail by connecting “ chalice” with “throngs of foes “. This suggests how the narrator imagines his crush as a Holy figure before him.

In the same manner, the narrator also alluded to the biblical book of Genesis when he depicts his house with a Garden . He says that his house was previously occupied by a former priest and that time it contains a garden with an apple tree. This very example alluded to Adam and Eve who live in the Garden of Eden. They were sent to the Earth as a result of eating a forbidden fruit commonly known as an apple. By eating so, they also lost their innocence.

Furthermore, the narrator talks about O’Donovan Rossa . This provides the allusion to Irish Fenian leader and prominent figure of the Irish Republican Brotherhood. This provides the glimpses of nationalism and political tumult.


Joyce portrays the narrator’s house as the abandoned one from the row of other houses. With the help of this Joyce foreshadows the narrator’s seclusion in the text.

As well as, Joyce alluded to the Adam and Eve loss of innocence. By doing so, he foreshadows the narrator’s loss of innocence and budding sexuality.

At first, the narrator describes the settings and characters in a depressed and gloomy tone. Later on, the narrator seems to use a cheerful and hopeful tone. However, in the end, the tone changes into morose and sombre revealing the narrator’s epiphany.

Araby is a short story written in the realism genre.

Point of view

This story is told with a first-person narrative point of view.

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araby essay prompt

James Joyce

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In Dublin, Ireland, around the beginning of the 20th century, the narrator lives on a quiet, blind street with several brown houses and the Christian Brother’s school, which the narrator attends. The narrator, who is never named, is a young boy living with his aunt and uncle , likes looking through the belongings left behind by the former tenant of his house, a priest who died in the back drawing-room.

The narrator describes winter nights playing in the dark street with his friends until their bodies “glowed.” Eventually Mangan’s sister would come out to get Mangan, the narrator’s friend, signaling the end of their playtime. It is during these brief interactions that the narrator begins to notice her physical appearance and develop a crush.

The narrator becomes infatuated with Mangan’s sister and thinks about her all the time – even at the dirty, loud, Dublin market he fantasizes about her as an escape from his harsh reality. He imagines carrying her like a “chalice safely through a throng of foes.” The narrator does not try to talk to her, instead preferring to relish in his daydreams. One day, though, Mangan’s sister speaks with the narrator. She asks if he is planning to go to the Araby bazaar, an Eastern-themed market put on by the church. She explains that she cannot attend because her convent is having a retreat and the narrator jumps at the opportunity to impress her, promising to bring her back something if he is able to go.

The narrator begins to fantasize not only about Mangan’s sister, but also about the exotic Araby market as well. Meanwhile the narrator begins to lose focus in school, and though he can feel his master growing stern with him, he cannot seem to focus on his studies.

Saturday morning the narrator reminds his uncle of his desire to attend the bazaar, but when he comes home for dinner that night his uncle still has not returned. Finally, around 9 pm his uncle returns home. He can tell from the way his uncle moves around that he has ben drinking. The narrator waits for his uncle to get halfway through his dinner before he asks for money to go to the bazaar. His uncle has forgotten, and tries to dismiss the request but his aunt encourages her husband to let the narrator go. His uncle apologizes, gives the narrator some money, and begins to recite The Arab’s Farewell to his Steed.

The narrator leaves his house holding a florin (a coin) and takes a train to the bazaar, arriving just ten minutes before 10 pm, when the market closes. Inside, the bazaar is quiet, and the narrator enters timidly. He passes a stall called Café Chantant and begins to examine flowered tea sets and porcelain vases in a neighboring stall. He observes the young female shopkeeper flirting with two men, all of them speaking with English accents. The woman asks him if he wishes to buy anything, but he can tell that she does so only out of a sense of duty. He responds “No, thank you.” The woman returns to her conversation but continues to glance over at the narrator. The market begins to close and as the narrator stands in the dark, he realizes he has foolishly allowed himself to be motivated by vanity. This epiphany fills him with “anguish and anger.”

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James Joyce's '"Araby": Essay Prompt Assignment with Condensed Rubric

araby essay prompt


Follow the exploits of a young boy's infatuation with this perfect list of essay prompts for "Araby." Students will gain a full understanding of this short story as they focus on plot, theme, setting, mood, characters, inference, and more. Twelve questions offer a wide array of topics from which to choose. As an additional bonus, an abridged rubric is included.

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ENGL1102_Character Comparison/Contrast Essay

Take two of the short stories we read in class or were assigned through the homework. Identify shared traits between the main characters as well as differences as you compared and contrast them.

Sample Response:

“Gazing up into the darkness I saw myself as a creature driven and derided by vanity; and my eyes burned with anguish and anger” (Joyce 129) concludes the narrator of “Araby,” a story by James Joyce. It is over the course of both the stories “A&P,” by John Updike, and “Araby,” by James Joyce, that the coming-of-age journeys of two adolescents are witnessed, seeing two young boys learn from their mistakes, and such profound realizations as this are garnered. Between the two characters of Sammy, from “A&P,” and the boy from “Araby,” many striking similarities exist in terms of characterization, behavior, and conflict experienced by the respective characters. They exhibit similarly impulsive and naive behavioral patterns motivated by trivialities, and they share a common bond in the struggles they face as adolescents arising from confusion over their place in society. Differences exist between the two, however; in particular, the lessons they glean from their experiences differ. While the Araby boy learns the empty nature of vanity, Sammy realizes only that his impulsive decision might negatively impact him.

Most apparent of all the similarities between Sammy and the Araby boy is their shared pattern of rash and impulsive behavior. In the case of Sammy from “A&P,” a job that provided financial security is thrown away on a whim because of a fleeting infatuation with a gaggle of girls; such an act is both rash and impulsive, performed out of an irrational desire to be given attention by the alluring females. It is clear that this trifling want is the motivator of Sammy’s foolish behavior, for he narrates, “The girls, and who'd blame them, are in a hurry to get out, so I say ‘I quit’ to Lengel quick enough for them to hear, hoping they'll stop and watch me, their unsuspected hero” (Updike 95), demonstrating the senseless hold that sexual attraction has over his mind. “But it seems to me that once you begin a gesture it's fatal not to go through with it” (Updike 95), Sammy further argues, revealing an illogical belief that foolish behavior is excusable under extenuating circumstances. Sammy’s own narration makes it apparent that his behavior is motivated by trivial factors; he fails to think before he acts, and once the mind catches up with the body, it falsely concludes that the most appropriate course of action is to allow reckless action to be carried out unimpeded. This behavior is therefore predicated on impulse, an instant desire driving his action. A parallel may be drawn between Sammy quitting over a transient infatuation and the travel of the Araby boy to the bazaar, the latter of which was driven by a passing fancy for a neighborhood girl. In “Araby,” the boy also narrates the plot to the reader, and it is made even more apparent than in the case of Sammy that the primary motivator of the boy’s actions are ‘love.’ “She asked me was I going to Araby. I forgot whether I answered yes or no. It would be a splendid bazaar; she said she would love to go” (Joyce 127), the boy relates, showing how clouded his mind is by infatuation as to degrade his faculties and corrupt his memories. It is in this moment that the boy decides to travel to the bazaar that is known as Araby, a split-second decision motivated out of irrational young love, much like Sammy. The same tendency for impulsive behavior as a result of adolescent affection is therefore demonstrated by both Sammy and the Araby boy. This conclusion is further supported by the Araby boy’s own admission, as he narrates, “Gazing up into the darkness I saw myself as a creature driven and derided by vanity; and my eyes burned with anguish and anger” (Joyce 129), which reveals his own anger at silly actions motivated by trivialities. Both Sammy and the Araby boy tacitly admit to having committed to rash behavior, and both were motivated in their rash behavior by passing fancy and infatuation with members of the opposite sex.

The root cause of the struggles of both Sammy and the Araby boy are also comparable; both young boys are confused and dissatisfied with the circumstances they live in. Confused about the right place for them in society, the two are made more susceptible to such influences as infatuation becoming motivators for irrational behavior. In “A&P,” Sammy’s characterization in this arena is made apparent from the very beginning of the story by his irreverent narration; for example, “A few house-slaves in pin curlers even looked around after pushing their carts past to make sure what they had seen was correct” (Updike 94), is his given description of the clientele of the convenience store he works in. Furthermore, he describes other customers “like scared pigs in a chute” (Updike 95). The disdain that Sammy holds for the people of his town and the clientele of the convenience store is very clear; obviously, Sammy believes he deserves better, or else his dream, of attending a party with one of the girls, Queenie, which he describes as “Her father and the other men were standing around in ice cream coats and bow ties and the women were in sandals picking up herring snacks on toothpicks off a big plate and they were all holding drinks the color of water with olives and sprigs of mint in them” (Updike 95), would not have taken place. Such irreverent commentary on the drabness of ordinary small town life, and awe at Queenie and the possibility of what her life may be like, serve to demonstrate Sammy’s dissatisfaction with his place in society, as well as his belief that there is something better for him lying in wait. The Araby boy is similarly dissatisfied with life, but he is dissatisfied mostly as a result of confusion; the boy recounts, “I had hardly any patience with the serious work of life which, now that it stood between me and my desire, seemed to me child's play, ugly monotonous child's play” (Joyce 127). As consequence of his infatuation with a neighborhood girl, the Araby boy becomes disillusioned with all that is not associated with the object of his affection; he becomes distracted and discontented with life. By his own words, the Araby boy offers that his feelings of love were but “confused adoration” (Joyce 127). His dogged pursuit of the returned affections of the girl leads him to realize that he becomes a “creature driven and derided by vanity” by the end of the story, resultant from his struggles as an adolescent who could find little contentment in a life without love. This reflects Sammy’s very similar struggles as an adolescent--albeit, an older one--who seeks positive affirmation and attention from Queenie to give him some joy to offset the boring; likewise, the Araby boy seeks positive affirmation and attention from the neighborhood girl--his friend Mangan’s sister--in the course of his coming-of-age journey in order to give him some joy in life to offset what he considers dull.

Despite the similarities of their characterization, behavior, motivations, and struggles, Sammy and the Araby boy draw starkly differing conclusions regarding their experiences by the end of their respective stories. In the case of Sammy, his final realization is that he has committed a mistake, but he makes no attempts to rectify it, only understanding that his life will be made more difficult. “[Lengel’s] face was dark gray and his back stiff, as if he'd just had an injection of iron, and my stomach kind of fell as I felt how hard the world was going to be to me hereafter” (Updike 96), narrates Sammy, informing the audience of his realization. No great epiphany regarding the futility of his action is related at any point by Sammy; he only mentions his belief that, “ seems to me that once you begin a gesture it’s fatal not to go through with it” (Updike 95). Sammy’s learned lesson differs from that of the Araby boy, who instead has an epiphany of the futility of vanity, witnessing its degradation of character firsthand. “...I knew my stay was useless…” (Joyce 129) the Araby boy relates, adopting a meek and humbled tone. “Gazing up into the darkness I saw myself as a creature driven and derided by vanity; and my eyes burned with anguish and anger” (Joyce 129), he says. The lesson learned by the Araby boy, then, is that the entirety of his adolescent journey was fruitless save for the very lesson itself regarding its futility; vanity and vain pursuit of unrequited love through rash behavior only begets foolishness and ineptitude. It is plain that the lessons learned by the two adolescents are starkly different, then, seeing that Sammy has only gained understanding of a mistake, while the Araby boy has had an epiphany regarding vanity.

The stories of both Sammy from “A&P” and the boy from “Araby” are both the coming-of-age stories of awkward adolescent males, and through both these stories, the two youths experience struggles with young love. Over the course of their journeys, they are motivated by fleeting infatuation and confusion over their role in society to commit foolish action; by the end, they both reach conclusions regarding their experiences. In the case of Sammy, it is a lesson of rashness leading to financial instability; for the Araby boy, it is a lesson of unrequited love being no reasonable object of serious consideration. The two characters, then, share similarities in their motivations, behaviors, and societal struggles, but the lessons they learn are very different; for the reader, both stories contribute understanding of the futility of vanity and the need for rational thought.

Works Cited

Joyce, James. “Araby.” Literature the Human Experience. Richard Abcarian, et al. 12th ed. Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2016. 125-129.

Updike, John. “A & P.” Literature the Human Experience. Richard Abcarian, et al. 12th ed. Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2016. 92-96.

araby essay prompt

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Before Reading

Reading Context

During Reading

Reading Questions & Paired Texts

After Reading

Discussion/Analysis Prompt

Essay Questions

Exam Questions

Exam Answer Key

Reading Check

1. North Richmond Street (Paragraph 1)

2. That it “was not some Freemason affair” (Paragraph 12)

3. It changes from “amiability to sternness.” (Paragraph 12)

4. Because the narrator needs his uncle to give him the money (Paragraph 19)

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Short Answer

1. As the narrator plays with his friends out on the street in the evenings, he sees his friend Mangan’s sister who occasionally comes outside the house to call her brother home. The narrator begins to have feelings for her, following her and thinking about her constantly without talking to her. (Paragraphs 3-4)

2. The narrator describes one evening when he goes into the room where the priest had died, and, in a realization that “[all his] senses seem[] to desire to veil themselves and, feeling that [he] [i]s about to slip from them, [he] presse[s] the palms of [his] hands together until they tremble[], murmuring: ‘O love! O love!’ many times.” During this time, the setting is rainy and dark, with “[s]ome distant lamp or lighted window gleam[ing] below [him].” (Paragraph 6)

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