"All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy," remarks the uncle in James Joyce's "Araby," speaking to the smitten young boy who wishes to visit a festival in town for the sake of the girl he is in love with. The Uncle's quote relates to the surroundings of a relatively "dull" working class environment. Not only does the old house in which the boy lives in seems gloomy, but the entire neighborhood does as well. The people in the town are greatly effected by the "dull" atmosphere, and the setting in "Araby" accurately reflects the moods and changes of the boy, the house, and other individuals in the story.

The young boy experiences a heavy crush for a girl he hardly knows and becomes overwhelmed by her, perhaps because his usual surroundings appear so gloomy and depressing. The urban setting is described as muddy and somber, with "dark dripping gardens" and "straggling bushes." The ambiance of the old neighborhood is solemn and morose, and only do the youthful boys who play in the streets after school appear to give any light contrast to the scene. The place seems constricting to the boy who narrates the story, and his emotions that develop for the girl makes him cry at times, perhaps because she is to him what his colorless world needs. In one passage he explains that, "her image accompanied me even in places most hostile to romance." His love also appears contrasting to the dark setting. In his innocent youth and his overwhelming emotion of love he is defiant to his surroundings. As the boy's feelings grow so does his distaste for his environment; once he speaks to the girl and learns of Araby, the boy remarks, "I had hardly any patience with the serious work of life which, now that it stood between me and my desire, seemed to me child's play, ugly monotonous child's play." The serious and disheartening world surrounding the boy makes his heart and his hope defiantly grow.

Also, the house the boy inhabits shares the dull setting of the area, and at times it even appears to hold the boy captive within its walls. At one time he looks longingly out an upstairs window toward both his happy friends playing in the street and the house in which his love lives. At this point he is out of reach of both his friends and his love, and his sadness is reflected by the cold and gloomy house. He anticipates the Araby festival, wishing to break free from the dismal house and enter a lighter, happier world. What the boy does not yet realize is the truth about his much too hopeful hopes, and in this sense the boy is blind, just as the house is "blind" where it stands, "detached from its neighbors in the square ground."

The other characters in the story are effected by the setting as well. The boy's aunt and uncle are inhabitants of the dull world, but in their age they lack some of the resilience that the young boy still holds. However, on the night of Araby, they realize the boy is eager to visit the bazaar and they allow him to go. They understand his hopes, and obviously realize that without play, "Jack" can become quite dull. When the boy does go the festival late in the evening, he encounters a cold and somewhat rude sales girl, who discourages him to buy anything. The dark and uninviting scene makes a deeper impression on the boy, and he realizes that all his hopes can easily be dashed. The darkness of the night and the people "deride" him and drive him away, leaving only perhaps a feeble fragment of any emotion of love.

The setting leaves a heavy impression on the boy and sadly overrides everything in the end. The boy's final epiphany is actually his youth succumbing to the reality of the true world he lives in, though it is unfortunate considering how harshly this hits him. The defiant youthfulness in the boy is at first sparked by the dullness of the neighborhood, the house, and the older people surrounding him, but in the end his love perishes, returning him to the stale darkness of a festival closed and ended.