Within James Joyce’s Dubliners, comes a short story about a nineteen year old woman named Eveline Hill. She is like many young women in early twentieth century Ireland. With her mother having passed, she is expected to take care of her childhood home. Eveline is an unfortunate individual who is seen as anxious, scared, timid and indecisive as she is poised between her past and her future. She is on the cusp of making a life-altering decision which would see her leave her childhood dwellings and move to Argentina with her husband to be. Eveline seeks a new life but is afraid of letting go of her past. Through a series of flashbacks, Eveline reaches many epiphanies but ultimately succumbs to a state of paralysis.
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Eveline Hill, the protagonist is embarking on a new, emotional journey in life that is marrying a man named Frank whom her father does not approve of, and moving to Buenos Aires with him. Early in the story, while watching evening fall and breathing in “dusty cretonne” (Joyce 25), which symbolizes death, Eveline reflects on her past and consequences of leaving her home with her soon to be husband. She notices some objects that she may never see again and realizes that she would not be sorry to leave her job; she works in the “Stores,” a dry goods store in south Dublin, where her boss Miss Gavan is rude and embarrasses her. She has seen many changes so far in her life, with the death of loved ones, namely her mother, and the departure of others. She concludes that “Everything changes. Now she was going to go away like the others, to leave her home” (Joyce, 25). The culmination of loss and loneliness motivate Eveline to feel like she must push and move forward in her life. Memories of her mother are often intertwined with those of Frank. As the moments draw closer to the time of departure, Eveline thinks about the last night of her mother’s life, as well as the sights and sounds from then. Upon hearing an organ player’s song, she flashbacks to the promise she made to her mother to “keep the home together as long as she could” (Joyce, 28). Eveline then realizes that she must leave the life that will make her follow in her mother’s footsteps behind. Eveline replays her mother’s words, “Derevaun Seraun! Derevaun Seraun!” which we are told means ‘death is very near’ and realizes in terror that she must escape this life. She knows that happiness is something she deserves, and that Frank could give it to her, he would save her. Here, Joyce shows how much epiphanies factor into the decision-making process. Eveline is conflicted by the choice she must make, whether she should stay in her mundane, unhappy life to fulfill a promise given to her mother, or to start a new life with her saviour Frank.
In James Joyce’s story, “Eveline” he describes the title character’s family as poor and working class, living in a ‘little brown house” in parallel to “bright brick houses with shining roofs” (Joyce, 25), that stand in the former area of Eveline Hill’s childhood playing field. Money is a precious resource in their lives, which is prominently shown when Eveline is on her way to the market and clasps her purse tightly to her body as if she was protecting her life. Her family’s poverty is shown again when Frank, a sailor as well as Eveline’s lover takes her to the theatre and she expresses her delight when he has purchased much better seats then she could ever afford. Frank represents a new and exciting life to Eveline that she would otherwise not be able to experience. Another significant description of Eveline’s family is that they are strongly Catholic; her mother, while alive, was a devout catholic and her brother Harry is in the church decorating business. The catholic priest is present in a picture hanging in the Hill household. We are told that Mr. and Mrs. Hill lived for some time together out of wedlock, which is a major taboo in the catholic community. Mr. Hill, Eveline’s father has a violent and abusive past towards the rest of their family. As Eveline is getting older, she will be the one to take the majority of the abuse. Her father has said he will beat her for “her dead mother’s sake” (Joyce, 26). Eveline vows that she “would not be treated as her mother had been” (Joyce, 26) and that she deserves better.
Joyce makes it apparent that Eveline lacks the strength to make her own decision. Because of this, she remains dysfunctional due to her fear of failure, promise to her mother, and the guilt that she will face for leaving her family behind. Joyce is able to exaggerate all of these feelings inside Eveline primarily because of his writing style. Eveline’s fear contributes greatly to her lack of self-confidence and ultimately gives her fate over to a wavering will. The use of these literary elements gives a more intense understanding of the emotional quarrel that Eveline is forced to deal with. Much of the account takes place within Eveline’s head, and because of this viewpoint the reader is given an opportunity to understand the depths of her thought processes. Eveline becomes frozen in a state of paralysis while Frank is urging her to come with him. At the moment in which Eveline must choose, her indecisiveness leads her to paralysis that dooms her to the fate in which she sought to avoid. Eveline grips onto the handrails that would lead her down the steps into a new life. This represents the comfort and stability she has within the life she has always known.
Eveline Hill dreams of a place where “people would treat her with respect” (Joyce, 26) and when envisioning her future, hopes “to explore a new life with Frank” (Joyce, 27).
Concluding Eveline’s life-changing opportunity, her subconscious was not ready to leave her family, her home and the promises she has made. Joyce portrays Eveline as a “passive, helpless animal” (Joyce, 29) as his final image of her. This shows Eveline as immobilized going through paralysis. This sums up Eveline’s societal position as a woman, and her indecisive nature throughout. James Joyce’s “Eveline” portrays accurately the moral dilemmas people face, when dealing with life, death and decision making.
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