After the narrator's uncle delays him from being able to make it to the Araby market on time, the narrator finally arrives and uses a simile to describe the quiet atmosphere that he finds there:
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.
At the literal level, this silence establishes that Araby is closing and hints that the narrator will not find what he wants as he moves further into the market. At the figurative level, this simile also suggests that the narrator had been expecting Araby to be a religious experience, similar to that of a church. Ever since his crush (Mangan’s sister) told him about the market, he has been building it up in head, only to find the market quiet, dark, and almost entirely closed. Despite these conditions, the narrator’s immediate reaction is still to see the market as sacred. This highlights how, in his process of coming of age, the narrator has rejected his community’s Catholic religion in favor of the exciting, exotic escape that he believes Mangan’s sister and the Araby market together afford.
As the narrator finds new ways to describe the intensity of his infatuation with his friend Mangan’s sister, he uses a simile to compare his body to an instrument that she plays:
But my body was like a harp and her words and gestures were like fingers running upon the wires.
In comparing his body to a harp and his crush’s every move to fingers playing said harp, the narrator communicates the depth of his longing for her, as well as the effects she has on him physically. This is one way that Joyce is able to stress that the narrator is coming of age into his sexuality for the first time. The narrator doesn’t merely think of her, he feels her on his body the way a harp feels fingers on its strings.
This simile is also significant in its use of the harp as, at the time, the harp was being used as a symbol for the movement for Irish independence from the British Empire’s colonial rule. Reappropriating this imagery to describe romantic longing, the narrator shows his disillusionment with the Irish nationalist movement. The simile speaks to his desire to escape the harshness of his impoverished life not through political resistance, but through escaping into his imagination via his longing for Mangan’s sister (as well as the exotic Araby marketplace).