By James Joyce (1882-1941)
A Study Guide
Study Guide Compiled by Michael J. Cummings.© 2009
.......James Joyce's Eveline is a short story in the genre of naturalism. Naturalism centers on life as it iswithout preachment, judgment, or embellishmentand stresses the importance of the environment and heredity in shaping human destiny.
.......The story begins on an evening in a residential section of Dublin, circa 1900. It ends the same evening at a dock where a night-boat (ferry) awaits passengers bound for a port (probably Liverpool, England) where oceangoing vessels embark for foreign locales.
.......Joyce tells the story in third-person point of view. In the first paragraph, the narrator reports from a distance, as if he is sitting across the room from Eveline. In the second paragraph, the narrator enters the mind of Eveline and reports the rest of the story from there, revealing the thoughts of the title character as she considers whether to remain home or go to Argentina to marry. She reviews the events of her life, comparing the quality of her life in Dublin over the years with the quality of life she believes she would have in Buenos Aires.
.......Most of the writing imitates the way the title character would speak if she verbalized her thoughts. Occasionally, Joyce makes a deliberate writing error (such as the omission of a comma) to suggest the flow of Eveline's thoughts. The language is straightforward and easy to understand, although not necessarily easy to interpret, and Joyce makes every word count. Except for the first paragraph, he structures the plot according to the order of Eveline's thoughts as they occur. Her thoughts begin in the present, then flash back, then return to the present. From time to time, they again flash back. Occasionally, Eveline attempts to glimpse the future, speculating on what her life would be like in Argentina.
Eveline: Dublin woman not yet twenty. She lives at home with her father, who threatens her. Her name is a variation of Evelyn.
By Michael J. Cummings.© 2009
.......Like Ireland itself in the last years of the nineteenth century and the early years of the twentieth century, Eveline struggles to escape oppression. Her father has ruled her life for as long as she can remember, just as England has for so long ruled directly or indirectly the life of Ireland. But independence for Eveline and Ireland requires bold action. Too often, however, every step forward also produces another step backward. Eveline takes a step, then retreats and ends up as she was before. But there is a glimmer of hope: Eveline has said no to a man in a male-dominated society. But when she returns home, will she have the courage to say no to her father when he makes unreasonable demands? Will she have the courage to begin taking back her life? Or will she continue to languish amid the smell of dusty cretonne and her mother's Gaelic gibberish ringing in her ears?
.......Eveline's attachment to her environment strongly influences her decision to remain in Ireland, as the following passages suggest.Paragraph 3: Perhaps she would never see again those familiar objects from which she had never dreamed of being divided. Paragraph 5: In her home anyway she had shelter and food; she had those whom she had known all her life about her.
Paragraph 9: It was hard worka hard lifebut now that she was about to leave it she did not find it a wholly undesirable life.
Paragraph 13: Her father was becoming old lately, she noticed; he would miss her. Sometimes he could be very nice. Not long before, when she had been laid up for a day, he had read her out a ghost story and made toast for her at the fire. Another day, when their mother was alive, they had all gone for a picnic to the Hill of Howth. She remembered her father putting on her mothers bonnet to make the children laugh.Guilt
.......Guilt may have been another factor in Eveline's decision to remain in Ireland. After all, she had promised her mother that she would keep the home together as long as she could. Running away to Argentina would break that promise. And what about the two young children she has been caring for? And what about her father, who was becoming old lately [and] would miss her?
.......The narrator hints that Eveline harbors doubts about her relationship with Frank. She considers his good qualitieshis kindness, his manliness, his love of musicbut never once does she note that he loves her. The closest she comes is this thought in paragraph 18: She must escape! Frank would save her. He would
give her life, perhaps love, too. (The key word here is perhaps.) Nor does Eveline ever note that she loves Frank. When the night-boat is about to embark, she prays to God to show her what was her duty. Here, duty suggests that she believes her life with Frank would be like her mother's life with her fatheror no better than Eveline's life with her father. It may be that her
doubts about her relationship with Frank, combined with her attachment to her environment and her feelings of guilt, overcome her desire to escape.
Difficult Life of Women in a Male-Dominated Society
.......In Joyce's time, a woman like Eveline generally had to endure male discrimination in every sector of society. At home, a husband or father expected her to submit to his will even when he treated her poorly. In educational institutions, overseers severely limited a woman's opportunities to study for a professional
career. In the workplace, employers usually hired a woman only for menial labor. And her pay was far less than that of a male doing the same work. She could not complain about discrimination at the ballot box, for she did not have the right to vote.
.......Eveline seems to have enjoyed her childhood, when her father was not so bad (paragraph 2) and her mother was alive. She was Eve in the Garden of Eden (the vacant field). Of course, her father now and then invaded her garden with a serpent (the blackthorn stick). Eventually, she had to leave the garden, which was taken over by urban sprawl, and enter the world of hard work and tribulation.
.......The climax occurs when Eveline decides not to board the ship while Frank shouts "Come!" (paragraphs 21, 24). Her refusal to obey his command could be a liberating moment for herif she also refuses to comply with any unreasonable demands of her father.
.......After Eveline reminisces about her childhood, the narratorin presenting Eveline's thoughtssays, "That was a long time ago; she and her brothers and sisters were all grown up [and] her mother was dead" (paragraph 2). This sentence eliminates the possibility that the children are Eveline's siblings, children born
before Mrs. Smith died, unless both of the following apply: (1) Eveline is referring only to the brothers and sisters with whom she grew up; (2) the second part of the deliberate run-on sentence is not governed by the clause before the semicolon.
Blackthorn stick: See Emergence From Eden, above.
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing. (Macbeth: 5, 5, 19-28). Perhaps "Derevaun Seraun" was Mrs. Smith's way of saying that life in Ireland, circa 1900, was a tale told by an idiot, signifying nothing.
Dust: The word dusty occurs twice in "Eveline"; dust and dusted each occur once. All the words suggest that Eveline (and Ireland) has a difficult time shaking off the dust of the past in an effort to begin anew.
Eveline: See Emergence From Eden, above.
Field where children played: See Emergence From Eden, above.
Harmonium: Reed instrument resembling an organ. The Smith family's harmonium is broken. It may symbolize the broken harmony in the home, in the heart of Eveline, and in Ireland itself.
Hill of Howth (Howth rhymes with both): Recreation area at the village of Howth on Dublin Bay, north of Dublin. Cliffside walking trails on the hill offer spectacular views of the bay and the Wicklow Mountains.
night-boat: Ferry that carried passengers to England, where ships debarked for foreign ports.
nix: Keeping watch; standing guard.
Patagonians: Natives of Patagonia, a region in southern Argentina between the Andes Mountains and the Atlantic Ocean.
pavement: In Britain and Ireland, a sidewalk.
shilling: Coin worth one-twentieth of a pound.
sixpence: Coin worth six pennies; half a shilling.
Stores: General retail store in Dublin.
Strait of Magellan: Channel separating the southernmost tip of South America, the island of Tierra del Fuego, and the mainland. The channel connects the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. The Portuguese navigator Ferdinand Magellan (1480?-1521) discovered the strait in 1520 while sailing under a Spanish flag.
Water: Escape; a new beginning. The Waters family returns to England. Eveline considers crossing an ocean to begin anew.
Study Questions and Essay Topics
1....Before Eveline decided against leaving Ireland, was she in love with Frank? Or did she simply view him as a means of escape from drudgery?
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