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James Joyce’s “Araby”

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James Joyce’s “Araby” is a short story that makes up Dubliners, James Joyce’s collection. It is one of the fifteen stories in the collection. The stories were published in 1914, though they were written between 1904 and 1906. The collection portrays life in Dublin, Ireland in the 20th century. “Araby” is a story about an Irish adolescent experiencing boyhood fantasies (Mandel 1). The story is based on the experiences of James while growing up in Ireland. He lived on North Richmond Street, central part of Dublin city. As in the narrator, James is not an orphan. The characters in “Araby” include the narrator, narrator’s aunt and uncle, Mangan, Mangan’s sister, Mrs. Mercer, stall attendant, porters at train station and school master. The narrator goes on a journey which ends to be fruitless. The themes in the story are the dangers of idealization, coming of age, the life of poverty versus mind, the loss of innocence (Beja 1).

This essay will discuss the importance of the setting on its main character in James Joyce’s “Araby”.

Summary of “Araby”

            The story takes place in North Richmond Street, Ireland’s largest city, located in Dublin. The narrator of the story is a boy who lives near the street with his aunt and uncle. Near the end of the street is an empty two storied house that was once lived by a priest tenant. After the death of the priest, the narrator explored the empty house. In winter, a boy named Mangan, the narrator and their friends would play in the muddy street and lanes behind and along the houses. The children hide when the narrator’s uncle appears into the streets and keeps in the shadow if Mangan’s sister comes from the house to call Mangan to tea. The narrator is strongly attracted to Mangan’s sister and he constantly thinks of her even though he had never had a conversation with her. Finally, she speaks to him and asks him whether he will be going to the bazaar market. She is to attend a convent therefore will not go to the Araby bazaar. He tells her that he shall bring her something if he goes to the bazaar. He gets permission and goes to the Araby bazaar, he does not accomplish his mission and comes back home. He experiences pain that comes from encountering love in reality and not in its elevated form (Mandel 1).

The Importance of the Setting on its Main Character in James Joyce's "Araby"

            Setting is part of atmosphere which consists of prevailing tone of the story and its result effect or meaning (Beja 1). The surrounding helps in setting the mood of the story. The setting plays a vital role in development of a story. It is so vital that it can influence the opinions and behavior of the characters. In stories with descriptions of animals, sounds, wind, light, shadows and shapes, the author uses them to create a mood or atmosphere for the actions (Mandel 1). The story portrays Dublin and the pain experienced from some encounters of love. The details of Araby set the mood of the story. The story is set in dreary, dark Dublin. North Richmond street is a gloomy atmosphere; blind and quiet street. The explanation of the street sets the scene in the beginning of the story. The description of North Richmond Street as blind portrays a dead end. The gloomy atmosphere is a reflection of what lies ahead in the life of the narrator while in Araby bazaar (Mandel 1).

In the “Araby” story, the adjectives “blind,” “uninhabited,” “quiet,” “detached,” “brown,” “descent,” “square,” are a presentation of a world that is simple and practical (James 1). The narrator and his friends discover some aspects of beauty in the street surroundings while playing in the neighborhood. The description of Araby bazaar as hushed, dark, mostly empty and more money focused is a reflection of narrators’ bleak realization that imagination is not reality. James chooses a gloomy setting to well describe the surroundings of a young adolescent’s boy who is experiencing infatuation. The gloomy surroundings portray the boring and dull life of the naïve young boy. James use of darkness makes the life’s boy more vivid and believable (Mandel 1).  

            James presents Dublin as a blind city that is struggling from oppressive forces. The narrator’s use of obscure and dark references portrays the reality of living in Dublin, a gloomy town. The bright light references that describe Mangan’s sister is a reflection of the narrators warm and love feelings for her (Beja 1). The light references create a world of fairytale that is full of illusions and dreams. The narrator imagines that he will bring a gift to Mangan’s sister once he is back from Araby bazaar. The use of light by the author to describe Mangan’s sister creates a joyful and heavenly atmosphere (Mandel 1).


            The experiences of the narrator in “Araby” illustrate how we sometimes expect more to happen in reality, more than reality can provide. More expectations than reality can provide leave us feeling disappointed and disillusioned. Although sometimes expectations disappoint people, it is ok to have bright imaginations because it creates emotions that are healthy.

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