Course 10—Study Guide

Eveline
by James Joyce


Commentary
course10-book "Eveline" comes from Joyce's famous short story collection, The Dubliners, which details the everyday lives of ordinary people, trapped often by their own failure to live out their desires, what Joyce called "paralysis." This is the theme of our story here—how  familiarity of the past haunts us, holding us back from moving into a better future.

Another trait of The Dubliners stories involves the Joycean "epiphany," a character's sudden revelation of truth or self-discovery. Eveline has such an epiphany when she realizes, before the final scene at the wharf, that Frank is her only escape from a grim future.

Joyce slyly incorporates a bit of foreshadowing into the plot. Frank and Eveline go to The Bohemian Girl, a popular opera playing in major cities throughout Europe. The lyrics of one song concern leaving home and becoming an "exile," bereft of friends and country. "Pity, Heav'n! oh calm my despair!"


Consider:
1. Joyce sets the thematic mood in the opening line: the pressure of mounting darkness and the "odor of dusty cretonne" (curtain fabric). Both images are repeated; dust is especially significant because Eveline is leaving for Buenos Aires—"good air" in Spanish.


2. The photo of the priest on the wall is yellowed with age; no one seems to remember his name. Will Eveline be forgotten, as well?.


3.The first inkling of Eveline's ambivalence comes early in the story: "was that wise," she wonders to leave home? Yet her life is one of dreary routine, little affection, even violent threats from her drunken father.


4. Her mother's dying words, "Derevaun Seraun," are Gaelic for "pleasure ends in pain." Does this play into Eveline's final decision?


5. Eveline's promise to her dying mother can function in two ways: 1) as a plot device, a reason to hold Eveline back; 2) as a metaphor for Joyce's belief that the Irish are imprisoned by their past


6. Eveline's refusal to go with Frank is ambiguous: there seems to be no one reason but rather a combination: obligation to her mother, perhaps her lack of love for Frank, a fear of losing her identity (drowning)? Whatever it is—and readers argue endlessly about the whys and the shoulds or should-nots—her refusal represents Joyce's concept of "paralysis," a theme that permeates every story in The Dubliners.

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