James Joyce's Araby: Characters & Quotes

Instructor: Margaret Stone

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

James Joyce's 'Araby' is a coming of age story that focuses on a young boy's first love. In it, the young narrator believes that he experiences true love for the first time. Eventually, he realizes that he has mistaken physical attraction for love.

Story Overview

The narrator of James Joyce's short story ''Araby'' is an unnamed schoolboy who lives with his aunt and uncle. After he develops an interest in her, the narrator promises to bring his friend's sister a gift from Araby, a bazaar that he plans to attend. However, hee soon realizes that he knows nothing about the girl he professes to love. In fact, he knows so little about her that he is unable to select a suitable gift. He realizes that he has experienced physical attraction--not love--and is ashamed of his superficial and foolish behavior.

The Narrator

The narrator is unnamed in '~Araby,'' but he lives with his aunt and uncle on North Richmond Street in Dublin. He lives a rather typical life, playing with neighborhood friends and attending school until he notices the sister of one of his friends.

Once he sees his friend Mangan's sister, the narrator thinks about her constantly. ''Her image accompanied me even in places the most hostile to romance,'' he says. He notices that ''her dress swung as she moved her body, and the soft rope of her hair tossed from side to side.'' He is experiencing sexual attraction for the first time, and he believes he is in love with the girl.

In fact, the narrator becomes so obsessed with her that he begins to take on the behavior of a stalker: ''Every morning I lay on the floor in the front parlour watching her door. 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 boy admits.

The Narrator's Aunt and Uncle

The narrator's aunt is a devout Catholic, and she appears to be primarily concerned with domestic tasks and shopping.

The narrator's uncle drinks heavily and is extremely late getting home on the night the boy plans to go to Araby. After waiting an interminable amount of time, the narrator realizes that his uncle is late because he has been out drinking. ''At nine o'clock I heard my uncle's latchkey in the hall door. I heard him talking to himself and heard the hallstand rocking when it had received the weight of his overcoat. I could interpret these signs,'' the narrator says.

When the narrator's uncle playfully pretends to withhold the money for the bazaar from the narrator, his aunt argues on the boy's behalf. ''Can't you give him the money and let him go?'' she pleads. ''You've kept him late enough as it is.''

Mangan and Mangan's Sister

Mangan is one of several neighborhood boys who play with the narrator on North Richmond Street. The narrator develops an obsession with Mangan's sister, who is unnamed in the story.

The young narrator believes he is in love with Mangan's sister, but in reality he barely even knows the girl. To underscore the fact that the narrator has only a passing acquaintance with her, Mangan's sister speaks only once in the story: ''At last she spoke to me. When she addressed the first words to me I was so confused that I did not know what to answer. She asked me was I going to Araby. I forgot whether I answered yes or no,'' the narrator confesses. When she says that she is unable to go, the narrator promises to bring her gift from the bazaar.

The Priest

Before the narrator and his aunt and uncle move into their house, it has been the home of a priest. After the priest's death, the narrator rummages through the man's leftover possessions. The narrator is particularly interested in one of the priest's books, which is a story about deception.

''He had been a very charitable priest; in his will he had left all his money to institutions and the furniture of his house to his sister,'' the narrator says of the priest. The narrator's naïvete becomes apparent in his evaluation of the priest's character since the priest would have died without money if he had been truly charitable.

Though the priest is mentioned only briefly, his character introduces the idea of deception. Since this story focuses on the narrator's self-deception, this minor character contributes to one of the story's themes.

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