Synopsis of Araby

The young narrator is in love with the elder sister of his friend Mangan.  A bazaar, called Araby, is to be held the following Saturday but the girl is unable to go because of a religious retreat at her convent school, so the narrator promises to attend and bring her back a gift. He hope that this will make her take more notice of him.  That evening his uncle promises to give him the money to go to the bazaar, but when Saturday comes he arrives home late and drunk and fails to provide the money until late in the evening.  By the time the narrator arrives at the bazaar, he is bitterly disappointed that most of the stalls are closed and that there is nothing he can buy as a gift for Mangan’s sister.

Commentary on Araby

Araby A poetic name for Arabia and no doubt chosen because bazaars were a known feature of life in the Middle East and thus the name would lend an air of mystery and exoticism to a rather tame and middle-class event.  

blind A dead end road or cul de sac.

Christian Brothers’ School The school was in Waterford and was founded in 1802 by a teaching order of priests led by Father Ignatius Rice.  The regime was notoriously harsh but the school offered an education for sons of the poor.  Joyce briefly attended the school at a difficult time in his family’s fortunes.

brown Many of Dublin’s houses were built with brown Dolphin’s Barn bricks, manufactured in the city.

The Abbot A novel published in 1820 by Sir Walter Scott which presents a sympathetic portrait of the Catholic Mary Queen of Scots (1542-87), the subject of many dramas, poems and novels from the eighteenth century to the present day.

The Devout Communicant There are a number of books with this title but the reference here is probably to a devotional work by Pacificus Baker (1695-1774) an English Franciscan.

The Memoirs of Vidocq François-Eugène Vidocq (1775-1857) was a criminal who later became a senior policeman in Paris.   His memoirs (probably written by a ghost-writer) were published in 1828 and translated into English in the same year.  They were enjoyed for their sensational stories and their blend of morality and criminality.

the areas The space in front of a house giving access to the basement rooms, usually containing the kitchen and other rooms where servants worked. 

Mangan’s sister Joyce gives the narrator’s friend the same surname as James Clarence Mangan (1803-49), an Irish poet who died from malnutrition.  Many of his poems are about the hopelessness of love.  Joyce published a paper on his work when he was an undergraduate.

O’Donovan Rossa James O’Donovan (1831-1915) was a revolutionary Irish nationalist who was elected to Parliament in 1869 while serving a prison sentence for treason.  Born in Ross Carberry in County Cork, he had the nickname of Dynamite Rossa.

a ballad about the troubles There were many songs lamenting the wrongs done to Ireland and celebrating the heroic deeds of nationalists. 

Image of a Chalicechalice The chalice was used for the wine in the celebration of Mass but in this context, where the narrator imagines himself as a kind of hero setting out to win something for the girl he loves, there is also an allusion to the many myths about the quest for the Holy Grail.

a retreat A break from everyday life for prayer and contemplation, often taken in a convent or monastery.

Freemason Freemasonry is a largely secret organisation whose members (all men at the time the story was written) vow to support one another.  Freemasons gather in local groups called lodges and membership was widespread among businessman and professionals in Dublin during the nineteenth century.  They were regarded with great suspicion by the Roman Catholic Church, who saw them as either atheists or narrow-minded Protestants who worked against the power of the Church.

used stamps for some pious purpose  The collection of used postage stamps for sale to collectors on behalf of a church or charity continues to this day.

The Arab’s Farewell to his Steed A poem by the Irish writer Caroline Norton (1808-77) which was frequently recited on public and private occasions. 

florin A silver coin worth two shillings which would seem a large sum to the narrator.  

Café Chantant (French) A café in which singing frequently features, common in France.  The name suggests that its proprietors are trying to evoke the spirit of Paris.

counting silver on a salver  This may be a submerged reference to the story of Jesus expelling the moneychangers from the Temple, as described in Matthew 21:12-13 (see Bible stories > Jesus, riding into Jerusalem and the cleansing of the Temple).

Investigating Araby...

  • What does the bazaar symbolise? (see the  imagery and structure sections for ideas)
  • How is the theme of love treated in the story?
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