Dubliners

by: James Joyce

Eveline, from “Eveline”

She had consented to go away, to leave her home, Was that wise? She tried to weigh each side of the question. In her home anyway she had shelter and food; she had those whom she had known all her life about her. Of course she had to work hard, both in the house and at business. What would they say of her in the Stores when they found out that she had run away with a fellow? Say she was a fool, perhaps[.]

In the story “Eveline,” the titular character agrees to relocate to Buenos Ayres as the wife of a sailor. Here Eveline still debates whether she should leave home. Her present life feels extremely hard, and the new life promised by her suitor in Buenos Ayres sounds better, but only if he’s telling the truth. She understands that jumping into an unknown situation, and before being married to the man, leaves her vulnerable to being tricked and possibly mistreated.

[T]he invariable squabble for money on Saturday nights had begun to weary her unspeakably. She always gave her entire wages—seven shillings—and Harry always sent up what he could but the trouble was to get any money from her father. He said she used to squander the money, that she had no head, that he wasn’t going to give her his hard-earned money to throw about the streets, and much more, for he was usually fairly bad on Saturday night.

Eveline takes care of her family after her mother’s death. The narrator reveals that her father becomes verbally abusive when drunk, a weekly occurrence. Nevertheless, Eveline must convince him to hand over some money so that she can do the weekly shopping. She fears the weekly struggle with her father will escalate into battery. This struggle, among others, makes Eveline feel ready to leave Ireland and start a new life.

She had to work hard to keep the house together and to see that the two young children who had been left to her charge went to school regularly and got their meals regularly. It was hard work—a hard life—but now that she was about to leave it she did not find it a wholly undesirable life.

Eveline reviews all of the duties in her current life that she would be leaving behind. The sense of importance Eveline invests in each responsibility indicates that working in service of her family may give Eveline a sense of purpose and noble sacrifice. In addition, the routine feels predictable and familiar, in contrast to the uncertain life being offered to her by her suitor, Frank, which will be completely new, different, and hard to imagine.

He was awfully fond of music and sang a little. People knew that they were courting and, when he sang about the lass that loves a sailor, she always felt pleasantly confused. He used to call her Poppens out of fun. First of all it had been an excitement for her to have a fellow and then she had begun to like him.

Eveline reflects on her suitor, Frank. The way she describes him and their courtship suggests that while she appreciates his attention and his fun personality, she is not in love with him. She continues to consider her choice between home and Frank very rationally. She recognizes clearly, as someone in love probably would not, that she cannot truly know whether he will treat her well.

Her father was becoming old lately, she noticed; he would miss her. Sometimes he could be very nice. Not long before, when she had been laid up for a day, he had read her out a ghost story and made toast for her at the fire. Another day, when their mother was alive, they had all gone for a picnic to the hill of Howth. She remembered her father putting on her mother’s bonnet to make the children laugh.

Eveline begins to convince herself that home has its rewards after all. However, the examples she reflects on of her father’s good humor reveal how low her standards for him are: Here she recalls two trivial events, many years apart. Readers can infer that life beat her down so much that she believes these crumbs of kindness remain significant, or that she merely wants to find reasons to remain at home—or both.

She stood up in a sudden impulse of terror. Escape! She must escape! Frank would save her. He would give her life, perhaps love, too. But she just wanted to live. Why should she be unhappy? She had a right to happiness. Frank would take her in his arms, fold her in his arms. He would save her.

After reflecting on her mother’s sad life of self-sacrifice and her final end, Eveline pictures herself ending up the same way and seems to suddenly make her decision: She will leave Ireland with Frank. She remains unsure of his love for her or hers for him, but in this moment, she realizes that escaping her current life will make her happy. To Eveline, love would be a nice bonus, but not necessary.

She felt her cheek pale and cold and, out of the maze of distress, she prayed to God to direct her, to show her what was her duty.

Although she made the decision to leave, when Eveline arrives at the ship that will take her away from Ireland, she becomes once again unsure what to do. Her prayer asking to be shown her duty as opposed to her happiness makes her inevitable decision clear to the reader: Eveline will stay in Ireland to take care of her family.