The little boy lives with his aunt and uncle on a dead-end street in Dublin, in a house formerly occupied by a now deceased priest. The boy is impressed and somewhat mystified by the moldy books—a historical romance, a pious tract, and a detective autobiography—and other reminders of the previous tenant.
The action of the story begins with the children’s games, played in the lanes and backyards of the neighborhood during the winter twilight. These games end when the sister of one of the boys—named Mangan—calls her little brother in to his tea. The image of this girl standing in the lighted doorway so fixes itself in the boy’s imagination that he begins to pursue her shyly in the street. Even in the bustle of the weekly grocery shopping, he carries with him a feeling about her that amounts to something like mystical rapture.
Then, one day, while the other little boys are playing, she asks him if he is going to a bazaar, named Araby. She is unable to go because of religious activities at her school, but he undertakes to go and bring her a gift instead. This brief conversation and the prospect of the trip to the bazaar causes the boy to lose concentration on his lessons and regard his playmates with disdain.
The Saturday of the bazaar is acutely agonizing for the boy. He has to wait all day long for his uncle to come home and give him the required pocket money. He withdraws from play and wanders through the upper empty rooms of the house, dreaming of the girl. His apprehension during suppertime is compounded by the chatter of a visiting woman. Finally, at nine o’clock, his uncle arrives home, somewhat drunk, for his dinner. He greets the boy’s anxious reminder of his trip with some patronizing cliches.
When he sets out at last, the boy finds that he is alone on the special train arranged for the bazaar, and finally arrives there at 9:50 p.m. In his haste, he pays the adult fee at the turnstile, only to find that the bazaar is just about to close and the day’s take is being counted. Hesitantly, he approaches one of the few stalls still open, one selling pottery. The young lady in charge of this stall pauses momentarily in her flirtatious banter with two young men to attend to the boy’s diffident interest in her wares. He is so put off by all his disappointments and her tone of voice, however, that he at once decides not to buy anything. Instead, he simply stands there in the middle of the darkening bazaar, incensed at the betrayal of his hopes and the shattering of his illusions.