Richmond Street, being blind,
was a quiet street except at the hour when the Christian
Brothers' School set the boys free. An uninhabited house of two storeys
stood at the blind end, detached from its neighbours in a square ground.
The other houses of the street, conscious of decent lives within them,
gazed at one another with brown imperturbable faces.(1)
The former tenant of our house, a priest, had died in the back drawing-room.
Air, musty from having been long enclosed, hung in all the rooms, and
the waste room behind the kitchen was littered with old useless papers.
Among these I found a few paper-covered books, the pages of which were
curled and damp: The Abbot, by Walter
Scott, The Devout
Communicant and The Memoirs of Vidocq.
I liked the last best because its leaves were yellow. The
wild garden behind the house contained a central apple-tree and a few
straggling bushes under one of which I found the late tenant's rusty bicycle-pump.
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.(2)
When the short days of winter came dusk fell before we had well eaten
our dinners. When we met in the street the houses had grown sombre. The
space of sky above us was the colour of ever-changing violet and towards
it the lamps of the street lifted their feeble lanterns. The
cold air stung us and we played till our bodies glowed. Our shouts echoed
in the silent street. The career of our play brought us through the dark
muddy lanes behind the houses where we ran the gantlet of the rough tribes(3)
from the cottages, to the back doors of the dark dripping gardens where
odours arose from the ashpits, to the dark odorous stables where a coachman
smoothed and combed the horse or shook music from the buckled harness.
When we returned to the street light from the kitchen
windows had filled the areas. If my uncle was seen turning the corner
we hid in the shadow until we had seen him safely housed.(4)
Or if Mangan's sister came out on the doorstep to call her brother in
to his tea we watched her from our shadow peer up and down the street.
We waited to see whether she would remain or go in and, if she remained,
we left our shadow and walked up to Mangan's steps resignedly. She
was waiting for us, her figure defined by the light from the half-opened
door. Her brother always teased her before he obeyed and I stood by the
railings looking at her. Her dress swung as she moved her body and the
soft rope of her hair tossed from side to side.(5)
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. I kept her brown figure always in my eye and, when we came near the
point at which our ways diverged, I quickened my pace and passed her.
This happened morning after morning. I had never spoken to her, except
for a few casual words, and yet her name was like a summons to all my
Her image accompanied me even in places the most hostile to romance. On
Saturday evenings when
my aunt went marketing I had to go to carry some of the parcels. We
walked through the flaring
by drunken men and bargaining women, amid the curses of labourers, the
shrill litanies of shop-boys who stood on guard by the barrels of pigs'
cheeks, the nasal chanting of street-singers, who sang a come-all-you
about O'Donovan Rossa, or a ballad about the troubles in our native land.(6)
These noises converged in a single sensation of
life for me: I imagined that I bore my chalice
safely through a throng of foes.(7)
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.
One evening I went into the back drawing-room in which the priest had
died. It was a dark rainy evening and there was no sound in the house.
Through one of the broken panes I heard the rain impinge upon the earth,
the fine incessant needles of water playing in the sodden beds. Some distant
lamp or lighted window gleamed below me. 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.
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 forget whether
I answered yes or no. It would be a splendid bazaar,
she said; she would love to go.
And why can't you? I asked.
While she spoke she turned a silver bracelet round and round her wrist.
She could not go, she said, because there would be a retreat that week
in her convent. Her brother and two other boys were fighting for their
caps and I was alone at the railings. She held one of the spikes, bowing
her head towards me. The light from the lamp opposite our door caught
the white curve of her neck, lit up her hair that rested there and, falling,
lit up the hand upon the railing. It fell over one side of her dress and
caught the white border of a petticoat, just visible as she stood at ease.
It's well for you, she said.
If I go, I said, I will bring you something.
What innumerable follies laid waste my waking and sleeping thoughts after
that evening! I wished to annihilate the tedious intervening days. I chafed
against the work of school. At night in my bedroom and by day in the classroom
her image came between me and the page I strove to read. The syllables
of the word Araby were called to me through the silence in which my soul
luxuriated and cast an Eastern enchantment over me. I asked for leave
to go to the bazaar Saturday night. My aunt was surprised and hoped it
was not some Freemason affair. I answered few questions in class. I
watched my master's face pass from amiability to sternness; he hoped I
was not beginning to idle. I could not call my wandering thoughts together.
I had hardly any patience with the serious work of life which, now that
it stood between me and my desire, seemed to me child's play, ugly monotonous
On Saturday morning I reminded my uncle that I wished to go to the bazaar
in the evening. He was fussing at the hallstand, looking for the hat-brush,
and answered me curtly:
Yes, boy, I know.
As he was in the hall I could not go into the front parlour and lie at
the window. I left the house in bad humour and walked slowly towards the
school. The air was pitilessly raw and already my heart misgave me.
When I came home to dinner my uncle had not yet been
home. Still it was early. I sat staring at the clock for some time and,
when its ticking began to irritate me, I left the room. I mounted the
staircase and gained the upper part of the house. The high cold empty
gloomy rooms liberated me and I went from room to room singing.(9)
From the front window I saw my companions playing below in the street.
Their cries reached me weakened and indistinct and, leaning my forehead
against the cool glass, I looked over at the dark house where she lived.
I may have stood there for an hour, seeing nothing but the brown-clad
figure cast by my imagination, touched discreetly by the lamplight at
the curved neck, at the hand upon the railings and at the border below
When I came downstairs again I found Mrs Mercer sitting at the fire. She
was an old garrulous woman, a pawnbroker's widow, who collected used stamps
for some pious purpose. I had to endure the gossip of the tea-table. The
meal was prolonged beyond an hour and still my uncle did not come. Mrs
Mercer stood up to go: she was sorry she couldn't wait any longer, but
it was after eight o'clock and she did not like to be out late, as the
night air was bad for her. When she had gone I began to walk up and down
the room, clenching my fists. My aunt said:
I'm afraid you may put off your bazaar for this night of Our Lord.
At nine o'clock I heard my uncle's
latchkey in the halldoor. I heard him talking to himself and heard the
hallstand rockingwhen it had received the weight of his overcoat. I could
interpret these signs.(10)
When he was midway through his dinner I asked him to give me the money
to go to the bazaar. He had forgotten.
The people are in bed and after their first sleep now, he said.
I did not smile. My aunt said to him energetically:
Can't you give him the money and let him go? You've kept him late
enough as it is.
My uncle said he was very sorry he had forgotten. He said he believed
in the old saying: All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. He asked
me where I was going and, when I had told him a second time he asked me
did I know The Arab's Farewell
to his Steed. When I left the kitchen he was about to recite the opening
lines of the piece to my aunt.
I held a florin tightly in my hand as I strode down Buckingham Street
towards the station. The sight of the streets(11)
thronged with buyers and glaring with gas recalled to me the purpose of
my journey. I took my seat in a third-class carriage of a deserted train.
After an intolerable delay the train moved out of the station slowly.
It crept onward among ruinous houses and over the twinkling river. At
Westland Row Station a crowd of people pressed to the carriage doors;
but the porters moved them back, saying that it was a special train for
the bazaar. I remained alone(12)
in the bare carriage. In a few minutes the train drew up beside an improvised
wooden platform. I passed out on to the road and saw by the lighted dial
of a clock that it was ten minutes to ten. In front of me was a large
building which displayed the magical name.
I could not find any sixpenny entrance and, fearing that the bazaar would
be closed, I passed in quickly through a turnstile, handing a shilling
to a weary-looking man. I found myself in a big hall girdled at half its
height by a gallery. Nearly all the stalls were closed
and the greater part of the hall was in darkness. I recognised a silence
like that which pervades a church after a service.(13)
I walked into the centre of the bazaar timidly. A few people were gathered
about the stalls which were still open. Before a curtain, over which the
words Café Chantant were written in coloured lamps, two men were
counting money on a salver. I listened to the fall of the coins.
Remembering with difficulty why I had come I went over to one of the stalls
and examined porcelain vases and flowered tea-sets. At
the door of the stall a young lady was talking and laughing with two young
gentlemen. I remarked their English accents and listened vaguely to their
O, I never said such a thing!
O, but you did!
O, but I didn't!
Didn't she say that?
Yes. I heard her.
O, there's a . . . fib!
Observing me the young lady came over and asked me did I wish to buy anything.
The tone of her voice was not encouraging; she seemed to have spoken to
me out of a sense of duty. I looked humbly at the great jars that stood
like eastern guards at either side of the dark entrance to the stall and
No, thank you.
The young lady changed the position of one of the vases and went back
to the two young men. They began to talk of the same subject. Once or
twice the young lady glanced at me over her shoulder.
I lingered before her stall, though I knew my stay was useless, to make
my interest in her wares seem the more real. Then I turned away slowly
and walked down the middle of the bazaar. I allowed the two pennies to
fall against the sixpence in my pocket. I heard a voice call from one
end of the gallery that the light was out. The upper part of the hall
was now completely dark.
Gazing up into the darkness I saw myself as a creature driven and derided
by vanity; and my eyes burned with anguish and anger.
for Writing and Discussion
Why does Joyce describe the houses as "conscious"
and having "faces"? What effect does this have on his opening?
there any irony in the description of the priest who was former tenant
of their house as "charitable"?
are the"rough tribes" described in the third
paragraph? Why are they described as such?
Why do the children wait until the uncle
is "safely" housed?
At the end of the third paragraph, why
does Joyce use the metaphor of "rope" to
describe Mangan's sister's hair? What does this contribute to our understanding
of the story?
at definitions 1 and 2 for "litany."
Why does Joyce use this term in the fourth paragraph
instead of the more generic "cries"?
In the fifth paragraph, the narrator refers
to the "chalice" he had to carry "safely
through a throng of foes." (The reference is to the legend of the
Grail.) What does the chalice hold? What is the object of his quest?
Is child's play ordinarily "ugly
and monotonous," as the narrator describes it here?
What do you make of the seeming disconnect?
Why would the narrator have felt "liberated"
by the rooms upstairs, when downstairs waiting for his uncle he had felt
When his uncle returns, the narrator
says he "heard him talking to himself and heard
the hallstand rocking." Of what are these signs?
description of the street on the way to "Araby" to the narrator's
description of the street while carrying his aunt's parcels. What kind
of journey is he imagining?
How does the narrator experience this "loneliness"?
Is it a positive or a negative emotion?
Consider this reference to the bazaar
hall's looking like "a church" in the context
of other references to religion in the story.
significance does it have?
What significance do the "English
accents" of the seller at the stall and her companions have?
What happens at the end? What causes the narrator to see himself as "a
creature driven and derided by vanity
the readings: Compare the portrayal of boyhood here and in "Paul's
Case." Both might be said to describe "rites of passage"
that alter the boys' perceptions of themselves and their world. Describe
the differences in the kinds of events that move them into life changes,
and describe the differences in outcome.
of James Joyce