In his story “Araby,” James Joyce offers a complex picture of early 20th-century Irish society from the perspective of a boy who has a crush on a neighbor girl. Joyce creates powerful images of the children’s neighborhood and includes the novelty of a bazaar coming to town, which will break the monotony of their lives.
While the boy’s family struggles to maintain a “decent” standard of living, the poverty of the neighborhood where the boy lives may be interpreted as conveying a negative impression of Ireland overall. Some of the markers of poverty are the abandoned house on his street, the unpaved alleys or “dark muddy lanes,” the presence of stables, and the smell of garbage from the “ashpits” in the house’s backyards. He also mentions hearing songs “about the troubles in our native land.”
Joyce’s attitudes toward Catholicism may be deciphered from the boy’s comments about the priest who formerly lived in the boy’s family’s house, especially the priests’s interest in non-religious materials. The boy states a preference for a detective novel with yellow pages found among the priest’s possessions. A sacrilegious tone is conveyed by the boy praying about love—meaning his infatuation with the girl—rather than spiritual matters:
I pressed the palms of my hands together until they trembled, murmuring: “O love! O love!” many times.
The boy’s obsession with buying a gift for the girl and his disappointment with the merchandise on sale at the Araby bazaar may indicate a broader critique of capitalism. This apparently critical attitude is combined with the author’s questioning of religion as the narrator conflates the market and the church. The eerily quiet atmosphere in the nearly closed market is compared to the silence “which pervades a church after a service.”