“Eveline” is a short story written by one of the most prominent Irish writers, James Joyce, who is also among the most influential and important English writers of the 20th century. This short story was first published in 1904 in a journal called “Irish Homestead”. Later on, in 1914, it was included in Joyce’s famous collection of short stories, “Dubliners”, which comprised fifteen tales that depicted the natural Irish lifestyle of the early 20th century, mostly of the middle class that lived in and around Dublin.
The titular character of the story, Eveline, is a young 19-year old girl who plans to elope with her lover in order to move far away from her house as well as her abusive father. However, there is much conflict within her heart regarding this decision. Sitting by her window one day, she muses upon the circumstances that led her to make the choice of leaving the town and eventually ends up thinking about her dead mother and the promise she made to her on her deathbed.
Through a series of flashbacks that give a glimpse of the incidents that prompted her decision to leave, Joyce manages to narrate her entire life story up till that point, eventually building up to an unexpected end of her journey through a sudden turn in her thoughts.
Eveline | Summary
The story begins with Eveline, the protagonist, sitting beside the window and watching the scene outside with her head leaned against the curtains. She is lost in some deep contemplation, and even as her senses register the sights and smells from the surroundings, she does not come out of her reverie.
She thinks about her childhood and how all the children used to play in the field which was later converted into the houses she now sees. Those were very happy days and even though her father used to hunt them out of the fields often, he was not that bad a man as he was in the present. Her mother too was alive at that time, although it has now been a long time since she passed away.
She realizes that with the passage of time, everything changes. She too, along with her other siblings, has grown up and is ready to leave her home, to go somewhere far away. The thought of leaving her home makes her look around the room and she fondly looks at all the familiar things therein, coming to the realization that she would probably never be able to see them again.
Although she had herself made the choice, the decision of running away still plagued her with doubts and uncertainties. She thinks about the pros and cons of leaving her home and wonders what people would think of her upon finding out that she had eloped with her lover. She is not much saddened at the thought of leaving the store where she worked indicating that she was not very fond of her job. She thinks that once she leaves and gets married, she would be able to live a life of respect and dignity in the unknown country which shall soon become her new home.
She does not want to go through the same abuse as her mother, who was a victim of her husband’s violence. Even her brothers did not escape him and though he never hit her when she was young since she was a girl, off lately he had been threatening her as well. The very thought of her father frightened her, more so in the present since she had no one to protect her now- one of her brothers was dead and the other was always travelling due to his church decorating business. She was also tired of squabbling over money with her father who did not deem her worthy enough to be trusted with money. Whatever little money he gave her along with her own earnings was spent in household expenses. Her brother did not contribute anything to their home and the entire burden of managing the house and ensuring the well-being of the children entrusted to her, fell on Eveline’s shoulders. Though this was a life of hard labor, the thought of leaving it behind made it seem much less undesirable.
Her thoughts now shift to her lover, Frank, who was a sailor, with whom she had planned to elope to Buenos Aires where both of them aimed to build a new life together. Her relationship with Frank was known to people but when her father discovered their affair, he forbade her to continue it. He highly disapproved of Frank, and even engaged in a quarrel with him one day, following which, Eveline had no choice but to continue their relationship secretly and meet Frank without anyone seeing them together.
As the evening grew deeper, her thoughts shifted from Frank to her family. She began to think of her brothers, and of her ageing father. She fondly thought of the day when he had read a ghost story to her and made a toast for her and came to the conclusion that he was quite nice sometimes and would probably miss her after she was gone.
She kept sitting idly by the window, without any care of how much time had passed. Far down the street, she could hear a street organ playing which reminded her of the night her mother died because a similar sound echoed through the air that day as well. It made her think of the promise she made to her mother that she would always keep the home together and how her mother’s last words were “Derevaun Seraun”, which means that the end of pleasure is pain.
Filled with terror upon remembering this last warning of her mother which urged her to escape, she got up impulsively to go to Frank who she believed would save her from the pain that awaited her.
She met him at the station where he told her about their journey to Buenos Aires being booked. If she left with him at that point, she would soon be en route to her new life with Frank. However, at that moment, her heart was in deep turmoil and her inner conflict about her decision to leave intensified. She kept praying to God, asking him to show her the path she should choose- whether she should stay back to fulfill her duties towards her family or should she leave everything behind and take a step towards a future filled with love and happiness, far from the hard life she now lived. She was much anguished and distressed on being caught in this dilemma.
At the end however, even after Frank urging her to accompany him and leave all her troubles behind, she decided not to leave her home because that was her prime duty. Letting go of her love was not an easy choice, but it was one she had to make because the thought of abandoning her home, her family and above all her duty, was much more painful. Helpless, she bid him goodbye, her face devoid of any expressions or feelings. Frank continued to call out to her even as the ship set sail but by then, she had already made her final decision and though her heart was tormented, her eyes gave away none of her feelings- neither of love, nor of farewell and not even of any recognition of the man who was, until moments ago, the love of her life with whom she had imagined a whole new future.
Eveline | Analysis
“Eveline” like most of Joyce’s works, is written using the stream of consciousness technique which depicts not the action of the narrative, but rather the thoughts and emotions that pass through the character’s mind as he jumps between his unconscious musings and moments of consciousness of the present. As is typical of this kind of narrative, “Eveline” too contains a series of flashbacks, peppered with many leaps in thoughts which are sometimes related and sometimes absolutely unconnected with one another.
The central conflict is the protagonist’s struggle between her present and her future, rather, between the domestic duties of her past and the possibility of a better future with her lover. At one moment she is seen dreaming happily about her new life with Frank, far from her abusive father and the hardships of her current life and at the very next moment she can be seen clutching the letters to her father and brother, reminiscing about her dying mother and what her duty towards them demands of her.
She had multiple epiphanies as she mused over her decision, most prominent being the realization that Frank would save her from undergoing the same fate as her mother who lived a life of abuse and suffering. However, this desire to escape is very short-lived. As soon as she gets the chance to actually go through with her plan of running away, she is once again clouded by indecisiveness and ends up choosing to stay back at her home over joining Frank on the path to a new life. She is thus back to square one having undergone a transformation only to go back to her old life of automation.