Araby by James Joyce: Plot, Summary and Analysis

The Araby and all of the stories in Dubliners take place in the early 20th century a period notable in Ireland for the rise of Irish nationalism.  The story of Araby is grounded by Joyce’s very much his own history.

Background of Araby by James Joyce

When young his family lived in a suburb of Dublin Ireland and in 1894 they lived in a house or North Richmond Street just like the narrator does. During that here Joyce attended the Araby Bazar which was a featured attraction in Dublin during the 19th century the Protestants and the Freemasons reflect Irish sentiments which are again mentioned in the story.

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Key Facts Araby by James Joyce

  • Date – 1904-1906
  • Place of writing-Trieste, Italy, or what is now Pula, Croatia
  • Published-1914
  • Literary period- Modernist period
  • Genre-Short fiction
  • Setting- Dublin, Ireland
  • Climax – the narrator tries to impress his Crush but fails. He realizes that his vanity and the disappointment inherent in growing up
  • Antagonist- Dublin streets full of gloominess

The Plot of Araby by James Joyce

  • Exposition

During winter by the end of North Richmond Street in Dublin, Ireland, a boy is smitten by a girl next door.

  • Rising action

The boy is at his house imagining a conversation with Mangan’s sister, the girl he has a crush on. He acts as if she is there with him. He comes to know that the girl is disappointed as she could not visit the enchanting Bazaar of Araby. This inclines him to go to Araby and buy a gift for her. After this, the protagonist can think of nothing else but the Bazaar. He seeks permission to visit the Bazaar from his aunt. He gets delayed because he is waiting for his uncle to give him some money but his uncle is too late to return home.

  • Climax

The boy reaches the Bazaar to find that most of the shops were closed for the day. The saleswoman at one of the few open stalls is unkind. This bitter experience coupled with his disappointment during the day leaves him utterly disillusioned by the falsity of what was supposed to have been an exotic Bazaar and he does not buy anything at all.

  • Resolution

The resolution dawns upon him when the lights of the building are all out and he stands in the darkness. Here he reaches his epiphany. The protagonist shifts from his idealistic and immature dreams to the reality of adulthood.

The Theme of Araby by James Joyce

The central theme throughout the story is a loss of innocence, both in his belief in religion and romance. He realizes that the journey to Araby and his infatuation were all for nothing. His religious training led him to place all his faith and devotion in Mangan’s sister.

Another theme is idealism. He is overly idealistic about his adoration of Mangan’s sister and this further influences him to idealize Araby. This idealization makes his fall more painful and hints at the manipulated way he has been taught to view religion and subsequently, the world.

Analysis

The narrator is living in a sheltered environment with heavy religious influences. The symbol of blindness foreshadows his ignorance that comes with infatuation. The color brown emphasizes the dullness of Dublin. The former tenant of the narrator’s house was a priest. Joyce gives the details about the priest to provide a commentary on the Catholic Church. Joyce shows the priest as a common man by citing his books, two of which are non-religious.

The boys usually meet on the street to play before dinner. But the narrator grows tired of it. There is a play of light and dark symbolizing the innocence and happiness of a boyish life. It is contrasted later with the narrator’s epiphany that takes place in complete darkness. The

narrator develops a crush on Mangan’s sister and begins to notice her physical characteristics like the way her dress moves or the soft rope of her hair. Nevertheless, he is still a child and never had courage enough to talk to her. She is his mental escape from the monotony of life and the gritty Dublin market. She is revered as the chalice. The narrator presses his hands together in a prayer that seems almost like a hearsay.

Then the Araby Bazaar is introduced when Mangan’s sister finally speaks to the narrator. She is disappointed that she would not be able to go there because of a retreat for her Convent. The narrator fantasizes about the exotic Araby market. He hopes to visit there and become superior to his peers who are occupied with mundane activities. This signifies that he is coming of age.

The narrator is aware that he has unrealistic expectations for the Bazaar, for he had a premonition that something will go wrong. The narrator is impatient as his uncle is late and he is depending heavily on him for the money to visit Araby that evening. Some adult issues like debt and alcoholism are dealt with when the author says that the uncle stumbles in the hallway and is late to return.

Further, the poverty of Dublin is highlighted by the rundown houses and the third class compartment of the train. He compares the silence of the Araby Bazar to that of the church after service. However, inside the Bazaar his admiration for it gives place to epiphany where he realizes that his desires and the market are not special or exotic at all. He was driven by vanity and the desire for approval.

Summary

The narrator is an unnamed boy. He describes the North Dublin street where he lives. He thinks about the priest who died in the house before his family moved in. He recalls how they used to play hide and seek, hoping to avoid people in the neighborhood, particularly the boy’s uncle or the sister of his friend Mangan. The sister often comes to call the brother, a moment that the narrator savors.

Every day of the narrator begins with such glimpses of Mangan’s sister. He walked quietly behind her until finally passing her. They seldom have a conversation, but she is always in his thoughts. He thinks about her when he accompanies his aunt to the busy market or when he sits alone. The narrator’s infatuation is so intense that he fears he will never summon the courage to speak to the girl and express his feelings.

One morning, Mangan’s sister asks the narrator if he plans to go to Araby, a Dublin bazaar. She says that she cannot go because of a retreat at school. To win her heart, the narrator offers to bring her something from the bazaar. He spends restless hours in anticipation of reaching the bazaar. He cannot focus in school. He finds the lessons tedious as it diverts his attention from his love interest.

On the morning of the bazaar, the narrator reminds his uncle that he has to provide train fare to Araby that he will be going the same day. After a long wait, at 9 p.m. the uncle finally returns. He has forgotten about the narrator’s plans. Reciting the epigram “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy,” the uncle gives the narrator the money and asks him if he knows the poem “The Arab’s Farewell to his Steed.”

He arrives at the bazaar just before 10 p.m., when it is starting to close down. He approaches one stall that is still open but buys nothing as he feels unwanted and neglected. He does not buy anything for Mangan’s sister. He stands disillusioned in the deserted bazaar as the lights go out.

 

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