So you're going to teach "Araby." Whether it’s your first or hundredth time, this classic text has been a mainstay of English classrooms for generations. While it has its challenges—cryptic references, innuendo, narrative flow—teaching this text to your class will be rewarding for you and your students. It will give them unique insight into the world of Dublin that James Joyce knew, rendered with telling details and psychological subtlety that show how, as Joyce says, “In the particular is contained the universal.” This guide highlights the text's most salient aspects to keep in mind before you begin teaching.
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Facts at a Glance
- Publication Date: 1914
- Flesch-Kincaid Reading Level: 6
- Approximate Word Count: 2,350
- Author: James Joyce
- Country of Origin: Ireland
- Genre: Short Story
- Literary Period: Early Modernism
- Conflict: Person vs. Society
- Narration: First-Person
- Literary Devices: Realism, Symbolism, Epiphany
- Setting: Dublin, Ireland, 1894
- Mood: Reflective, Poignant
Texts That Go Well With “Araby”
“A&P,” by John Updike. In “A&P,” Updike has updated Joyce’s bazaar to a grocery store and the young protagonist has gained a few years; still, the stories share a swirl of human desire and cold mercantilism. The more tangible nature of “A&P”’s epiphany can give older students a relatable point from which to examine themes of self-realization in literature.
A Doll’s House, by Henrik Ibsen. Ibsen’s work so impressed young Joyce that he learned Norwegian just so he could send a fan letter to the great playwright. Ibsen and Joyce are both considered realists, but it’s interesting to see how significantly their versions of realism differ, and to figure out where Ibsen’s influence shows up in Joyce’s work.
“Good Country People,” by Flannery O’Connor. Joyce and O’Connor were misfits in contrasting ways—he was an atheist in a staunchly Catholic society, she a Catholic in world where religious practice (predominantly Protestant) often had the gravity of a carnival sideshow. O’Connor’s story looks at the topics of romance and disillusionment from a very different perspective than “Araby.”
“The Garden Party,” by Katherine Mansfield. Like “Araby,” Mansfield’s 1922 story is a modernist quest narrative, appropriating a familiar mythical structure to describe her protagonist’s coming of age. Other modernist techniques shared with Joyce include rich imagery and fluid movement through space and time. The centering of a female protagonist and a less gain-oriented quest can offer students another perspective on the stories’ shared themes.
Ivanhoe, by Sir Walter Scott. While it is The Abbot that Joyce explicitly references as a source for his protagonist’s chivalric dreams, Ivanhoe is more popular with modern readers and draws from a more familiar semi-historic narrative, that of King Richard’s return to a benighted England following the Crusades. The novel’s explicit delineation of good and evil and its celebration of romantic chivalry shows exactly what Joyce was reacting to by creating the ambiguous moral and emotional setting of “Araby.”
Other stories from Dubliners. The collection was intended to create a composite portrait of Dublin, and there is a lot of resonance among the stories. Reading “Eveline,” which follows directly after “Araby,” will give students the perspective of a female protagonist, slightly older than the narrator of “Araby,” as she has her own epiphany. “Counterparts” shows a part of Dublin that’s probably similar to where the “Araby” narrator’s uncle is while the boy is waiting for him to return home. It concludes with another, more brutal end of childhood innocence.