At the beginning of “Araby,” the narrator’s tone is one of an open-hearted child reckoning with the harsh conditions around him. This tension between lightness and heaviness comes across as the narrator describes playing with his friends:
The career of our play brought us through the dark muddy lanes behind the houses where we ran the gantlet of the rough tribes from the cottages, to the back doors of the dark dripping gardens where odours arose from the ashpits, to the dark odorous stables.
Here, the narrator is with his friends and also in motion—implying both a connection to his community and a sense of possibility—yet he also notices the “dark muddy lanes,” “dark dripping gardens,” and “dark odourous stables.” Though he seems to be playing, there is a palpable sense of foreboding and stagnancy over the scene.
In the middle of the story, the tone becomes obsessive and desperate as the narrator develops a crush on his friend Mangan’s sister and starts to become isolated from his group of neighbor friends:
From the front window I saw my companions playing below in the street. Their cries reached me weakened and indistinct and, leaning my forehead against the cool glass, I looked over at the dark house where she lived.
Here, again, the narrator notices the darkness around him (this time, his crush’s house), but the darkness is inside him now, too, as he no longer moves about with his friends; instead, he is stuck inside “weakened and indistinct.”
Finally, at the end of the story, the narrator’s desperate tone is gone and replaced with true hopelessness and despair as he reckons with no longer having friends or the escapism of a crush, after he fails to purchase a gift for Mangan's sister at the Araby market. The arc of these three tones adds to the story’s theme of loss of innocence while coming of age, as well as the loss of optimism in the face of the narrator’s harsh living conditions in working-class Dublin.