What is the mood/atmosphere in this short story?

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susan3smith eNotes educator| Certified Educator

James Joyce's "Araby" depicts a solemn, stale atmosphere.  The street where the narrator and his friends play is a blind, or a dead end.  The houses are "brown," with "imperturbable faces," the gardens are "dripping," the bicycle pump is rusty.  An empty house is located at the end of the blind where a former priest had died. The air within is "musty." All these images present a stagnant, melancholy atmosphere. The children, though, play until their "bodies glowed," apparently oblivious to their somber environment.

However, with the description of Mangan's sister, the tone suddenly changes.  She is described as standing in the light, with her dress swinging, and her "rope of hair" tossing side to side.  The light and motion that define Mangan's sister set her apart from the dark, stagnant imagery of Dublin.

As long as the narrator is focused on Mangan's sister, the mood is optimistic.  His friend's sister becomes his idol, his reason for being, his escape from the drudgery of everyday existence.  However, when the narrator reaches Araby and finds out that his quest to purchase Mangan's sister a suitbable gift is futile, the mood becomes once again dark.  Just as the lights of the fair are turned off, so too darkens the narrator's optimism as he feels himself utterly foolish and full of "anguish and anger." With the disillusionment of his quest, the narrator's despair enables him to see Dublin as it is presented to us:  a dead end.