There may be several kinds of irony identified in James' Joyce's short story, "Araby." Perhaps the most striking example surrounds the bazaar when the narrator arrives.
First, consider one definition of irony: it is the difference between what is expected and what actually happens. In Joyce's story, we must look for something that is anticipated in one way and finally perceived in a very different way later.
The narrator is a young man who is infatuated with the older sister of his friend Mangan. Once the narrator starts to believe that he is in love, he is obsessed by thoughts of the older girl; he secretly watches her and follows her to school—when she leaves in the morning, the narrator flies out his door to follow her, passing her only as she turns off the route he is following. He does this over and again, day after day.
One day, while her brothers are quibbling, the narrator and Mangan's sister speak. She laments the fact that she cannot attend the bazaar in town because she is going on a religious retreat. She wonders if he is going. Quickly he promises to bring her something if he does attend. When the day comes, he impatiently waits for his uncle to return home and give him money to go to the bazaar. Finally on his way, he is excited by the mystery and glamour he expects to find there. The train seems to crawl on its way, heightening his anticipation, and expressing the narrator's aching desire to arrive—especially having been delayed so long:
After an intolerable delay the train moved out of the station slowly. It crept onward among ruinous houses and over the twinkling river.
At Westland Row Station, other passengers try to gain entry to the train, but they are turned away: this train is only going to the fairgrounds. This also may raise the narrator's excitement; perhaps having the "bare carriage" to himself gives him a dream-like feeling—having perceived himself earlier as a knight ("...I bore my chalice safely through a throng of foes"), his journey seems to have taken on shades of a holy crusade: as he strives to "win" a token for his lady-love. He still believes this as:
In front of me was a large building which displayed the magical name.
In the young man's mind, even the name has evoked hopes, dreams and imaginary events. However, as he enters (paying too much in his haste and desire to get inside), it is not at all what he expected:
Nearly all the stalls were closed and the greater part of the hall was in darkness. I recognized a silence like that which pervades a church after a service. I walked into the centre of the bazaar timidly.
The narrator approaches one of the vendors that is still open. His manner has changed: he is disappointed, becoming timid, and allowing himself to be put off from his errand:
The tone of her voice was not encouraging; she seemed to have spoken to me out of a sense of duty. I looked humbly at the great jars...
The narrator declines when asked if he wishes to purchase something. The fire that had burned in him since he made the promise to Mangan's sister is gone, and he is disheartened. This is situational irony—a difference between what the narrator expected and what actually occurred. He accomplished nothing; the fair was a disappointment.
More so, there is dramatic irony: the reader is fairly certain that the narrator will not return a hero; even with a gift, Mangan's sister will not love him as he believes he loves her.