Eveline is a short story found in the book Dubliners which is a collection of short stories. The story is written in the backdrop of early twentieth century in Dublin, Ireland. Eveline is caught up in the struggle between holding on to the past and pursuing the future. She is torn between choosing a difficult life which involves taking care of two children and her abusive father and eloping with her lover Frank to Bueno Aires to begin a new life. Therefore, my goal in this paper is to do a character analysis of Eveline and the motivational forces behind her behavior which is a short story found in the book Dubliners. To achieve this goal I have divided the paper into two main sections. In the first section, I provide a background or summary of the essay. In the second section, I will analyze the character of Eveline.
Summary of the Essay
The story begins with narration of childhood memories of Eveline playing every evening with other children in the field which has now been bought and modern houses built by a man from Belfast (Joyce 29). She ruminates on her abusive father who she wishes to separate from and her had work of juggling between being a bread winner and taking care of two children. She nostalgically thinks of her lover Frank and how life would be better for her if she was to marry him and relocate with him to Bueno Aires. The courtship is secretive since her father does not approve of it and has even had altercations with Frank (31). However, the two lovers continue with their lover affair in secret despite the disapproval of Eveline’s father.
As she ponders on her decision to embark on her new life she finds herself in a dilemma of whether to leave her family or not as exemplified by the two letters she holds on her lap unable to offer to their recipients, her father and her brother Harry. Eveline remembers the promise she had made to her mother to take care of the house. Additionally, the sound of a street organ reminded of her mother’s death. “She knew the air. Strange that it should come that very night to remind her of the promise to her mother, her promise to keep the home together as long as she could. She remembered the last night of her mother’s illness” (32). The memories reinforce her resolve to leave her family and the perceived hardships and escape with Frank.
At the docks as Eveline waits to board the ship she is overwhelmed by what she sees around her and begin to pray to God for direction. She suddenly develops cold feet and her resolve to leave with Frank suddenly disappears. Therefore, when the boat is ready to leave and Franks tries to lead her to it she resists. Finally, Frank is forced to leave without her.
Eveline’s indecisive attitude illustrates the prevalent dilemma that confronted women in the twentieth century, that is, the crippling clutches of traditional norms and expectation in contrast to new life of cultural freedom in new lands. Also, Eveline’s character epitomizes the dangers of holding nostalgically to the past when faced with the future which is unknown. Her wavering character is motivated by both the past and the desire to fulfil her promises to her deceased mother.
Eveline feels happy at the thought of leaving with Frank yet at the same moment worries about what other people would think of her (30) and thus exhibits a weak character. This is exemplified by her powerlessness to untangle herself from family relationships and her past.
Eveline finds comfort in the known and pleasant memories of the past despite the difficulties and hardship she experiences in her family especially from the violence of her father. Although she regards Frank as her rescuer who would give her new life and even love but she is still incapable of making a decision. Her dependency on routine and everyday rituals halts her resolve to leave with Frank and eventually the ship departs without her. Thus, eventually Eveline repeats her mother’s mistake of accepting life of hardship which she had promised herself not to do.
Her paralysis in her routine robs her of the possibility of realizing her potentials and living life fully. Thus, she becomes devoid of emotion and human will. “She set her white face to him, passive, like a helpless animal. Her eyes gave him no sign of love or farewell or recognition.” (31).
In the story, Eveline makes a choice that suits her father and her family and therefore foregoes the promise of happiness and love. She opts for routine and monotonous repetition of hopelessness. Her indecisiveness is intentionally created by the author to demonstrate the difficulties in decision making that women in the twentieth century experienced when faced with competing alternatives especially in choosing between family or tradition and freedom to be individuals.
Joyce, James. Dubliners. London: Penguin, 1987.