Re: Dubliners - "Araby" (Story 3 of 15)
In the posthumously published autobiographical novel, Stephen Hero
, Joyce himself notes 'one of those brown brick houses which seem the very incarnation of Irish paralysis.' (Thanks, footnotes). Thus, brown seems to represent bleakness, devoid of possibility. As you say even the people are brown. The state of paralysis is familiar to those born in poverty. They simply don't try to do better for themselves, they cannot even really conceive of it.
In "Araby" the narrator is given a florin to spend at the bazaar. The Penguin edition says a florin is worth two shillings which for the boy would have been an "awe-inspiring sum." With the theme of paralysis in these stories, it makes sense that the boy did, in fact, have enough money for one of the vases, but his own hesitation and sense of shame caused him to miss the opportunity. He who hesitates is lost. Certainly the saleswoman at the booth doesn't seem inclined to think the boy could afford anything. She merely asks if he wants help out of sense of duty. The shop is about to close up and she's busy chatting it up with two English gentleman. So she misses out on an opportunity as well.