Told from the first-person point of view, the story is a convincing representation of the voice of an observant, impressionable, naïve young boy. At the same time, through the deft use of language, symbol, and allusion, a world of feeling beyond the boy’s experience is conveyed to the attentive reader.
First, the story is firmly rooted in time and place: The Joyce family lived on North Richmond Street in 1894, and the young James (then twelve years old) attended the actual Araby bazaar held between May 14 and 18 of that year. All the historical, geographical, and cultural references in the story are true to life.
Second, the language is carefully designed so as to convey a complex, yet highly controlled range of meanings. Consider, for example, the use of the words “blind,” and “set . . . free” in the first sentence, the various uses of “stall” in the body of the story, and “driven” and “eyes” in the last sentence. These motifs support the chivalric and religious themes in the story and subtly link them to its emotional core.
Third, the story is rich with the symbolism of romance, Roman Catholicism, and the Orientalism popular at the end of the last century. The various allusions—to Sir Walter Scott, James Clarence Mangan, Caroline Norton’s poem The Arab’s Farewell to His Steed, the Freemasons, Mrs. Mercer—can enlarge the relevance and appeal of the boy’s private adventure for the attentive reader.
Finally, the story reaches its climax with what Joyce calls an “epiphany”: a term borrowed from theology and applied to a moment of unexpected revelation or psychological insight. Such moments are not conventionally dramatic, nor are they explained to the reader. Here the epiphany occurs in the boy’s consciousness when he overhears the petty and incomplete conversation at the bazaar. He believes himself to have been self-deluded: He has placed too much faith in Mangan’s sister and the values she represents. His early religious training and ignorance of human relations have caused him to adore a mere petticoat.