Compiled by Michael J. Cummings.©
of Work and Publication Date
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
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.
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.
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.
and Plot Structure
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 in Argentina.
Eveline: Dublin woman
not yet twenty. She lives at home with her father, who threatens her. Her
name is a variation of Evelyn.
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.
Sailor who says he will marry Eveline after they go to Argentina to live.
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
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
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.
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.
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
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?"
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.
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.
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
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.
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 laugh.
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.
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
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."
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?
attachment to her environment strongly influences her decision to remain
in Ireland, as the following passages suggest.
Perhaps she would never see again those familiar objects from which she
had never dreamed of being divided.
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.
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”?
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
a Liberating Moment?
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.
Are the Children Eveline Looks 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.
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
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.
Symbols, and Allusions
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
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 oppression.
cretonne: Heavy printed
cloth, usually of cotton or linen, used to make draperies and upholstery
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,
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
And all our yesterdays have
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
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.
that carried passengers to England, where ships debarked for foreign ports.
nix: Keeping watch;
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
Eveline decided against leaving Ireland, was she in love with Frank? Or
did she simply view him as a means of escape from drudgery?
Eveline's drudgery typical of young Irish women around 1900?
a short psychological profile of Eveline. Support your views with passages
from the story and quotations from scholarly works that analyze the story..
was the key factor in Eveline's decision to remain in Ireland?