A short story is a short work of fiction, a prose writing about imagined events and characters. Generally speaking a short story combines five key elements - character, setting, plot, conflict, and theme. Most short stories are focused on a single character, a central protagonist – human or animal – who takes part in the action of the short story. The setting of a short story is the time and place in which it happens. Authors often use descriptions of landscape, scenery, buildings, seasons or weather to provide a strong sense of setting. A plot is a series of events and character actions that relate to the central conflict. The conflict is a struggle between two people or things in a short story. The main character is usually on one side of the central conflict. On the other side, the main character may struggle against another important character, against the forces of nature, against society, or even against something inside himself or herself (feelings, emotions, illness). Finally, the theme is the central idea or belief in a short story.
The unnamed protagonist in "Araby" is a boy who is just starting to come into his sexual identity. In this short story Joyce tells of a young man coming of age, the pain that often comes when one encounters love in reality instead of its elevated form, and innocence. In an evening the narrator has moved from an innocent boy playing in the last light of childhood, to an anguished young man who has come to realise that maturity is not the realisation of childhood's promise, but its loss.
Other characters in the story serve mostly as catalysts. The narrator’s aunt and uncle act as his surrogate parents, and representatives of the adult world, though they provide little for the narrator to look forward to as he grows into a man. Certainly the female shopkeeper and her two male companions, by bringing the narrator to his unwelcome realization, play an important, if small, part in the drama of the story. But by far the most important minor character in the story is that of Mangan’s sister, as she gives rise to all of the major action in the story. Although she inspires the story’s action, the reader learns almost nothing about her. We can conclude that it is not so much Mangan’s sister as an actual person that captivates the narrator, but his idea of her, and by extension of Love.
The setting in "Araby" reinforces the theme and the characters by using imagery of light and darkness. Dublin contributes to the dehumanizing experience of modem life. The boy in the story "Araby" is intensely subject to the city's dark, hopeless conformity, and his tragic yearning toward the exotic in the face of drab, ugly reality forms the center of the story. The second portion of the story takes place at the Araby bazaar. The exotic symbol of the bazaar retreats before his eyes, leaving him alone and frustrated in the darkness of the ordinary world represented by his home, the street on which he lives, and his likely future. By liking two different settings and using symbols such as darkness, convents, churches, and Eastern bazaars, Joyce establishes the limits that will be placed on this young man's aspirations.
Joyce uses external obstacles regarding the protagonist getting permission to go to Araby, raising the stakes first with his uncle’s casual dismissal, then with the time passing, and then with the slowness of the train to diminish the chances of the protagonist reaching the bazaar and drawing out suspense for the reader. The external circumstances change the protagonist internally, as after all his obstacles have nearly been overcome, the emptiness of the setting makes him timid, even disillusioned. “Remembering with difficulty why I had come” he makes an effort to achieve his last obstacle, buying something to win his love. The climax occurs quickly in which his disillusionment increases and causes him to decline, giving up all he had been striving for in one instant. The brief falling action further informs us of his futile thoughts and feelings as he leaves the bazaar, the description of his internal desolation heightened with the external bleakness of the lights going off, all building to the ending’s epiphany, “Gazing up into the darkness I saw myself as a creature driven and derided by vanity: and my eyes burned with anguish and anger.”
"Araby" touches on a great number of themes: coming of age, the loss of innocence, the life of the mind versus poverty (both physical and intellectual), the consequences of idealization, the Catholic Church's influence to make Dublin a place of asceticism where desire and sensuality are seen as immoral, the pain that often comes when one encounters love in reality instead of its elevated form, paralysis. These themes build on one another entirely through the thoughts of the young boy, who is portrayed by the first-person narrator, who writes from memory. The central theme of Araby concerns innocence and experience. It could be phrased in terms of the narrator's disappointment in love: By showing the narrator's romantic view of Mangan in contrast to the bleakness of the neighborhood and the tawdry nature of the carnival, where he hopes to find an item to please her and win her love, James Joyce suggests that romance belongs to the world of the young not the old, and that it is doomed to fail in a world flawed by materialism and a lack of beauty.