Each of the fifteen stories offers glimpses into the lives of ordinary Dubliners-- a death, an encounter, an opportunity not taken, a memory rekindled - and collectively they paint a portrait of a nation.
A boy grapples with the death of a priest, Father Flynn. With his aunt, the boy views the corpse and visits with the priest’s mourning sisters. As the boy listens, the sisters explain Father Flynn’s death to the aunt and share thoughts about Father Flynn’s increasingly strange behavior.
Fed up with the restraints of school and inspired by adventure stories, two boys skip their classes to explore Dublin. After walking around the city for a while, the unnamed narrator and his friend, Mahony, eventually rest in a field. A strange old man approaches and talks to them, and his sexual innuendos make the narrator uncomfortable. Ultimately, the narrator and Mahony manage to escape.
A young boy falls in love with his neighbor Mangan’s sister. He spends his time watching her from his house or thinking about her. He and the girl finally talk, and she suggests that he visit a bazaar called Araby, which she cannot attend. The boy plans to go and purchase something for the girl, but he arrives late and buys nothing.
A young woman, Eveline, sits in her house and reviews her decision to elope with her lover, Frank, to Argentina. Eveline wonders if she has made the correct choice to leave her home and family. As the moment of departure approaches, she reaffirms her decision, but changes her mind at the docks and abandons Frank.
“After the Race”
Jimmy Doyle spends an evening and night with his well-connected foreign friends after watching a car race outside of Dublin. Upon returning to the city, they meet for a fancy meal and then spend hours drinking, dancing, and playing card games. Intoxicated and infatuated with the wealth and prestige of his companions, Jimmy ends the celebrations broke.
Lenehan and Corley walk through Dublin and discuss their plot to swindle a housemaid who works at a wealthy residence. Corley meets with the girl while Lenehan drifts through the city and eats a cheap meal. Later in the night Lenehan goes to the residence as planned and sees the girl retrieve something from the house for Corley. Finally Corley reveals to Lenehan that she procured a gold coin for him.
“The Boarding House”
In the boarding house that she runs, Mrs. Mooney observes the courtship between her daughter, Polly, and a tenant, Mr. Doran. Mrs. Mooney intercedes only when she knows Mr. Doran must propose to Polly, and she schedules a meeting with Mr. Doran to discuss his intentions. Mr. Doran anxiously anticipates the conversation and the potential lifestyle change that awaits him. He resolves that he must marry Polly.
“A Little Cloud”
One evening after work Little Chandler reunites with his old friend, Gallaher. Little Chandler aspires to be a poet, and hearing about Gallaher’s career in London makes Little Chandler envious and determined to change his life. Little Chandler imagines freedom from his wife and child, but he feels ashamed about his thoughts and accepts his situation.
After an infuriating day at work, Farrington embarks on an evening of drinking with his friends. Even though Farrington pawns his watch to replenish his empty wallet, he finds himself spending all of his money on drinks for himself and his companions. Growing more and more frustrated, Farrington almost explodes when he loses an arm-wrestling match. At home later that night, Farrington vents his anger by beating his son.
On Halloween night, Maria oversees festivities at the charity where she works. Afterward, she travels to the home of Joe Donnelly, whom she nursed when he was a boy. Along the way Maria purchases sweets and cakes for Joe’s family. When she arrives at the house, she realizes she has somehow lost the special plum cake she’d bought. After talking, eating, and playing Halloween games, Maria sings a song for the Donnellys.
“A Painful Case”
Mr. Duffy develops a relationship with Mrs. Sinico at a concert in Dublin. The two meet often for long chats and become close, but Mr. Duffy cuts off the relationship when Mrs. Sinico makes the intimate but chaste gesture of taking Mr. Duffy’s hand and putting it against her cheek. Four years later, Mr. Duffy reads in a newspaper that Mrs. Sinico has died in a train accident. He feels angry, sad, and uneasy as he remembers her, and he finally realizes he lost perhaps his only chance for love.
“Ivy Day in the Committee Room”
A group of men working as street promoters for a mayoral candidate meet to discuss their jobs and escape from the rainy weather on Ivy Day, which commemorates the death of Charles Stuart Parnell, the influential Irish politician. The men complain about their late paychecks and debate politics. Conversation eventually turns to Parnell and his political endeavors, and one of the men, Hynes, recites a poem he wrote in memory of him.
An Irish cultural society organizes a concert series with the help of Mrs. Kearney, the mother of one of the performers. Mrs. Kearney secures a contract with the society’s secretary, Mr. Holohan, so that her daughter is ensured payment for her piano accompaniment. A series of logistical changes and failed expectations infuriate Mrs. Kearney, and she hounds the officers of the society for the money, making a spectacle of herself and her daughter.
After an embarrassing public accident, Tom Kernan is convinced by his friends to attend a Catholic retreat. The men hope that this event will help Mr. Kernan reform his problematic, alcoholic lifestyle. At the service, the presiding priest preaches about the need for the admission of sins and the ability of all people to attain forgiveness through God’s grace.
With his wife, Gretta, Gabriel Conroy attends the annual dancing party hosted by his two aging aunts, Julia and Kate Morkan, and their niece, Mary Jane. At the party, Gabriel experiences some uncomfortable confrontations. He makes a personal comment to Lily, the housemaid, that provokes a sharp reply, and during a dance he endures the taunts of his partner, Miss Ivors. Finally, Gabriel sees Gretta enraptured by a song sung toward the end of the party. Later, he learns that she was thinking of a former lover who had died for her. He sadly contemplates his life.