(Short Story Criticism)

“Araby” James Joyce

The following entry presents criticism on Joyce's short story “Araby” (1914). See also James Joyce Short Story Criticism.

Considered one of Joyce's best known short stories, “Araby” is the third story in his short fiction collection, Dubliners, which was published in 1914. It is perceived as a prime example of Joyce's use of epiphany—a sudden revelation of truth about life inspired by a seemingly trivial incident—as the young narrator realizes his disillusionment with his concept of ideal love when he attempts to buy a token of affection for a young girl. Critical interest in the story has remained intense in recent decades as each story in Dubliners has been closely examined within the context of the volume and as an individual narrative. As the third story, “Araby” is often viewed as an important step between the first two stories—“The Sisters” and “An Encounter”—and the rest of the collection.

Plot and Major Characters

The narrator of “Araby” is a young boy living with his aunt and uncle in a dark, untidy home in Dublin that was once the residence of a priest, now deceased. The boy is infatuated with his friend's older sister, and often follows her to school, never having the courage to talk to her. Finally she speaks to him, asking him if he is going to attend a visiting bazaar, known as the “Araby.” When she indicates that she cannot attend, he offers to bring her something from the bazaar, hoping to impress her. On the night he is to attend, his uncle is late coming home from work. By the time the young boy borrows money from his uncle and makes his way to the bazaar, most of the people have left and many of the stalls are closed. As he looks for something to buy his friend's sister, he overhears a banal young salesgirl flirt with two young men. When the disinterested salesgirl asks him if he needs help, he declines, and he walks through the dark, empty halls, disillusioned with himself and the world around him.

Major Themes

Each story in Dubliners contains an epiphanic moment toward which the controlled yet seemingly plotless narrative moves. Among the best-known epiphanies is the one that occurs in “Araby,” in which a young boy recognizes the vanity and falsity of ideal, romantic love. It has also been interpreted as a story about a boy's growing alienation with his family, religion, and the world around him. Moreover, it is viewed as autobiographical, reflecting Joyce's own disillusionment with religion and love. As such, Dubliners is considered a collection of stories that parallel the process of initiation: the early stories focus on the tribulations of childhood, then move on to the challenges and epiphanies of adulthood. A few critics have detected the theme of Irish nationalism, as Joyce employs Irish legends to indicate the vast discrepancy between the narrator's idealized view of the girl and the harsh reality of the bazaar. Moreover, the theme of the quest is a prevalent one in “Araby,” as the young narrator embarks on a dangerous journey to win the hand of a young maiden.

Critical Reception

For many decades Dubliners was considered little more than a slight volume of naturalist fiction evoking the repressed social milieu of turn-of-the-century Dublin. When critics began to explore the individual stories in the collection, much attention was focused on the symbolism in “Araby,” particularly the religious imagery and the surrounding of the bazaar. In fact, some commentators have invested the story with many layers of meaning and religious symbolism; others urge a more superficial reading. Literary allusions, influences, and autobiographical aspects of the story have also been a rich area for study; in fact, commentators have found traces of Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales, Dante's Commedia, and Homer's The Odyssey in Joyce's story. Much critical attention has focused on stylistic elements, especially the impact of the narrative voice in “Araby.” As scholars continue to mine Joyce's Dubliners for critical study, “Araby” remains one of the most highly regarded and popular stories in the volume.

Principal Works

(Short Story Criticism)

Dubliners 1914

The Portable James Joyce 1947

The Essential James Joyce 1948

Chamber Music (poetry) 1907

A Portrait of the Artist As a Young Man (novel) 1916

Exiles (drama) 1918

Ulysses (novel) 1922

Poems Penyeach (poetry) 1927

Collected Poems (poetry) 1936

Finnegans Wake (novel) 1939

Stephen Hero (unfinished novel) 1944

Letters 3 Vols. (letters) 1955–1966

Critical Writings of James Joyce (criticism) 1959

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William Bysshe Stein (essay date 1962)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: “Joyce's ‘Araby’: Paradise Lost,” in Perspective, Vol. 12, No. 4, Spring, 1962, pp. 215–22.

[In the following essay, Stein surveys the religious imagery in “Araby.”]

As L. A. G. Strong has observed in The Sacred River, “Christianity for Joyce is inescapable, and his critics cannot escape it either.” And he is right. No matter the work, Joyce always views the order and disorder of the world in terms of the Catholic faith in which he was reared. Turn though he does at times to other sanctions for his beliefs, he never quite shakes off the power of “a symbol behind which are massed twenty centuries of authority and veneration.” Only...

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John O. Lyons (essay date 1964)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: “James Joyce and Chaucer's Prioress,” in English Language Notes, Vol. 2, No. 2, December, 1964, pp. 127–32.

[In the following essay, Lyons considers the influence of Chaucer's Prioress' Tale on Joyce's “Araby.”]

When Joyce's commentators mention the influence of Chaucer, the detail they cite most frequently is the character of Molly Bloom, which reminds them in its licentiousness and common sense of the Wife of Bath.1 I think it can be shown, however, that Joyce's use of Chaucer is more than casual. There is no doubt of his knowledge of and respect for the writings of Chaucer. In 1912 he wrote, as part of an examination for a degree...

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Harry Stone (essay date 1965)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: “‘Araby’ and the Writings of James Joyce,” in Antioch Review, Vol. 25, No. 3, Fall, 1965, pp. 375–410.

[In the following essay, Stone explores the literary allusions and symbolism found in “Araby,” contending that Joyce “was careful to lacquer his images and actions with layer after layer of translucent, incremental meaning.”]

Love came to us in time gone by
                                        When one at twilight shyly played
And one in fear was standing nigh—
                                        For Love at first is all afraid.
We were grave lovers. Love is past
                                        That had his sweet hours many a...

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Robert P. ApRoberts (essay date 1967)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: “‘Araby’ and the Palimpsest of Criticism or, Through a Glass Eye Darkly,” in Antioch Review, Vol. 26, No. 4, Winter, 1967, pp. 469–89.

[In the following essay, ApRoberts refutes Professor Stone's thesis in the essay reprinted above, asserting that “Araby” is a self-contained story and should be read at face value.]

“You see how easy it is to deceive one who is an artist in phrases. Avoid them, Miss Dale; they dazzle the penetration of the composer. That is why people like Mrs. Mountstuart see so little; they are bent on describing so brilliantly.”

—George Meredith, The Egoist...

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Bernard Benstock (essay date 1967)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: “Arabesques: Third Position of Concord,” in James Joyce Quarterly, Vol. 5, No. 1, Fall, 1967, pp. 30–9.

[In the following essay, Benstock supports Professor Stone's thesis in the essay reprinted above, and agrees that “Araby” serves “as a vital introduction of many of the motifs of the later works of James Joyce.”]

“You must say ‘paragon’: a paramour is,
God bless us, a thing of naught.”

—A Midsummer-Night's Dream

“I’m the Sheik of Araby,
Your love belongs to me;
At night when you’re asleep,
Into your tent I’ll creep.”

—“The Sheik of Araby”

“… (if you can...

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Frank Turaj (essay date 1970)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: “‘Araby’ and Portrait: Stages of Pagan Conversion, in English Language Notes, Vol. 7, No. 3, March 3, 1970, pp. 209–13.

[In the following essay, Turaj finds a parallel between “Araby” and Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, maintaining that the two works represent two different stages in Joyce's personal development.]

“Araby” is regarded as the story of a boy for whom young love becomes mystical and religious. It is partly a story of his initiation into love, and it is partly a story of his conversion from orthodox religion. Besides being a principal theme in Joyce's writing, this dialogue of the world and the spirit is,...

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Edward Brandabur (essay date 1971)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: “The Green Stem of Fortune,” in A Scrupulous Meanness: A Study of Joyce's Early Work, University of Illinois Press, 1971, pp. 49–56.

[In the following essay, Brandabur provides a thematic overview of “Araby.”]

From the harsher portrayals of Dublin's youth encountering perversity in the first two stories, Joyce turns to romance. For “Araby” displays characteristics of “Romance” described by Northrop Frye in Anatomy of Criticism most clearly as it concerns the hero's power of action: “If superior in degree to other men and to his environment, the hero is the typical hero of romance, whose actions are marvelous but who is himself...

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Epifanio San Juan, Jr. (essay date 1972)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: “Araby,” in James Joyce and the Craft of Fiction: An Interpretation of Dubliners, Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1972, pp. 54–67.

[In the following essay, San Juan offers a stylistic analysis of “Araby.”]

Among the various reasons why the existing interpretations of “Araby” have failed to grasp the principle of organization informing the narrative, I would point to the wrong emphasis placed upon stylistic details—the texture of description, the rhetorical appeals of imagery and ambiguous allusions, symbols, and so on—and the distortion of form created by this emphasis.1 For if the formal whole of the story resides in the...

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Susan J. Rosowski (essay date 1976)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: “Joyce's ‘Araby’ and Imaginative Freedom,” in Research Studies, Vol. 44, No. 3, September, 1976, pp. 183–88.

[In the following essay, Rosowski views the primary conflict in “Araby” “not between the child's and the adult's visions, but between psychological and factual realities.”]

Readers have long recognized the importance of “Araby” in Joyce's canon. The third and final story of the childhood phase of the Dubliners (before adolescence, maturity, and public life), “Araby” portrays an early stage of the struggle that Joyce develops later in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and in Ulysses. The story is viewed...

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John J. Brugaletta and Mary H. Hayden (essay date 1978)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: “The Motivation for Anguish in Joyce's ‘Araby’,” in Studies in Short Fiction, Vol. 15, No. 1, Winter, 1978, pp. 11–17.

[In the following essay, Brugaletta and Hayden question important plot elements of “Araby.”]

In his discussion of James Joyce's “Araby,” Epifanio San Juan, Jr. contributes to Joyce studies a predominantly valid discussion of plot.1 We agree with San Juan in his assumption of the “relevance and qualified validity of all the existing interpretations of ‘Araby.’”2 Our only disagreement with this critic's view of the story—our point of departure from that of other critics who have discussed...

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Donald E. Morse (essay date 1978)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: “‘Sing Three Songs of Araby’: Theme and Allusion in Joyce's ‘Araby,’” in College Literature, Vol. 5, No. 2, Spring, 1978, pp. 125–32.

[In the following essay, Morse explores the different literary allusions found in “Araby.”]

I’ll sing three songs of Araby
And tales of fair Cashmere,
Wild tales to cheat thee of a sigh,
Or charm thee to a tear
And dreams of delight shall on thee break,
And rainbow visions rise,
And all my soul shall strive to wake
Sweet wonder in thine eyes.
And all my soul shall strive to wake
Sweet wonder in thine eyes.

—W. G. Wills, “Araby”1

Adults enjoy being reminded, at a...

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Joseph J. Egan (essay date 1979)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: “Romantic Ireland, Dead and Gone: Joyce's ‘Araby’ as National Myth,” in Colby Library Quarterly, Vol. 15, 1979, pp. 188–93.

[In the following essay, Egan examines Joyce's utilization of Irish culture and history in “Araby.”]

Although A. Walton Litz points out that a “careful analysis of the last pages of ‘Araby’ shows how the boy's personal despair is extended symbolically until it encompasses religious and political failure,”1 perhaps insufficient attention has been given to the story's national imagery drawn from Irish culture and history and set in motion by the narrator's love for Mangan's sister, “the brown-clad figure...

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L. J. Morrissey (essay date 1982)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: “Joyce's Narrative Strategies in ‘Araby,’” in Modern Fiction Studies, Vol. 28, No. 1, Spring, 1982, pp. 45–52.

[In the following essay, Morrissey analyzes Joyce's narrative techniques.]

In his analysis of Roland Barthes's poetics of the novel, Jonathan Culler points to a “major flaw” in Barthes: “the absence of any code relating to narration (the reader's ability to collect items which help to characterize a narrator and to place the text in a kind of communicative circuit).”1 Yet, “identifying narrators is one of the primary ways of naturalizing fiction.”2 Paradoxically, Culler decides that although “the...

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David W. Robinson (essay date 1987)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: “Narration of Reading in Joyce,” in Texas Studies in Literature and Language, Vol. 29, No. 4, Winter, 1987, pp. 387–92.

[In the following essay, Robinson considers the imagery in “Araby” and its relationship to the narrator of the story.]

… Of the three opening stories in Dubliners, “Araby” presents by far the clearest framing of narrated events within the controlling viewpoint of a definite narrator. Here, finally, is a narrator whose relation to his early self can be confidently gauged and whose interpretation of the past has some claim to authoritativeness—or so it seems. A fairly consistent level of ironic detachment helps us locate...

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Phillip F. Herring (essay date 1987)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: “Trials of Adolescence,” in Joyce's Uncertainty Principle, Princeton University Press, 1987, pp. 3–38.

[In the following excerpt, Herring reveals the structural and thematic links between Joyce's “Araby” to “The Sisters” and “An Encounter.”]

“Araby” is the last in a set of three stories about how a youth is thwarted in his quest for transcendence. Each of the stories begins in the tedious surroundings of home or school, in reaction to which boys set for themselves idealized destinations involving eastward journeys: in one case it is a mystical state of mind associated with the priesthood, exotic dreams, and Persia; in the next story it is...

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Albert Wachtel (essay date 1992)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: “The First Trinity,” in The Cracked Looking Glass: James Joyce and the Nightmare of History, Susquehanna University Press, 1992, pp. 23–37.

[In the following excerpt, Wachtel views “Araby” as the third story in a trilogy—the other two being “The Sisters” and “An Encounter”—and deems it an important transition to the other stories included in Dubliners.]

Although they depict the meanness, entrapment, and blindness of the citizenry, the first two stories of Dubliners are actually about the discovery of those same qualities in the protagonists. “Araby,” third in the series, is the final example of such self-scrutiny before the...

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Garry M. Leonard (essay date 1993)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: “The Question and the Quest: the Story of Mangan's Sister,” in Reading Dubliners Again: A Lacanian Perspective, Syracuse University Press, 1993, pp. 73–94.

[In the following essay, Leonard utilizes the theories of Jacques Lacan to analyze the depiction of Mangan's sister in “Araby.”]

The displacement of the signifier determines the subjects in their acts, in their destiny, in their refusals, in their blindness, in their end and in their fate.

(Lacan 1988c, 43–44)

Gazing up into the darkness I saw myself as a creature driven and derided by vanity; and...

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Margot Norris (essay date 1995)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: “Blind Streets and Seeing Horses: Araby's Dim Glass Revisited,” in Studies in Short Fiction, Vol. 32, No. 3, Summer, 1995, pp. 309–18.

[In the following essay, Norris explores stylistic elements of “Araby,” particularly the narrative voice in the story.]

Joyce's “Araby” not only draws attention to its conspicuous poetic language: it performatively offers the beauty of its art as compensation to the thematized frustrations of the story. The little boy whose heart is broken by a city “hostile to romance,” transmutes his grief into a romance of language. Joyce, whose Dubliners stories tend to bear rhetorical titles, makes of “Araby” a...

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Robert Fuhrel (essay date 1998)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: “The Quest of Joyce and O'Connor in ‘Araby’ and ‘The Man of the House,’” in Frank O'Connor: New Perspectives, edited by Robert C. Evans and Richard Harp, Locust Hill Press, 1998, 173–87.

[In the following essay, Fuhrel discusses the motif of the quest in Frank O'Connor's “The Man of the House” and Joyce's “Araby” and contrasts the setting, tone, point of view, and themes of the two stories.]

A young man narrates a tale about a time when, as a boy, old enough to leave the house and travel some distance by himself but innocent in matters of the heart, he had created an imaginary world in which he was a hero. Focusing on everyday matters is a...

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Further Reading

(Short Story Criticism)


Atherton, J. S. “Araby.” James Joyce's Dubliners: Critical Essays, edited by Clive Hart, pp. 39–47. New York: The Viking Press, 1969.

Discusses the ways in which “Araby” is typical of Joyce's oeuvre.

Brooks, Cleanth and Robert Penn Warren. “Araby.” Understanding Fiction, pp. 414–24. East Norwalk, CT: Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1943.

Brooks and Warren explicate the major themes of Joyce's “Araby.”

Collins, Ben L. “‘Araby’ and the ‘Extended Simile.’” Twentieth Century Interpretations of Dubliners: A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by Peter K....

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