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Dubliners | Study Guide

James Joyce

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Course Hero Literature Instructor Russell Jaffe provides an in-depth summary and analysis of "Araby" from James Joyce's short story collection Dubliners.

Dubliners | Araby | Summary



The child narrator lives with his aunt and uncle on North Richmond Street, a respectable neighborhood with an empty two-story house at the one end. When school is out, the neighborhood children run free in the street and the lanes behind the houses, playing their games until they are called in for dinner.

One of the neighborhood boys, Mangan, has a sister who usually calls him in for dinner. When she waits for him at the door, the neighborhood boys follow Mangan. The narrator is mesmerized by Mangan's sister and obsesses about her. The narrator watches for Mangan's sister in the mornings as well, lying on his parlor floor and peering under the crack of the window sash so he won't be seen, waiting for her to leave for school so he can follow her. He thinks of her when he runs errands with his aunt in streets crowded with drunken men and singers belting patriotic songs. He wants to tell her about his feelings, but he has no idea what to say or how to say it. One night, he goes to hide in the back room of the house, where the former tenant, a priest, died. It is dark, and he can hear rain falling outside. He feels grateful for this solitude as he "pressed the palms of [his] hands together until they trembled, murmuring: 'Oh love! Oh love!' many times."

Soon after, Mangan's sister speaks to the narrator for the first time, asking him if he is going to Araby, a bazaar with a Middle Eastern theme. She cannot go because she has a religious retreat at school. The narrator promises to go to Araby and bring back a gift for her. He asks his aunt and uncle for permission to go and waits eagerly for Saturday night.

On the night of the bazaar, the narrator waits for his uncle to come home and give him money to go to Araby. His uncle finally arrives at nine o'clock. Even though it is late, the narrator takes a florin and rides a train to the bazaar. When he arrives, most of the stalls are closed and some of the lights are off. He sees men counting money outside the closed French-style café stall. The narrator looks into the remaining stalls, seeing "porcelain vases and flowered tea-sets." He hears a vendor and some other customers speaking with English accents. The vendor asks the narrator if he wants to buy anything, and the boy declines. He drops his change into his pocket and leaves the market as the last lights are switched off. He scolds himself for his folly: "Gazing up into the darkness I saw myself as a creature driven and derided by vanity; and my eyes burned with anguish and anger."


Like the child narrator in "The Sisters," the child narrator of "Araby" lives with his aunt and uncle, implying absent or deceased parents, which are common in the world of Dubliners. However, the reference to the priest who died in the back room of the narrator's house both provides an allusion to the death of Father Flynn in "The Sisters," and serves to clarify that this narrator is a different boy. This narrator spends his time as all children do, playing outside with his friends, but he is also reaching a more mature stage of his life. He is starting to notice girls, one in particular.

Mangan's sister seems to be an object of fascination for all the neighborhood boys, as they accompany Mangan to his house when she calls him in for dinner. The narrator's references to her figure imply she is older than the boys, but she is also close enough to their age to draw their attention. The narrator's crush on Mangan's sister is suffused with the familiar torture of a first crush on someone unattainable, but in a repressive Catholic society from the turn of the 18th to 19th centuries, it also carries some elements of guilt and shame. The narrator hides behind the blinds to watch her, lying on the floor in a humiliating position. He follows her to school, watching from a distance but never speaking. His breakdown in the back room of the house where he chants "Oh, love!" draws numerous parallels to the confessional in church. The room was formerly home to a priest. It is dark and quiet, as a confessional is supposed to be. The falling rain is cleansing outside, as confession is meant to cleanse the soul. The narrator even places his palms together as if in prayer while he chants "Oh, love!" like an incantation.

As happens in many other stories in Dubliners, the narrator's plans to go to the Araby bazaar and bring a gift for Mangan's sister are thwarted by drink, a common problem in working-class Irish communities at the time. The uncle returns home late, and the narrator hears him "talking to himself," as well as seeing his unsteady gate as he tries to hang his coat on the hall stand. The narrator says, "I could interpret these signs." Even though it is late, the narrator heads off to the bazaar, which reveals his hope and persistence in his quest to please Mangan's sister.

Like the rites of the church and like the mysteries of first love, "Araby" contains hints of the lure of the exotic, a glimpse of a grown-up world that is as yet unattainable to characters such as the several narrators in "The Sisters," "An Encounter," and "Araby," and which may ultimately be unattainable to all of the characters in the spiritually paralyzed world of the Dubliners. Yet the half-closed bazaar is not exotic at all when the narrator arrives. The items on offer are ordinary vases and tea sets, and the merchants have English accents. The narrator scolds himself for being drawn into this adventure that is, ultimately, an illusion.
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