James Joyce's Araby: Summary & Analysis

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  • 0:01 Introduction to Araby
  • 0:27 Setting
  • 0:38 Principal Characters
  • 1:25 Summary of the Text
  • 3:59 Analysis
  • 6:01 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Ben Nickol
This lesson examines 'Araby' by James Joyce, the story of a young boy who fails to realize his obsession with the girl living across the street. The lesson studies the story's setting, artistic techniques, plot and themes.

Introduction to Araby

'Araby' is a short story by modernist writer James Joyce, who lived from 1882 to 1941. As with many stories by Joyce and other modernist writers, 'Araby' employs a close first-person narrator describing the world as it appeals to his senses and leaves the reader with only a suggested, rather than outright, moral resolution.

Setting

The first part of the story takes place in and around the narrator's home in a neighborhood in Dublin, Ireland. At the end of the story, the action moves to a bazaar (a kind of traveling market) across town.

Principal Characters

The narrator of the story is a young boy of unspecified age, although young enough to attend the neighborhood school. Living across the street from the narrator is Mangan's sister (we're not given her actual name), the sibling of the narrator's friend. She also is a child, although it is suggested she's older than the narrator (for example, she's old enough to attend a convent). The narrator falls in love with Mangan's sister, a love that drives the plot of the story.

Finally, while the narrator doesn't elaborate on his home life, we know that he lives with his uncle and aunt. We see both the uncle and aunt in the story (as well as a few other adults), but the uncle factors most significantly into the plot because he keeps the narrator from attending the bazaar on time.

Summary of the Text

The story opens with the narrator's description of his home and neighborhood, in which we first see Joyce's use of the close first-person narrator to convey the full sensory range of sensory detail - sights, smells, colors, textures - that comprise the setting. However, the action doesn't begin in earnest until Mangan's sister appears on the doorstep of her house, and the narrator begins to describe his obsession with her. It is a vivid, powerful obsession, befitting a boy on the verge of puberty, and the narrator describes how the girl's 'name was like a summons to all his foolish blood' and how his 'body was like a harp and her words and gestures...like fingers running upon the wires.'

With the obsession established, the story then moves to how the narrator might act on that obsession; how he might obtain this young girl. One night, he meets her on the doorstep of her home. She asks whether he's attending the following Saturday's bazaar, which is named Araby, and expresses her own wish to go, but says, regretfully, she must attend an event for her convent. There is no indication that the narrator, before this moment, intended to go to the bazaar, or was even aware of it, but at that moment he decides he will go and tells Mangan's sister that he will bring her back a gift from it.

The rest of the story, then, is the narrator's attempt to obtain that gift for Mangan's sister. In fact, his obsession with the girl herself transfers to an obsession with the gift, and with the bazaar where he'll find the gift, so that for the days leading up the bazaar, he can think of nothing but getting there. He begins to ignore his schoolwork and is unable to sit still.

Unfortunately, when the day of the bazaar arrives, the narrator's uncle (who was supposed to give him money for the gift) forgets his obligation and arrives home late from work. As a result, the narrator sets out too late. By the time he arrives at the bazaar, 'nearly all the stalls are closed and the greater part of the hall is in darkness.' He describes the empty place as having 'a silence like that which pervades a church after a service.'

While he does find an open stall, any wares that he would buy seem uninviting, or else intimidating (all we know is that he chooses not to buy them). The story ends with the lights in the hall turning off and with the narrator 'gazing up into the darkness and seeing himself as a creature driven and derided by vanity...his eyes burning with anguish and anger.'

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