Eveline is a short story written by James Joyce in 1914.
Eveline is a 19 year old woman who still lives with her brother and father, and works at a shop. The short story reveals that her father is violent and that before her mother died, she made her a promise “The promise to her mother, her promise to keep the home together as long as she could” l.26.
At the beginning of the passage, Frank is presented, through Eveline’s eyes, as a very kind, open hearted man and suggests that Eveline wants to leave her painful life at home and go away with Frank to Buenos Ayres. Eveline seems to think that the air is pure there and people would treat her just like she deserves to be treated, with respect.
The whole story seems to be about her, making a big decision either to go and break her mother’s promise by leaving with Frank or else staying at home. Later in the text we understand that Frank may not be as perfect as she seems to think l.45 “he seizes her hand” “come!”. Here we can associate Frank with her father giving her orders and telling her what she must or not do (the verb “seize” is quite violent after all). Maybe she’s scared that Frank would later behave like her father does. Perhaps in the same way the father did to Eveline’s mother. He has organized everything: “She was to go away”, and she does not have much power to decide anything for herself. No matter what decision Eveline makes, in both ways a man has control over her life, they both control her. She has no agency.
The references to air in the passage could be a metaphor for her life. We realize that where she is right now is a place where the air is “dusty”, not pure, and that she’s used to it: “she knew the air” l.24. We can associate that to the routine of her sad life. Dublin the city, and her family life are suffocating her.
But in Buenos Ayres, which literally means good air, she might have access to purer, cleaner air. She sees Buenos Aires as an opportunity to begin a new life, where people would respect her. In Dublin she’s “inhaling the odour of dusty cretonne”. In the other place she would in a way breathe again.
From lines 10 to 21, we are in her thoughts, she’s desperately hoping for a better future: “but in her new home, in a distant unknown country, it would not be like that.” “Then she would get married”; “people would treat her with respect then.” Although on l.28 reality catches up with her: “She stood up in a sudden impulse of terror. Escape!” It is not clear whether she is terrified of her current life and wants to escape, or whether the very idea of escape is what terrifies her. “Escape” is placed at the end of the sentence, on its own, just after “terror”. The implication is that no matter what she decides, she will always be trapped.
We also notice thanks to the text that she is religious and has a strong relationship with God. If she breaks her promise to her mother she’s afraid of betraying God as well as her mother. Eveline’s afraid to go to hell for this sin. In a moment of hesitation she immediately prays and asks God what to do, either to stay home or to go. L.39 “she prayed to God to direct her, to show her what was her duty.” “She kept moving her lips in silent prayer”. In this, she mirrors her mother’s final actions before she dies, and this perhaps indicates that religion is just another element of control, suffocating her just as much as the air, her father, and Frank.
There is a lot of imagery in this text, which increases Eveline’s feelings and sensations.
L.48 “Amid the seas she sent a cry of anguish!” She’s amid the seas, crying is useless because nobody can hear her, no one can help her. It is as though she is drowning (metaphorically, in her sad life).
L.45 “As a bell clanged upon her heart”. This metaphor might at first suggest that God has answered her request and that she finally knows what she has to do. Of course, there is no real bell but it’s like an alarm which rings into Eveline in order to remind her of what choice to take. The bell can also be associated with church bells which chime for weddings, but also for funerals, the bell almost sounds like the knell of death. Something is dying, whether it be her hopes for a new life or her unborn love for Frank. The presence of death is also palpable l.39 “the boat blew a long mournful whistle into the mist”: we can compare the mist to Eveline’s deafness when Frank is telling her how beautiful her life will be with him. Perhaps it also indicates her deafness towards Frank himself.
L.38 “out of the maze” suggests she is completely lost and unable to find her way out. It finds an echo l.32, with “the swaying crowd”, a metaphor for Eveline’s undecided, wavering mind; like the crowd she is swaying, hesitating between two decisions. She is lost, confused.
L.14, the simile between her mother and her, (and more specially, between her mother’s life and her own life)”She would not be treated as her mother” shows that Eveline’s mother had a negative and hard life, and never received any respect. This sentence suggests something about the relationship that the mother and the father had: a relationship of domination which Eveline wants to flee. This simile also shows us Eveline’s desire for independence and the modal “would” conveys the sense of her determination, that is for the time being.
L.19, there is a short enumeration, talking about Frank in a very positive way, “Frank was very kind, manly, open-hearted”. For Eveline, at this moment, Frank is a perfect person and this enumeration can reflect her idealization of him as an honest, “frank” gentleman.
She expects so much of their relationship that she doesn’t see his bad side.
L.51, “like a helpless animal” is another simile evoking just how vulnerable Eveline is. If she is a “helpless” animal, then Frank could be a predator.
Reading between the lines, we might think that Frank, whose name suggests openness and honesty is not as frank and sincere as he appears. Buenos Ayres is actually a well-known city of prostitution, where women came and went. “She was to take the night boat to be his wife and live with him in Buenos Ayres”: the structure of this sentence suggests she cannot really be sure he is really going to marry her. Likewise, on l29, we might see an irony in the sentence “Frank would have her” since this can mean that he will look after her, but it can also mean that he wants to “have” her sexually. Frank is also full of clichés, which may also indicate he is not so sincere.
Finally, it is interesting that although Frank’s words are given in direct speech at the end of the story, Eveline’s remain in indirect speech, in other words, unspoken words. Her paralysis is complete. It reflects the incapacity of a young woman of the early 20th century to free herself from the burden of society's judgment "what would they say of her?". Eveline had the opportunity to decide for herself and escape, but her sense of social and religious "duty" prevails over her just desire for emancipation.
Julie, Imen & Cara. Posted by Cara.