To the narrator, Araby symbolizes the beauty, mystery, and romance he longs for in his life. He lives in a dreary house on a shabby dead-end street. He escapes the drabness around him by reading a Sir Walter Scott romance and a book of French adventures and by dreaming. When he hears the name "Araby," the very word thrills him: He says, "The syllables of the word Araby . . . cast an Eastern enchantment over me." His first-love obsession with Mangan's sister melds with his vision of Araby when she speaks to him of the bazaar. He's off on a knight's romantic quest to bring her a gift from the enchanted land, only to have his dreams crushed under the weight of reality.
Araby turns out to be tawdry. It is not a place of enchantment; it is a cavernous warehouse filled with cheap goods sold by ordinary people holding banal conversations in common English accents. Stalls are closed. Two men are busy counting money. There will be no enchanting gift to present to his love, and no more romantic illusions will illuminate his life. He will remain trapped in the poverty and hopelessness of Dublin's North Richmond Street.