Eveline by James Joyce Analysis

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Joyce, James, Kevin J. H. Dettmar. “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and Dubliners.” Barnes & Noble Classics, 2004, pp. 255-259. ca1lib.org/book/885434/df472d. Accessed 27 February 2021.

"Eveline" by James Joyce tells the story of a young woman trapped in a rather monotonous and ordinary life, forced to care for her abusive father following the passing of her mother and favourite brother. She lies upon the windowsill of her bedroom, contemplating an escape from her routine life to live with a sailor abroad. At the sound of organ playing, she faces an epiphany, the threat of repeating her mother’s life requires that she leave Dublin and set sail with Frank. However, it soon becomes evident, based on her recollection, that the momentous changes from Eveline's past often led to a worse life for herself. In the final moments of the story, Eveline ultimately decides to stay with her family, leaving the sailor to flee to Buenos Aires alone. Why does Joyce choose not to share explicitly why Eveline refused to escape Dublin? How does the lack of character development in Frank contribute to this decision? The various levels of uncertainty left by the author are intended to promote discussion of Evelyn's choice and whether or not she made the right decision, which can be left up to the reader for interpretation based on a series of indirect evidence and personal values.

James Joyce's direction to withhold information from the reader alludes to the psychological trauma associated with change from Eveline's point of view, given her unfortunate past experiences with loss and abusive behaviour. Out of respect for Eveline’s promise to her mother, she chooses to stay in Dublin, leaving behind a potential new beginning (Joyce 258). She wasn't happy with the stagnant life she lived with her remaining family, however, risking it all for Frank and leaving the country was far too much change for Eveline, considering her past misfortune. This sentiment is made clear when Eveline "wonder[s] where on Earth all the dust came from", signifying how little change or movement has occurred in her life, making a conscious effort to avoid new opportunities (Joyce 255). Eveline has chosen to settle with her family, despite their negative impact, out of fear of something worse. In addition, the lack of development in Frank raises notable concern as a reader. From Eveline’s perspective, it seems that she hasn’t spent enough time to establish a true love connection, considering “[h]er eyes gave him no sign of love or farewell or recognition.” (Joyce 259). She may have simply been using Frank as a way to gain respect and escape her domestic life at home. In doing so, “she would not be treated as her mother had been” (Joyce 256) implying a conscious decision made by her mother, that she intended not to repeat. Evelyn’s indecisiveness can be largely attributed to societal norms and gender roles at the time, resulting in her general feeling of helplessness.

Norris, Margot. "The Perils of 'Eveline.'" Suspicious Readings of Joyce's Dubliners, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2003, pp. 55-67. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt3fhp9d. Accessed 27 February 2021.

The analysis by Margot Norris draws connections between overarching themes in “Eveline”, as well as other short stories written by Joyce, including “After the Race” found immediately afterward in the “Dubliners” collection. It is seen that Joyce repeatedly wrote of “hidden stories” concealed within the main narrative, often involving “seduction and swindle” (Norris 56). In this case, Frank is committing acts of fraud or deceit without knowledge by the protagonist, Eveline. The author posits the critical question, what is the purpose of withholding key details in the plot, forcing readers to make inferences with only partial information? Norris believes that “Eveline”, in actuality, is a story of attempted seduction, foiled when she refused to step onto the boat. By withholding knowledge regarding Frank and his motivation in moving to Buenos Aires, the story forces the reader to connect, on an emotional level, with Eveline’s precise dilemma. This uncertainty plays directly into how Eveline feels regarding nearly every decision she makes in life, given her past trauma associated with change. This major life decision may, unfortunately, result in disaster no matter which path she ultimately decides to take (Norris 55). With that being said, the story’s true objective is accomplished, as it forces the reader into a position where they have no choice but to accept Eveline’s own “interpretive crisis” (Norris 56). Without adequate knowledge of Frank and his intentions, the reader is left feeling as though the proclaimed “saviour” may have, in reality, been a “seducer” (Norris 64). 

Reinares, Laura B. “Like a ‘Helpless Animal’ Like a Cautious Woman: Joyce's ‘Eveline’, Immigration, and the Zwi Migdal in Argentina in the Early 1900s.” James Joyce Quarterly, vol. 48, no. 3, 2011, pp. 529–533. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/23342958. Accessed 27 February 2021.

Compelling evidence by Laura Reinares points toward a much darker motivation for Frank’s persistence in escaping to Buenos Aires with Eveline. The author argues that Frank saw Eveline as a vulnerable young woman, exploiting her into consenting to move to Buenos Aires. With that consent, Eveline registered a level of commitment, similar to that of the promise she left for her dying mother. Reinares attempts to answer the historical question, was Joyce influenced by the sex trafficking association, Zwi Migdal, in writing the character of Frank? The Zwi Migdal's main operative was in luring impoverished women through false promises of marriage and a better future in South America. The organization was particularly active within the port city of Buenos Aires, Argentina, and targeted women across Europe in the late 1800s. Although it sounds feasible that Frank could have attempted a new life in Buenos Aires, a deeper dive into the historical context raises concern over the person he claims to be. One point the author argues is that Frank's "stories of the terrible Patagonians" he tells Eveline can be disproven with a brief history lesson on Argentina (Reinares 530). In truth, the Patagonians had “been wiped out” long before Frank’s adventures as a sailor, and they “weren’t nearly as terrible as Frank portrays them” (Reinares 530). Another key argument the author makes relates to the financial likelihood of Frank owning his own “home” in Buenos Aires at that time (Joyce 257). By the early 1900s, the “Argentinean oligarchy prided itself in the possession of land and property”, which would have made it incredibly difficult for Frank, or any working-class immigrant to afford a home in South America. By 1904, around the time that “Eveline” was being published, Buenos Aires was widely viewed to be the “international capital of the White Slave Trade” (Reinares 531). The author further states that "the phrase 'going to Buenos Ayres' was turn-of-the-century slang for 'taking up a life of prostitution’” emphasizing the danger of the city around that time. The overwhelming historical evidence considerably complicates Eveline’s freedom she sees in escaping Dublin, and Frank's encouragement seems far from wholesome. The dark context of such empty promises raises further scepticism for the safety of Eveline, had she left with Frank. 

Wieczorek, Chris. "Searching Between the Lines: Ambiguity, Paralysis and Revisionist Readings of Joyce’s 'Eveline'." Verso: An Undergraduate Journal of Literary Criticism, 2017, pp. 66-79. ojs.library.dal.ca/verso/article/view/7046. Accessed 27 February 2021. 

Chris Wieczorek’s research essay summarizes a wide range of interpretations, both traditional and revisionist, concluding, in a turn of events, that Joyce’s “Eveline” supports neither. The author claims that in reality, the story is about failures in the reader, who are “repeatedly forced to question, and then re-evaluate, [their] judgements about Eveline’s decision” (Wieczorek 75). He posits an ethical question towards the audience: how does Joyce influence the reader to examine, not what Eveline should do, but rather what the reader would do? The author argues that, rather than using “Frank to influence Eveline, Joyce uses Frank to influence the reader” (Wieczorek 74). By the very nature Joyce wrote the story, only the audience is meant to understand Frank’s true objective, not Eveline. Even though she doesn’t recognize the sailor’s abhorrent motives, it complicates how the reader feels regarding Eveline’s ultimate choice, questioning whether or not she had made the best decision. “Eveline” as a story cannot be “reduced to a singular meaning” because there is no apparent outcome better than the other (Wieczorek 75). The story encourages self-reflection since traditional and revisionist interpretations are based more on the personal values of the reader, rather than the plot itself. 

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