In Dublin, Ireland, around the beginning of the 20th century, the narrator lives on a quiet, blind street with several brown houses and the Christian Brother’s school, which the narrator attends. The narrator, who is never named, is a young boy living with his aunt and uncle, likes looking through the belongings left behind by the former tenant of his house, a priest who died in the back drawing-room.
The narrator describes winter nights playing in the dark street with his friends until their bodies “glowed.” Eventually Mangan’s sister would come out to get Mangan, the narrator’s friend, signaling the end of their playtime. It is during these brief interactions that the narrator begins to notice her physical appearance and develop a crush.
The narrator becomes infatuated with Mangan’s sister and thinks about her all the time – even at the dirty, loud, Dublin market he fantasizes about her as an escape from his harsh reality. He imagines carrying her like a “chalice safely through a throng of foes.” The narrator does not try to talk to her, instead preferring to relish in his daydreams. One day, though, Mangan’s sister speaks with the narrator. She asks if he is planning to go to the Araby bazaar, an Eastern-themed market put on by the church. She explains that she cannot attend because her convent is having a retreat and the narrator jumps at the opportunity to impress her, promising to bring her back something if he is able to go.
The narrator begins to fantasize not only about Mangan’s sister, but also about the exotic Araby market as well. Meanwhile the narrator begins to lose focus in school, and though he can feel his master growing stern with him, he cannot seem to focus on his studies.
Saturday morning the narrator reminds his uncle of his desire to attend the bazaar, but when he comes home for dinner that night his uncle still has not returned. Finally, around 9 pm his uncle returns home. He can tell from the way his uncle moves around that he has ben drinking. The narrator waits for his uncle to get halfway through his dinner before he asks for money to go to the bazaar. His uncle has forgotten, and tries to dismiss the request but his aunt encourages her husband to let the narrator go. His uncle apologizes, gives the narrator some money, and begins to recite The Arab’s Farewell to his Steed.
The narrator leaves his house holding a florin (a coin) and takes a train to the bazaar, arriving just ten minutes before 10 pm, when the market closes. Inside, the bazaar is quiet, and the narrator enters timidly. He passes a stall called Café Chantant and begins to examine flowered tea sets and porcelain vases in a neighboring stall. He observes the young female shopkeeper flirting with two men, all of them speaking with English accents. The woman asks him if he wishes to buy anything, but he can tell that she does so only out of a sense of duty. He responds “No, thank you.” The woman returns to her conversation but continues to glance over at the narrator. The market begins to close and as the narrator stands in the dark, he realizes he has foolishly allowed himself to be motivated by vanity. This epiphany fills him with “anguish and anger.”