Genre of James Joyce's Araby

Instructor: Margaret Stone

Margaret has taught both college and high school English and has a master's degree in English.

James Joyce's short story 'Araby' is a coming of age story. This genre typically focuses on the experiences of a young person approaching adulthood. The protagonist, or main character, in a coming of age story matures as the story progresses.


James Joyce's 'Araby' is a short story that focuses on a young boy's coming of age. The protagonist, or main character, in a coming of age story is usually a young person who matures in some manner as the story progresses. Often, the protagonist will face adult responsibilities or experiences; in other instances, the protagonist matures after obtaining some newly acquired understanding of the self. Coming of age stories are sometimes called initiation stories or bildungsroman. These stories are often told from the point of view of an older person looking back on an event that occurred during adolescence.

The Narrator in Love

In 'Araby', Joyce's fictional coming of age story, the protagonist is an unnamed narrator. The narrator is an adolescent boy who lives with his aunt and uncle in Dublin. The narrator is heavily influenced by his religious upbringing, by the dominant culture of Roman Catholicism in Dublin, and by his education at the Christian Brothers' School. As a result, the boy confuses sexual attraction for love when he experiences his first crush on his friend Mangan's sister.

The narrator's description of the girl casts her in an almost spiritual light: 'She was waiting for us, her figure defined by the light from the half-opened door.' The image of Mangan's sister in this passage is reminiscent of religious iconography; Mangan's sister is aglow and lighted from behind, a common rendering of the Virgin Mary in art and statuary. The narrator does, however, take particular note of her body. 'Her dress swung as she moved her body, and the soft rope of her hair tossed from side to side.'

The narrator believes that he loves the girl, and he becomes obsessed with Mangan's sister. He thinks about her constantly. Even as he carries his aunt's packages in the Dublin marketplace, he thinks of the girl. 'I imagined that I bore my chalice safely through a throng of foes,' he says. He watches her in secret from his house across the street from hers. 'The blind was pulled down to within an inch of the sash so that I could not be seen. When she came out on the doorstep my heart leaped. I ran to the hall, seized my books and followed her,' the narrator confesses.

The narrator has plans to go to Araby, a local bazaar, and in one of his few encounters with Mangan's sister, he offers to bring her a gift. He is late arriving at the bazaar, however, and most of the booths are closing. The narrator approaches one open booth and watches as the female shop owner has a superficial flirtation with some young men.


As the narrator watches the woman's interaction with the young men at Araby, he has an epiphany, a common element in coming of age stories. An epiphany is a literary element in which characters experience a sudden realization about themselves. The narrator sees how deluded he has been about his relationship with this girl; his interest in her is no more substantial than the shopkeeper's interest in the young men. He is merely experiencing sexual attraction for Mangan's sister, and he is not in love after all.

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