The narrator of Joyce's story of disillusionment and romantic disappointment is an adolescent male youth of Dublin. Influenced by Sir Walter Scott's romantic tale Ivanhoe, the youth fantasizes and pictures himself as the knight who seeks the holy grail. While he shops for groceries, he imagines,
... I bore my chalice safely through a throng of foes. Her name [Mangan's sister] sprang to my lips at moments in strange prayers and praises which I myself did not understand.
Further, the youth hopes to take Mangan's sister to the bazaar called Araby, suggestive of an exotic place. However, the girl tells him that she is going on a religious retreat; so he promises to purchase something there for her. But, unfortunately, the boy's uncle, with whom he lives, is dilatory in returning home, having been at a pub. He flippantly apologizes; then, he mocks the intensity of the boy's feelings by asking if he knows "The Arab's Farewell to his Steed" tossing him a coin, which is always a symbol of pettiness for Joyce.
Finally, the youth arrives at the bazaar, but most of the booths are shut down, and the conversations are trivial, not exotic. Fighting back tears in a crushing moment, the youth realizes his delusions. He feels what Joyce terms paralysis, a frustrating awareness of his powerlessness:
Gazing up into the darkness I saw myself as a creature driven and derided by vanity; and my eyes burned with anguish and anger.
"Araby" has only existed in his mind; it is an ideal that the youth cannot reach. With tears in his eyes, the narrator knows that he must now deal in realities.