As part of The Dubliners, the boy of "Araby" is a part of the Dublin of lower-middle-class desperation, crowded streets, low public housing and mean dwellings, and grinding poverty. As part of his escape from this dark environment of his daily life, he romanticizes Mangan's sister and the bazaar known as Araby.
In this atmosphere of a "musty" and somber present, the narrator lies on the floor of a house once owned by a priest where, incongruously, a Catholic devotional, The Devout Communicant, and a book containing criminality and prurience, The Memoirs of Vdocq are among the things left behind. Like the priest, the narrator shrouds his lust, hiding in the shadows in order to watch "her figure defined by the light from the half-opened door," just as outdoors he would hide in the shadows when he saw his uncle coming around the corner. Every morning, the boy lies on the floor in this manner so that he can watch for Mangan's sister; when she steps onto her doorstep, he runs and grabs his books in the hope of speaking with her.
On Saturdays when he accompanies his aunt to the market, "jostled by the drunken men and bargaining women," the romantic narrator imagines that he is a knight holding the Holy Grail as he makes his way through the crowds with the box of groceries.
When Mangan's sister finally speaks with him, the narrator becomes awkward and so nervous that he can barely talk. She asks him if he is going to Araby because she will miss the bazaar as she has a religious retreat to attend. The narrator then gallantly promises to bring her something. After this encounter with the girl, the narrator is completely infatuated.
I had hardly patience with the serious work of life which, now that it stood between me and my desire....
On the day of the bazaar, the boy reminds his uncle that he wants to go to Araby that evening. But, the uncle decides to go to the pub and does not return at his normal hour; as he waits impatiently, the boy paces angrily, clenching his fists in frustrated rage. Finally, at nine o'clock, the uncle arrives and jokes about the boy's going when some people are probably asleep. Finally, after the narrator persistently entreats him for some money so that he can leave, the uncle gives him a florin, and the boy catches a train to the bazaar. When he arrives most of the stalls are already closed, and the hall is in darkness. His expectations are crushed and his fantasy of his infatuation with Mangan's sister terminates as he hears English accents engaged in petty conversations. Symbolically, he lets two pennies fall against the sixpence in his pocket before he hears a voice call out that the bazaar is closed. In a crushing moment of epiphany, the boy realizes that he has been "driven and derided by vanity," and his "eyes burned with anguish and anger" at his self-delusion.