Left: Joyce in the twenties. By Man Ray. From In Bloom Larger picture

Young Joyce in 1904

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Introduction to Literature

James Joyce (1882-1941)


Study Questions

Before Reading

-- Title: Like "A & P," the title of this story is a proper noun: it refers to a real festival which came to Dublin in 1894, when Joyce was twelve years old.
-- Style: Unlike "A & P," "Araby" has a long and descriptive introduction before this boy takes action. Be patient in your reading; you are about to enter the emotional world of a sensitive young boy.


After the 1st Reading: (Please remember the general questions suggested for making your annotations.)
1. The setting & the language

The story reads slowly because
1) not much happens in the first six paragraphs(the first action being Mangan's sister's talking to the boy: "At last she spoke to me"), and the real action does not take place until paragraph [25]: "I held a florin tightly in my hand..."
2) the boy narrator feels a lot more than what he expresses outwards in his speech to others or action.

Find some descriptive passages, try to find out how images and the other figurative speech are used, and what their connotations are. It would be the best if you can find the passages by yourselves, if not, the following are some examples:

Read the first two paragraphs carefully and see what kind of environment the boy is in. (What can the following details mean? The house which is"blind," or in a dead end of the street, the other houses "with brown imperturbable faces"; the musty room, the dead priest with his three books; the rusty bicycle pump; the apple tree and the garbage odors. These images seem to be unrelated to the plot, but they define the boy's environment as well as the story's atmosphere.)

2. The characters
  • children vs. authorities:

    -- In the third paragraph, the boy describes the wild games they play after school and out on the street. Do you have any similar experience of playing in a group of kids, maybe with some "rough tribes" as your "enemies"? (A city child nowadays does not have the freedom to run around after school freely and beyond bounds, because it is considered unsafe (or unworthwhile) to do so. How about your childhood?)
    -- Who are the authority figures in the story? The dead priest? The uncle and aunt? Or Mangan's sister? Do they serve any roles in offering guidance to the boy?

  • the boy's infatuation with Mangan's sister:

    -- In paragraphs 3-6, we get to see that the boy secretly loves an older girl who is Mangan's sister.  How does he describe his feelings for her? How is the attention he pays to the girl different from that of Sammy in "A & P"?

    -- Why does the image and name of Mangan's sister appear in the boy's mind and his fervent prayer in the noisiest moments? Why does the boy feel as if he went on a crusade (quest) for the girl? Have you ever had such a passionate sentiment for any event or person?

  • "These noises converged in a single sensation of life for me: I imagined that I bore my chalice safely through a throng of foes. Her name sprang to my lips at moments in strange prayers and praises which I myself did not understand. My eyes were often full of tears (I could not tell why) and at times a flood from my heart seemed to pour itself out into my bosom. I thought little of the future. I did not know whether I would ever speak to her or not or, if I spoke to her, how I could tell her of my confused adoration. But my body was like a harp and her words and gestures were like fingers running upon the wires." (par 6)

    [In the priest's room]"I was thankful that I could see so little. All my senses seemed to desire to veil themselves and, feeling that I was about to slip from them, I pressed the palms of my hands together until they trembled, murmuring: "O love! O love!" many times." (par 7)

  • Mangan's sister:
    -- Most of Mangan's sister's words are presented
    in the boy's narration (but not in direct quotations). How much do we really know about her? What kind of "character" do you think Mangan's sister is? A round character? A flat character? A substitute for something else? A character serving as a symbol? Pay close attention to how Mangan's sister is presented in the 3d and the 10th paragraphs. What major color and images are associated with her? Which parts of her body are described?

    -- Why do you think she suggests that the boy go to Araby? Does she really care if he makes it or not? h e does it or not?

3. The plot & external elements
  • The boy's changes: As explained above, Mangan's sister initate the boy's desire for action (going to Araby) in paragraph 7, but the action itself takes place only in paragraph 25. In between, the boy is emotionally concentrated on the quest while he finds daily routine to be "child's play," and his childhood companions distant from him.

a. -- From the third paragraph, we see the narrator, a child, plays with his friends, but this is the last time he talks about this group of kids as "we." How would you characterize his subsequent changes? Does he grow older and wiser?
b. -- What stops him from going till very late on Saturday evening?
-- What kind of conflict/contrast does the boy experience in the story between himself and his environment, or between him and the adults (aunt, uncle and Mrs Mercer) ?

c. -- When he finally get to Araby, why does the boy remember "with difficult" he goes there? Why does he not buy anything at the fair?
d. -- What does the ending mean?

"Gazing up into the darkness I saw myself as a creature driven and derided by vanity; and my eyes burned with anguish and anger."


Further Questions or After the 2nd Reading:

4. Language: Religious images vs. images of money

  • What kind of sentiment does the boy have in his love for the girl?  Look at paragraphs 4-6 (e.g. the similes/metaphors used: "I bore my chalice"; "my body was like a harp" and his fervent prayer) and paragraph 13.  
 4. The trip to Araby (the bazaar)
  • How is the bazaar presented at the end of the story (e.g. the dialogue between the woman and men, the image of darkness)?  What does this description, again, tell us about the boy's world?
  • Examine the role money plays in the trip to the bazaar (paragraph 25 and 32).
5. Theme
  • Why do you think the boy loves the girl so much, or, to put it in another way, in such a devout way? 
  • What do you make of the ending?  How do you explain the word "vanity"? Does the boy know where his vanity come from?
  • The story is an initiation story, meaning that the boy experienced growth, or a rite of passage, from one stage of his life (e.g. childhood) to another (young adulthood).   What do you think the boy has learned?  How is his growth similar to, or different from, that of Sammy's?
  • To be more specific, is the ending of this story similar to that of "A & P"? (When Sammy looks at Lengel, "His face was dark gray and his back stiff, as if he'd just had an injection of iron, and my stomach kind of fell as I felt how hard the world was going to be to me hereafter."
6. Point of View
  • Describe the narrator or point of view in this story.  Is this narrator, like Sammy in "A & P," a young teenage boy or is he an older man remembering an important incident when he was younger?


  1. What do you think about the boy's love for Mangan's sister? Have you experienced puppy love or momentary infatuation before?  How is your experience different from or similar to the boy's? 
  2. How would the story be told differently if the narrative perspective were that of Mangan's sister?
  3. Joyce mentioned in several letters that he chose Dublin as the setting for Dubliners because for him the city seemed to be the center of paralysis. Without getting into the historical background of Dublin in and around World War I, we can discuss the where the sense of paralysis comes from in the story, and also how/why we feel it or not feel it in our hometown. If we do, with what sensory image and/or events do we concretize it?

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