Torn between two extreme options—unhappy domesticity or a dramatic escape to Argentina for marriage—Eveline has no possibility of a moderately content life. Her dilemma does not illustrate indecisiveness but rather the lack of options for someone in her position. On the docks, when she must make a choice once and for all, Eveline remembers her promise to her mother to keep the family together. So close to escape, Eveline revises her view of her life at home, remembering the small kindnesses: her father’s caring for her when she was sick, a family picnic before her mother died. These memories overshadow the reality of her abusive father and deadening job, and her sudden certainty comes as an epiphany—she must remain with what is familiar. When faced with the clear choice between happiness and unhappiness, Eveline chooses unhappiness, which frightens her less than her intense emotions for Frank. Eveline’s nagging sense of family duty stems from her fear of love and an unknown life abroad, and her decision to stay in Dublin renders her as just another figure in the crowd of Dubliners watching lovers and friends depart the city.
Eveline holds an important place in the overall narrative of Dubliners. Her story is the first in the collection that uses third-person narration, the first in the collection to focus on a female protagonist, and the only one in the collection that takes a character’s name as the title. Eveline is also the first central adult character. For all of these reasons, she marks a crucial transition in the collection: Eveline in many ways is just another Dubliner, but she also broadens the perspective of Dubliners. Her story, rather than being limited by the first-person narration of earlier stories, suggests something about the hardships and limitations of women in early twentieth-century Dublin in general. Eveline’s tortured decision about her life also sets a tone of restraint and fear that resonates in many of the later stories. Other female characters in Dubliners explore different harsh conditions of life in Dublin, but Eveline, in facing and rejecting a life-altering decision, remains the most tragic.