The mood of “Araby” is bleak, somber, and unsettling. This comes across from the beginning of the story when the narrator describes what the evenings are like in his Dublin neighborhood:
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.
Joyce’s decision to set the story in the dark days of winter communicates a lack of vibrancy and life. His intentional use of the words “somber" to describe the houses and “feeble” to describe the lanterns also adds to the dreary atmosphere, hinting that, like the objects that surround them, the characters are not leading joyful lives.
Though one might expect the mood to shift as the young narrator develops a crush on his friend’s sister—coming of age as he discovers his sexuality—it mostly stays in its bleak register. This is not the type of love or lust that leads to empowered adulthood, but to agitation and angst, as seen in the following line in the middle of the story during the height of the narrator’s infatuation:
I left the house in bad humour and walked slowly towards the school. The air was pitilessly raw and already my heart misgave me.
The narrator’s first experience of romantic longing is not pleasurable or freeing, but one full of “bad humor” and foreboding—sentiments that leave readers unsettled and pessimistic. When the narrator ultimately ends up unable to purchase a gift for his crush at the Araby market, the mood of the story moves even deeper into despair, suggesting that the joys of romance and coming of age are not accessible to working-class Dubliners like the narrator, bound as they are by their circumstances.