“Araby” is a short story that belongs in the genre of Modernism. Modernist literature emerged in the early 1900s as writers became disillusioned with the industrialized world around them—plagued, as it was, by inequality and war—and decided to publish books that captured this sense of alienation. Modernist authors communicated this discontentment in both their characters (who tended to be struggling members of the working class) and in the style of their writing (which often included fragmented and disaffected narration).
In “Araby” (and the short story collection Dubliners of which it’s a part), James Joyce seeks to capture the particular disillusionment of working-class residents of Dublin, Ireland, who are struggling financially in part due to Britain’s hostile rule over the country. Though there is a moment in “Araby” that alludes to the Irish nationalist movement pushing for freedom from Britain, Joyce depicts the movement as a group of people singing “nasal” protest songs in the street. This demonstrates the cynicism beneath the story, firmly placing it in the Modernist genre.
The ways in which Joyce depicts the reality of growing up poor in Dublin also makes this a realist, or naturalist, piece of literature. Realism as a genre focuses on capturing the reality of life, including banal and (on the surface) meaningless moments. This literary movement began as a critique of romanticism in literature, which writers felt ignored the realities of life. “Araby” is an excellent example of realism—rather than an inspiring tale of a young man successfully coming of age by experiencing the joys of his first love, it is a story about a boy’s all-consuming crush that ends in socioeconomic shame and loneliness.
Naturalism as a movement, while overlapping with realism, focused even more intensely on oppressed people's despair, with authors seeking to depict how poor and working-class people specifically are trapped by their harsh circumstances. While realism, at times, centered middle-class characters leading relatively comfortable lifestyles, naturalist stories like “Araby” always depicted characters who, time and again, find themselves unable to escape the brutal realities of life.