Araby Style, Form, and Literary Elements
by James Joyce

Araby book cover
Start Your Free Trial

Download Araby Study Guide

Subscribe Now

Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Told from the first-person point of view, the story is a convincing representation of the voice of an observant, impressionable, naïve young boy. At the same time, through the deft use of language, symbol, and allusion, a world of feeling beyond the boy’s experience is conveyed to the attentive reader.

First, the story is firmly rooted in time and place: The Joyce family lived on North Richmond Street in 1894, and the young James (then twelve years old) attended the actual Araby bazaar held between May 14 and 18 of that year. All the historical, geographical, and cultural references in the story are true to life.

Second, the language is carefully designed so as to convey a complex, yet highly controlled range of meanings. Consider, for example, the use of the words “blind,” and “set . . . free” in the first sentence, the various uses of “stall” in the body of the story, and “driven” and “eyes” in the last sentence. These motifs support the chivalric and religious themes in the story and subtly link them to its emotional core.

Third, the story is rich with the symbolism of romance, Roman Catholicism, and the Orientalism popular at the end of the last century. The various allusions—to Sir Walter Scott, James Clarence Mangan, Caroline Norton’s poem The Arab’s Farewell to His Steed, the Freemasons, Mrs. Mercer—can enlarge the relevance and appeal of the boy’s private adventure for the attentive reader.

Finally, the story reaches its climax with what Joyce calls an “epiphany”: a term borrowed from theology and applied to a moment of unexpected revelation or psychological insight. Such moments are not conventionally dramatic, nor are they explained to the reader. Here the epiphany occurs in the boy’s consciousness when he overhears the petty and incomplete conversation at the bazaar. He believes himself to have been self-deluded: He has placed too much faith in Mangan’s sister and the values she represents. His early religious training and ignorance of human relations have caused him to adore a mere petticoat.


(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

"Araby" is set in North Richmond Street, Dublin, at the turn of the twentieth century. Joyce describes it as "a quiet street," with an "uninhabited house of two stories at the blind end," and lined on either side with brown houses facing each other. In addition to the streetscape, where the young narrator catches glimpses of Mangan's sister as she steps out of her house onto the doorstep, scenes in the story take place in the interior of the house the narrator shares with his aunt and uncle. The "musty" house had been previously occupied by a priest, who had died in the back drawing room, a room that provides a refuge for the narrator on a dark, rainy evening when he wants to be alone to think about his love for the girl. Upstairs are "high cold empty gloomy rooms." The final scene in the story is set in the Araby bazaar, a church-sponsored festival held in a "big hall girdled at half its height by a gallery." As the festival is closing, the lights are shut off and the narrator at last is left "gazing up into the darkness."

Literary Style

(Short Stories for Students)

Through the use of a first person narrative, Joyce communicates the confused thoughts and dreams of his young male protagonist. Joyce uses this familiarity with the narrator's feelings to evoke in readers a response similar to the boy's "epiphany"—a sudden moment of insight and understanding—at the turning point of the story.

Point of View

The first-person point of view in "Araby" means that readers see everything through the eyes of the narrator and know what he feels and thinks. If the narrator is confused about his feelings, then it is up to the readers to figure out how the narrator really feels and why he feels that way, using only the clues given by the author. For example, when the narrator first describes Mangan's sister, he says that "her figure [is] defined by the light from the half-opened door.'' In other words, she is lit from behind, giving her an unearthly...

(The entire section is 1,490 words.)