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Study Guide Compiled by Michael J. Cummings.© 2009
Type of Work and Publication Date
.......James Joyce's “Eveline” is a short story in the genre of naturalism. Naturalism centers on life as it is—without preachment, judgment, or embellishment—and stresses the importance of the environment and heredity in shaping human destiny.
......."Eveline" presents the thoughts of a young woman as she considers whether to leave home and marry or to remain home with her stern father. It was first published on September 10, 1904, in The Irish Homestead, a journal, and later revised and republished in
1914 in The Dubliners, a collection of fifteen of Joyce's short stories.
.......The story begins on an evening in a residential section of Dublin, circa 1900. It ends the same evening at a dock where a night-boat (ferry) awaits passengers bound for a port (probably Liverpool, England) where oceangoing vessels embark for foreign locales.
Point of View
.......Joyce tells the story in third-person point of view. In the first paragraph, the narrator reports from a distance, as if he is sitting across the room from Eveline. In the second paragraph, the narrator enters the mind of Eveline and reports the rest of the story from there, revealing the thoughts of the title
character as she considers whether to remain home or go to Argentina to marry. She reviews the events of her life, comparing the quality of her life in Dublin over the years with the quality of life she believes she would have in Buenos Aires.
Writing and Plot Structure
.......Most of the writing imitates the way the title character would speak if she verbalized her thoughts. Occasionally, Joyce makes a deliberate writing error (such as the omission of a comma) to suggest the flow of Eveline's thoughts. The language is straightforward and easy to understand, although not
necessarily easy to interpret, and Joyce makes every word count. Except for the first paragraph, he structures the plot according to the order of Eveline's thoughts as they occur. Her thoughts begin in the present, then flash back, then return to the present. From time to time, they again flash back. Occasionally, Eveline attempts to glimpse the future, speculating on what her life would be like
Eveline: Dublin woman not yet twenty. She lives at home with her father, who threatens her. Her name is a variation of Evelyn. Plot Summary
Mr. Smith: Eveline's father, who mistreats her. The words he was usually fairly bad
on Saturday night suggest that he drinks heavily on weekends.
Mrs. Smith: Deceased mother of Eveline.
Frank: Sailor who says he will marry Eveline after they go to Argentina to
Eveline's Brothers, Sisters: Eveline identifies only two of them: the oldest, Ernest, who is dead at the time that Eveline reflects on her past, and Harry, who works in the church-decorating business.
Miss Gavin: Supervisor at the Stores (a retail outlet), who watches Eveline closely.
Little Keogh: Crippled boy who was a playmate of Eveline when she was a child.
Two Small Children: Children Eveline takes care of at home. It is not clear who their parents are.
Devines, Waters, Dunns: Playmates of Eveline when she was a child. One, Tizzie Dunn, is
dead at the time that Eveline reflects on her past.
Organ Grinder: Italian street entertainer who plays a song that reminds Eveline of the night her mother died. He was also playing on the night of her mother's death.
By Michael J. Cummings.© 2009
.......Eveline Hill looks out the window of her father's Dublin home, reminiscing about her childhood days. She and her brothers and sisters used to play in a field nearby with
neighborhood children from the Devine, Waters, and Dunn families. Whenever her father came looking for them with his blackthorn stick, Little Keough, a crippled neighbor boy, would warn her and her siblings.
.......Now everything is changed. Her
mother and her brother Ernest are dead. The rest of the Hill children are young adults. Houses now occupy the field where the children played, Tizzie Dunn has died, and the Waters family has moved back to England. The Smith home looks the same, though, with its familiar furnishings. The old yellow photo of a priest still hangs above the harmonium. The priest and her father had been friends at
school, and her father shows the photo to visitors, saying, “He is in Melbourne now.”
.......Eveline herself is about to leave her childhood home and her job at a retail store, where Miss Gavin is always there to order her around: "Miss Hill, don't you see
these ladies are waiting?"
.......In her new home in a far-off land, she will be a married woman who is treated with respect. Her father will not be there to threaten her or treat her the way he did her mother. Though she is going on twenty, she still fears
him. When she was very young, he did not treat her as badly as he treated Ernest and Harry. Lately, though, he has been threatening her. Harry usually is not there to take her side, for he spends a lot of time out in the country on his church-decorating business.
.......The Saturday-night arguments with her father over money are a trial. She always gives him all of her pay, and Harry gives him what he can. But try getting money back from him. He always tells Eveline she is a spendthrift and that he will not give her any of his “hard-earned” money. After a time, he yields. But he expects her to buy Sunday dinner.
.......In addition to her job, she has to keep house and tend to the two little children in the household, making sure they get their meals and get to school on time.
.......In spite of her hard life, she has reservations about going to Buenos Aires, Argentina, with Frank to be his wife and live in the home he maintains there. Frank is a kind man, Eveline thinks. After they met, he called her Poppens and always accompanied her home from work. Once, he took her to see The Bohemian
Girl, an opera about a young woman abducted by the leader of a gypsy band. Frank would also tell her stories about all the lands he visited serving aboard ships of the Allen Line. When her father found out about the courtship, he forbade her from seeing Frank again. Then she had to meet Frank in secret.
.......On her lap are two letters, one to Harry and one to her father. She remembers that there were times when her father was good company. Only recently, when she was "laid up" in bed, he read to her and made her toast. Years before, when the family had gone on a picnic, he wore his wife's bonnet to make everybody
.......Still looking out the window, Eveline hears the song of an Italian organ grinder coming from down the street, the same song he played on the night her mother died. The song reminds Eveline of the promise she made to her mother to keep the
family together as long as possible. But she believes she has a right to escape with Frank, a right to be happy.
.......It is time to leave. Eveline is with Frank, who is holding her hand. Soldiers are all around with brown bags. The ship calls for
passengers with a whistle. Eveline asks God for guidance. Should she go aboard with Frank or turn back?
.......As Frank proceeds, he calls back to her. But Eveline "set her white face to him, passive, like a helpless animal. Her eyes gave him no sign of
love or farewell or recognition."
.......Like Ireland itself in the last years of the nineteenth century and the early years of the twentieth century, Eveline struggles to escape oppression. Her father has ruled her life for as long as she can remember, just as England has for so long ruled directly or indirectly the life of Ireland. But independence for
Eveline and Ireland requires bold action. Too often, however, every step forward also produces another step backward. Eveline takes a step, then retreats and ends up as she was before. But there is a glimmer of hope: Eveline has said no to a man in a male-dominated society. But when she returns home, will she have the courage to say no to her father when he makes unreasonable demands? Will she
have the courage to begin taking back her life? Or will she continue to languish amid the smell of dusty cretonne and her mother's Gaelic gibberish ringing in her ears?
.......Eveline's attachment to her environment strongly influences her decision to remain in Ireland, as the following passages suggest.
Paragraph 3: Perhaps she would never see again those familiar objects from which she had never dreamed of being divided.
Paragraph 5: In her home anyway she had shelter and food; she had those whom she had known all her life about her.
Paragraph 9: 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.
Paragraph 13: 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 mothers bonnet to make the children laugh.
.......Guilt may have been another factor in Eveline's decision to remain in Ireland. After all, she had promised her mother that she would “keep the home together as long as she could.” Running away to Argentina would break that promise. And what about the two young children she has been caring for? And what about her
father, who “was becoming old lately [and] would miss her”?
.......The narrator hints that Eveline harbors doubts about her relationship with Frank. She considers his good qualities—his kindness, his manliness, his love of music—but never once does she note that he loves her. The closest she comes is this thought in paragraph 18: “She must escape! Frank would save her. He would
give her life, perhaps love, too.” (The key word here is perhaps.) Nor does Eveline ever note that she loves Frank. When the night-boat is about to embark, she prays to God “to show her what was her duty.” Here, duty suggests that she believes her life with Frank would be like her mother's life with her father—or no better than Eveline's life with her father. It may be that her
doubts about her relationship with Frank, combined with her attachment to her environment and her feelings of guilt, overcome her desire to escape.
.......Eveline may also have been aware that Buenos Aires had a reputation as a place where young women
were often ensnared in a life of prostitution. Was it possible that Frank was luring her into such a life?
Difficult Life of Women in a Male-Dominated Society
.......In Joyce's time, a woman like Eveline generally had to endure male discrimination in every sector of society. At home, a husband or father expected her to submit to his will even when he treated her poorly. In educational institutions, overseers severely limited a woman's opportunities to study for a professional
career. In the workplace, employers usually hired a woman only for menial labor. And her pay was far less than that of a male doing the same work. She could not complain about discrimination at the ballot box, for she did not have the right to vote.
.......At the beginning of the story, Eveline's desire to escape a life of drudgery suggests that she believes she will find a new world of equality in Argentina. However, after considering her choices, she seems to believe that life for her in Argentina would be the same as—or possibly even worse than—her life in Ireland.
Emergence From Eden
.......Eveline seems to have enjoyed her childhood, when her father was “not so bad” (paragraph 2) and her mother was alive. She was Eve in the Garden of Eden (the vacant field). Of course, her father now and then invaded her garden with a serpent (the blackthorn stick). Eventually, she had to leave the garden, which was
taken over by urban sprawl, and enter the world of hard work and tribulation.
Climax: a Liberating Moment?
.......The climax occurs when Eveline decides not to board the ship while Frank shouts "Come!" (paragraphs 21, 24). Her refusal to obey his command could be a liberating moment for her—if she also refuses to comply with any unreasonable demands of her father.
Who Are the Children Eveline Looks After?
.......After Eveline reminisces about her childhood, the narrator—in presenting Eveline's thoughts—says, "That was a long time ago; she and her brothers and sisters were all grown up [and] her mother was dead" (paragraph 2). This sentence eliminates the possibility that the children are Eveline's siblings, children born
before Mrs. Smith died, unless both of the following apply: (1) Eveline is referring only to the brothers and sisters with whom she grew up; (2) the second part of the deliberate run-on sentence is not governed by the clause before the semicolon.
.......It is possible that the little ones are the children of Harry, Ernest, or one of Eveline's sisters. Perhaps financial reversal, domestic upheaval, or—in the case of Ernest—death required their placement in the care of Eveline.
.......Whatever the case, the mention of the two children is significant in that it casts Eveline in the role of a mother, a role that she may feel she is not ready to take on in a foreign land when she is not even twenty years old. It is also possible that she feels she has a responsibility to the children.
Vocabulary, Symbols, and Allusions
Blackthorn stick: See Emergence From Eden, above.
The Bohemian Girl: Opera by Dublin-born Michael William Balfe (1808-1870) and libretto by Alfred Bunn. It was first performed at Drury Lane Theatre in
London on November 27, 1843. The story is about a young woman, Arline, the daughter of a count, who is abducted by the leader of a band of gypsies. An aria in the opera, "I Dreamt I Dwelt in Marble Halls," centers on Arline's childhood memories.
Blessed Mary Alacoque:
Margaret Mary Alacoque (1647-1690), French nun of the Visitation order who was canonized in 1920 by Pope Benedict XV as a saint of the Roman Catholic Church. She claimed to have visions of Christ in which He asked her to promote devotion to His sacred heart as a symbol of love, mercy, and salvation. Those who take up this devotion, the nun said, would receive help from Christ in obtaining grace,
blessings, and salvation. (In the story, the phrase promises made to Blessed Margaret Mary Alacoque refers to the promises of help Christ made to Blessed Margaret in a vision.) The nun was bedridden for four years after developing paralysis, then made what appeared to be a miraculous recovery. Eveline, of course, suffers from a kind of psychological paralysis in her struggle to escape
cretonne: Heavy printed cloth, usually of cotton or linen, used to make draperies and upholstery coverings.
Derevaun Seraun: While Eveline looks out
the window and inhales the "odour of dusty cretonne" (paragraph 14), she recalls that her mother repeated "Derevaun Seraun"—which is gibberish resembling Irish Gaelic (or Goídelic)—with "foolish insistence" (paragraph 16). Because it is gibberish, it signifies nothing. This fact—together with the phrases "dusty cretonne" and "foolish insistence"—call to mind a famous passage in
Shakespeare's Macbeth, when the title character uses the words "dusty" and "fools" and refers to life as a "tale told by an idiot . . . signifying nothing."
To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow, Perhaps "Derevaun Seraun" was Mrs. Smith's way of saying that life in Ireland, circa 1900, was a tale told by an idiot, signifying nothing.
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing. (Macbeth: 5, 5, 19-28).
Dust: The word dusty occurs twice in "Eveline"; dust and dusted each
occur once. All the words suggest that Eveline (and Ireland) has a difficult time shaking off the dust of the past in an effort to begin anew.
Eveline: See Emergence From Eden, above.
Field where children played: See Emergence From Eden, above.
Harmonium: Reed instrument resembling an organ. The Smith family's harmonium is broken. It may
symbolize the broken harmony in the home, in the heart of Eveline, and in Ireland itself.
Hill of Howth (Howth rhymes with both): Recreation area at the village of Howth on Dublin Bay, north of Dublin. Cliffside walking trails on the hill offer spectacular views
of the bay and the Wicklow Mountains.
night-boat: Ferry that carried passengers to England, where ships debarked for foreign ports.
nix: Keeping watch;
Patagonians: Natives of Patagonia, a region in southern Argentina between the Andes Mountains and the Atlantic Ocean.
pavement: In Britain and
Ireland, a sidewalk.
shilling: Coin worth one-twentieth of a pound.
sixpence: Coin worth six pennies; half a shilling.
Stores: General retail store in Dublin.
Strait of Magellan: Channel separating the southernmost tip of South America, the island of Tierra del Fuego, and the mainland. The
channel connects the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. The Portuguese navigator Ferdinand Magellan (1480?-1521) discovered the strait in 1520 while sailing under a Spanish flag.
Water: Escape; a new beginning. The Waters family returns to England. Eveline considers crossing an
ocean to begin anew.
Study Questions and Essay Topics
1....Before Eveline decided against leaving Ireland, was she in love with Frank? Or did she simply view him as a means of escape from drudgery?
2....Is Eveline immature?
3....Was Eveline's drudgery typical of young Irish women around 1900?
4....Write a short psychological profile of Eveline. Support
your views with passages from the story and quotations from scholarly works that analyze the story..
5....What was the key factor in Eveline's decision to remain in