“Araby” is a story by James Joyce in which a young boy recounts his infatuation with a girl.
- The unnamed narrator, who lives with his aunt and uncle, becomes entranced by his neighbor Mangan’s sister.
- After Mangan’s sister asks the narrator if he plans on attending a bazaar called Araby, he promises to get her something from the fair as a gift.
- The narrator is delayed in leaving to go to Araby and arrives just as it is closing. He is left disenchanted by the distance between what he finds there and what he had imagined.
Last Updated on May 5, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 927
“Araby” is narrated by a young, unnamed boy who lives with his aunt and uncle. He begins the story by talking about his home, located on a dead-end street with an abandoned, two-story house at the end. The rest of the houses on his street, inhabited by “decent” families, face one another. He says that a priest had lived and died in his house before his family moved in, and some of the priest’s belongings are still there—including a number of books and a rusty bicycle pump, which the narrator finds while wandering through the scraggly garden that comprises his backyard.
When playing during the winter months, night falls early, before dinner is ready. The narrator and the other neighborhood children run from yard to yard, through others’ gardens and even a stable. When evening fully sets in, the children hide in the shadows when an adult comes outside, because they do not want to be called in. The narrator’s friend, Mangan, has a sister, and she occasionally calls Mangan in for tea. As they do with the other adults, the children hide when she comes out, but she persists despite their hiding, and they reluctantly go inside for the night. While Mangan teases his sister and pretends that he will not come inside, the narrator stares at her figure in the lamplight, and he suggests that he is attracted to her, describing how her “dress swung as she moved her body and the soft rope of her hair tossed from side to side.”
The narrator secretly watches Mangan’s sister from his window, and he regularly waits for her to leave in the morning so that he can follow her to school, although he is too shy to speak to her. He thinks of her regularly throughout the day. For instance, even during the chaos of going to the market with his aunt, he can only keep his mind on Mangan’s sister, and his emotional thoughts sometimes bring him to tears. “My body was like a harp,” he says, “and her words and gestures were like fingers running upon the wires.” One evening, the narrator goes into the room of his house in which the late priest’s books are kept. He presses his palms together as though praying, but his thoughts remain on Mangan’s sister, and he repeatedly utters the phrase “O love!”
The first time Mangan’s sister speaks to the narrator, she asks if he plans on going to Araby, a bazaar that will soon be coming to town. While she wishes she could go, she tells the narrator that she has a weeklong retreat with her convent and will be unable to. He promises her that if he goes, he will bring something back for her. After his promise, he can focus on nothing but Araby; his chores seem meaningless, and his interest in schoolwork begins to falter. All of the “serious work of life” becomes “ugly, monotonous child’s play.”
On the Saturday morning of the bazaar, the narrator reminds his uncle that he wants to go. His uncle, fussing with a hat brush, acknowledges him and goes back to his business. Not knowing what to do with himself, the narrator walks slowly to school. When he arrives back home for dinner, his uncle has still not returned. He goes upstairs to wait, looking out the window at his friends playing and occasionally looking at Mangan’s house, imagining that he sees Mangan’s sister standing in the lamplight.
When the narrator comes back downstairs, he finds that Mrs. Mercer, a family friend, is joining them, but his uncle has still not come home. Frustrated, he listens as Mrs. Mercer and his aunt gossip. When Mrs. Mercer leaves, the narrator begins pacing until his uncle arrives home at nine o’clock; his uncle had forgotten about the bazaar. The narrator asks his uncle for money, and although his uncle tells him that everyone is probably already asleep, his aunt tells her husband to give the narrator the money. Agreeing that “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy,” the narrator’s uncle provides him with a florin, asks if he knows the poem “The Arab’s Farewell to His Steed,” and sends him on his way.
The narrator takes a train to Araby and arrives just before ten o’clock. Paying a shilling to get into the main hall of the marketplace, the narrator notices that it is dark, many of the booths have already closed, and the entire hall is filled with a “silence like that which pervades a church after a service.” He briefly becomes entranced by the sound of two men counting money, but he soon remembers his mission to buy a keepsake for Mangan’s sister and wanders to an open booth. Inside, a woman and two men with English accents are talking, and when the woman notices the narrator, she unenthusiastically asks if he wants to make a purchase. After looking at some vases, he tells her that he will not, and she goes back to talking with the men.
The narrator stays at the stall for a moment to feign interest in buying something. As he is leaving the booth, there is a call for the bazaar to close, the lights in the upper part of the hall go out, and the narrator says,
Gazing up into the darkness I saw myself as a creature driven and derided by vanity; and my eyes burned with anguish and anger.
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