The young adolescent narrator lives with his aunt and uncle on a quiet dead-end Dublin street called Richmond Street. A priest had been the former tenant of the house with the garden now gone wild, and left some books which the nameless narrator has read. The narrator is in love with his friend Mangan's sister. Too tongue-tied to talk, he watches her from across the street and leaves early in the morning so he can follow her to school: "when she came out on the doorstep my heart leaped" (20). He suffers all the symptoms of young love, including tears, and one day when alone he murmurs to himself passionately "Oh love, Oh love" (21). The lovely girl talks to him one day, asking whether or not he will go to Araby, the Arabian bazaar. She is disappointed, she tells him, that she will miss it because she has to be on a religious retreat. Enraptured, the narrator responds: "I will bring you something" (21). After this encounter, he can no longer concentrate on anything else but the gift he will buy his love from the bazaar. On the day of the big event, he tells his uncle of his wish to go to the bazaar that night and the uncle promises that he will get home as soon as he can to give him the money to go. However, to the youngster's horror, the uncle forgets and gets home very late and the boy arrives just as the bazaar is closing. What he sees as presents for Mangan's sister are too expensive. Finally, the lights go out and the narrator is left in darkness, despair, his eyes burning "with anguish and anger (24).
This third story with a first-person child narrator also deals with adventure and escape as Joyce often did himself as a child. However, instead of the American Wild West as we see in the second story "An Encounter," this tale takes the Middle East, or Arabia, as its focus. The East has long in literature been associated with sensuality, fantasy and sexuality free from Christianity's rigid rules. Thus it is an appropriate setting indeed for a young boy's
burgeoning erotic desires. However, the boy is not yet a man and must depend upon another man to provide him with the means to adulthood. This dependence leads only to frustration, the primary theme of the story. First the boy feels frustrated that he might not be able to go, then frustrated that the bazaar is almost over, then frustrated that the people are not from Arabia but only from England, Ireland's historical enemy, and even more frustrated that he will not be able to get the imagined gift for the girl.