Upon completion of the unit, the learner will be able to:
No discussion of English literary history is complete without the mention of James Joyce, an Irish novelist of the modern era (1920-1950). Writing at a point of time when the world was changing rapidly, Joyce was able to convey the spirit of the radical transformation through his fiction. His novels and short stories reshaped the writing style of his age through their technical and narrative innovations.
As much as Joyce is known for his experiments with language and form, it is his mastery in portraying the human psyche that leaves an enduring mark on readers. His subtle, frank depictions of different mental states, feelings, thoughts, and unconscious impulses allow his readers to enter into the minds of his characters.
This is true of “Eveline”, the short story that we will explore in this unit. Its opening lines invites the reader to view the world through the eyes of the main character: “She sat at the window watching the evening invade the avenue. Her head was leaned against the window curtains and in her nostrils was the odour of dusty cretonne. She was tired.”
As the story progresses, we travel with Eveline through a range of emotions and memories, understanding her psychological motivations. However, there is much more to the story than tracing the mind of a single individual.
“Eveline” offers a metaphor for understanding the timeless conflict between individual and society, modernity and tradition. Further, we may see how Joyce developed these universal questions in his own unique style.
Paralysis: Paralysis experienced by the main character in fulfilling her individual desires as opposed to her traditional role as a daughter and sister
- Guilt: Guilt felt by the main character as she struggles to leave her family and city behind for a new life in a foreign country with her lover
- Relationships: Individual forced to choose between her family and her lover, emotionally trapped by the power of these different relationships
Modernity and Tradition: Conflict between modernity (represented by the protagonist’s desire to leave) and tradition (represented by the protagonist’s hesitancy in leaving behind her kin and land)
6.3.1 Eveline (1914)
“Eveline” is the third story in Dubliners. In it, we follow the eponymous heroine as she reflects on her plans to leave for Buenos Aires, Argentina with her lover. She is unable to choose between her unhappy domestic life and an unknown future in a new country.
The narrative is entirely from Eveline’s point of view in the third person. At first glance, this seems to be an early prototype of the ‘Stream of Consciousness’ mode. However, unlike typical ‘Stream of Consciousness’ passages, syntax, punctuation and language are used in an orderly, logical fashion.
The descriptions of the thoughts and memories, however, appear to be random. Her attention shifts from external objects to flashbacks as it happens during the process of thought. Thus, the narrative is an experimental one which uses elements of interior monologue with the stream of consciousness mode.
 A person giving their name to a movie, book, or play; here, the story is named after the character
She sat by the window, watching as evening falls outside. She leaned her head against the window curtains. Her nose picked up the smell of dusty cretonne. She was tired. A few people passed by. She saw the man in the last house pass by on his way home. She heard the different sounds his steps made on the concrete pavement and on the cinder path. This was located before the new red houses.
Long ago, there used to be a field there where she used to play with other children in the evening. But a man from Belfast bought it and built houses there. These were not like their own small, brown houses, but new brick houses with shiny roofs. She and her siblings, along with the other children of the avenue used to play together in that field.
This included the Devines, the Waters, the Dunns, as well as little Keogh, who had a disability in his legs. Ernest, her brother, never played because he felt he was too grown-up. Her father used to chase them out of the field with his blackthorn stick. But little Keogh used to watch out and warn them. He would call out when he saw her father coming.
Still, they were quite happy. Her father was not so bad and her mother was still alive at that time. But all this was a while ago. She and her brothers and sisters were all grown up. Her mother was dead. Tizzie Dunn was dead. The Waters family had gone back to England. Everything had changed. Now she was also going to go away. She, too, was going to leave her home.
 Broad road in a city or town, typically lined with trees on either side
 Type of cotton fabric used for curtains
 Burnt coal
Being a ‘stream of consciousness’ narrative, the story opens in the middle of action. Eveline, the protagonist, is looking out of the window. She is unnamed in the beginning of the story. The narrative does not give us objective descriptions or information about her. Instead, we follow her innermost thoughts and observations, seeing the world from her point of view. Details such as sights, smells, and sounds are important aspects of the same.
The narrative does not follow a linear pattern. We shift from Eveline’s observations about the external world towards her memories of childhood. This imitates the workings of the human mind which shifts between various observations and memories without any rationale or reason.
 The main character in a story, or the character who moves the story forward
She thought about her home. The room she was in was full of familiar objects that she had dusted once a week for many years. She’d always wondered where all the dust came from. Now she wondered if she would ever see these objects from which she never dreamed of being parted. On the wall of the room, there was an old photograph of a priest who was a school friend of her father. She realises that she has never found out his name. The photo hung next to a coloured print of the promises made to Blessed Margaret Mary Alacoque. Her father would often tell visitors that the priest was now in Melbourne.
She had agreed to go away and leave her home. Was that wise? She tried to think about both sides of the question. She had food, shelter, and people whom she had known all her life, in her home. Of course, she had to work hard in the house as well as at business. She wondered what people would say when they find out that she had run away with a fellow.
Perhaps people would say that she was a fool. She imagined that her boss, Miss Gavan, would be glad. She was always harsh whenever other people were listening. She would order her around: “Miss Hill, don’t you see these ladies are waiting?” or “Look lively, Miss Hill, please.” She would be quite sad, and cry many tears at leaving her work at the Stores.
Eveline, still unnamed in the narrative, continues to observe her surroundings. Her attention shifts from the outside world to the home she is in. She notes all the things that she had become familiar with, over her life. Once again, her thoughts move randomly. From thinking about the photograph on her wall, she starts to consider her plans for leaving her home.
Even though Eveline seems to have decided to leave her home behind with a man, she is indecisive about moving away from her familiar settings. She wonders whether people would say that she was a fool for running away. She appears to be unhappy with her work and the attitude of her boss, Miss Gavan. Yet, she feels that she would cry many tears at leaving her work at the Stores.
Paragraphs 5 – 6
Her new home in a distant, unknown country would not be like that. There people would treat her, Eveline, with respect as she would be married. She would not be treated as her mother was. Even though she was nineteen years old, she felt in danger of her father’s violence. It gave her palpitations. When she was younger, her father had not been as harsh with her as with her brothers, Harry and Ernest. But lately, he had begun to threaten her with physical violence. Now, she had nobody to protect her. Harry was dead, and Ernest was busy with his church decorating business.
On top of this, there would be a fight for money on Saturday nights. She was exhausted with this. She would always give over all her weekly earnings – seven shillings. Harry sent some money from his work as well. But her father would not easily provide any of his own money towards household expenses. He accused her of squandering the money and refused to hand over his hard-earned money. In the end, he would give it to her and ask if she would also buy dinner for Sunday night. Then, she had to rush out and elbow her way through the crowds, holding her black leather purse tightly.
After finishing her shopping, she had to return home late, carrying the load of her provisions. She had to work hard to keep the house together. Her responsibilities include feeding the two young children left in her care, and ensuring that they are regular to school. It was a hard life for her. But now that she was thinking about leaving it all behind, it did not seem so undesirable.
Eveline is named for the first time in the narrative. She considers how different her new home would be. She supposes that she will be respected there because she would be married. It is made clear that her mother was not treated so. The hardships of her present life, particularly the violent ways of her father, are discussed. Her brothers, Ernest and Harry, are no longer around to protect her.
Despite earning her own money, she is forced to negotiate with her father for household expenses. Once he does give her some money, she has to work even harder to keep the house together and to feed the two younger children in her care. Here, we once again see a conflict in Eveline. Even though it is a hard life, it does not seem undesirable to her. She does not really wish to leave it all behind.
She was about to explore a new life with Frank. He was very kind, manly, and open-hearted. She was planning to go away with him on the night-boat, and be his wife. They would live in Buenos Ayres where he had a home ready for her. She remembered the first time that she had seen him. He was a lodger in a house she used to visit, on the main road. He was standing at the gate, with a peaked cap on his head. His hair fell over his face.
Then, they came to know each other. He used to meet her outside the Stores every evening and walk her home. He took her to see The Bohemian Girl and she felt happy to be in the theatre with him. He was very fond of music and sang a little. People knew that they were in a relationship. Whenever he sang about a girl who loves a sailor, she felt confused. He used to call her Poppens for fun.
First, it was all about the excitement of having a fellow. But later, she began to like him. He told stories of strange, distant places. He had begun to work as a deck boy on a ship of the Allan Line, going out to Canada. He was paid a pound a month. He told her the names of the different ships and shipping companies he had been on. He told her about the Straits of Magellan and the Patagonians. He had settled in Buenos Ayres, but had come back to Ireland for a brief holiday. Of course, her father had found out about the affair, and prohibited her from continuing it. He said he knew these sailor chaps. One day, he quarrelled with Frank. After that incident, she had to meet her lover in secret.
The evening grew darker in the avenue. There were two letters in her lap. One was to Harry and the other to her father. Ernest had been her favourite but she liked Harry too. Her father was growing in age and would miss her. He could be nice sometimes. Not long ago, when she was sick for a day, he had read her a ghost story and made her toast. Another time, when their mother was still 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.
 An Italian Opera, or musical play
 A woman’s or child’s hat tied under the chin and with a brim framing the face.
Eveline looks forward to her new life with Frank, her lover. He is portrayed as very different from her abusive father. She thinks back to the way their relationship developed over time. However, her father had found out about their affair and picked a fight with Frank. As a result, they had to be secretive about meeting each other. Her attention now shifts to the goodbye letters that she had written for her father and brother. She remembers two occasions when her father had been nice to her and the children.
Here, it becomes evident that Frank offers Eveline a way of escaping her life in Dublin. He introduces her to the pleasures of life and fascinates her with stories of strange, new places. As opposed to the harsh, routine life she leads, Frank represents novelty and excitement. Despite this, Eveline is caught in two minds about leaving. She remembers, almost unwillingly, nice moments with her usually strict father.
She was running out of time but continued to sit by the window. Her head was leaning against the window curtain, taking in the odour of the dusty fabric. She could hear a street organ playing in the avenue. The song felt familiar to her. It was strange that on this very night, she should be reminded of her promise to her mother to keep the home together as long as she could. She remembered the last night of her mother’s illness. Then, too, an organ-player had been playing an Italian song. Her father had ordered him to go away and paid him sixpence. She remembered her father coming back to her mother’s sickroom, irritated. He muttered about the damned Italians coming over there.
As she was lost in thought, the pitiful vision of her mother’s life captured her very soul – it was a life of commonplace sacrifices that ended in a final craziness. She trembled as she heard her mother’s voice constantly saying: “Derevaun Seraun!”.
She stood up in terror. She needed to escape. Frank would save her. He would give her life, and perhaps, love. But she wanted to live. There was no reason that she should be unhappy. She had a right to happiness. Frank would take and fold her in his arms. He would save her.
 A nonsense phrase in Gaelic which translates roughly to “The end of pleasure is pain.”
Soon, it would be time for Eveline to leave. She hears an organ player out in the street. By association, she remembers the promise she made to her mother to keep the family together as long as she can. Then, she thinks about the last night of her mother’s life. She kept uttering the phrase “Derevaun Seraun”. Eveline seems to connect this with her current plans and take this as a warning to herself.
Suddenly, she is struck by the fear that she would be trapped in unhappiness. She is convinced that Frank would save her from her miserable present. She seems to have finally made the decision to choose Frank over her family.
She stood among the crowd in the station at the North Wall. Frank held her hand. She knew he was speaking to her, saying something about the journey again and again. The station was full of soldiers with brown luggage. She could see the dark shape of the boat, lying beside the harbour wall, with lit-up portholes.
She said nothing in reply. She felt cold and, feeling upset, prayed to God to show her what her duty was. The boat blew a long, sad whistle into the mist. If she went, tomorrow, she would be on the sea with Frank, steaming towards Buenos Ayres. Their journey had been booked. Could she still go back after all that he had done for her? Her distress created a nausea in her body. She kept moving her lips in silent, intense prayer.
A bell rang upon her heart. She felt him grab her hand, asking her to follow him: “Come.”
It felt as though all the seas of the world were tumbling about her heart. He was drawing her into those waters; He would drown her.
She gripped the railing with both hands. Frank said again: “Come.”
No! No! No! It felt impossible. She refused to let go of the iron raining. She raised a cry of anguish amid the seas.
“Eveline! Evvy!” Frank rushed beyond the barrier and called for her to follow. Someone shouted at him to keep moving, but he still called to her. She made her white face passive, like a helpless animal, as she turned to him. Her eyes gave him no sign of love or farewell or recognition.
 A small exterior window in a ship or aircraft.
 Fall suddenly, move clumsily
At the climax of the story, we find Eveline standing in the docks. Frank is holding her hand amongst a large crowd. He is excited about the journey and is saying something over and over again. However, she is unsure of what her duty is and says nothing. She wonders if it is possible for her to go back after everything that Frank has done for her. She keeps praying silently.
The ship is ready to go. She feels Frank grab her hand, but all she feels is terror. She refuses to follow him. After trying to get her to go, Frank goes across the barrier and calls out her name. But, by then, she had decided not to go. She makes her face passive. Her eyes show no sign that she loved or even recognised him.
6.3.3 Critical Review
As we know, the twentieth century was an age of great turbulence and transformation across the world. It was during this time-frame that a new and dominant style known as ‘modernism’ emerged. As the name suggests, modernism rejected the accepted literary conventions of the nineteenth century in art, painting, music, and literature. It sought to alter the public’s understanding of art itself.
Modernist artists and writers used complex styles intended to challenge their audiences and readers. The impact of modernism on different artistic and literary genres, though following certain central principles, has been varied on the whole. Here, we must note that modernism is not limited to a single artform, language, or region. Rather, it has roots in several cultures and styles across a long period of time in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
However, in the context of this unit, we will briefly explore modernist fiction in English literature. Traditional fiction, championed by Victorian and Edwardian writers, employed realism in form and narrative. Their novels and short stories emphasised “plot development and a logical order” (Carter and McRae 372). But this was not consistent with the experience of ‘modern’ life. The linear, predictable format of fiction, established in the previous eras, seemed to be unable to adequately capture the effects of the major upheavals of the period.
It is in this context that modern writers of fiction felt the need to experiment with the language, form, themes, and narratives of the novel and short story. Their works were aesthetically different, with prominent technical innovations. They moved away from the chronological mode of story-telling. Their narratives followed a ‘fugal’ style wherein different perspectives and time-lines were woven together.
 Violent, unsteady movement
 Composed in the style of a fugue
The modern novel emphasised the internal thought processes and unconscious impulses of humans, and shifted towards an understanding of the individual in isolation. These characteristics are seen, in varying degrees, in the works of significant English writers such as E.M. Forster, D.H. Lawrence, Joseph Conrad, James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, Katherine Mansfield, and Graham Greene.
Of the stalwarts listed above, James Joyce (1882-1941), an Irish fiction writer, carries a vital significance in the history of literary modernism. His works epitomised a major break in the tradition of fiction in English. His novels and short stories made use of experimental language and literary methods. Often, they contained parallels, invented words, puns, allusions, and other innovations of form that transformed the experience of reading fiction.
Apart from this, Joyce also explored new subjects in his fiction. Writing from the point of view of individuals, he focused on the pressing concerns of modern life without romanticising them. Further, his works did not shy away from examining the darker sides of human behaviour and experience. Indeed, he attracted criticism for his frank treatment of sensitive matters including religion and sexuality.
One of the hallmarks of James Joyce’s fiction is its focus on human psychology and individual thought processes. As with many modernist writers, Joyce’s narratives worked through the interior lives of his characters. The feelings, thoughts, ideas, associations, perceptions, and internal musings of the characters are presented to the reader, using a variety of literary methods.
Joyce famously used the narrative technique known as ‘Stream of Consciousness’ to achieve the effect of entering the character’s mind. Some of the dominant traits of the style are:
- Uninterrupted reproduction of the flow of unspoken thoughts, memories, and sense impressions of the character.
- Thoughts and feelings are portrayed exactly as they are addressed in the mind of the character.
- Emphasis on a subjective, intimate description of life.
- There are illogical shifts in topic, idea, or association as often happens during the process of thinking.
- The flow of the character’s thought is often presented without an underlying coherent structure.
- Use of innovative language, syntax, and punctuation to suggest that the narrative revolves around the inner status of the character.
Indeed, Joyce’s employment of ‘Stream of Consciousness’ throughout his significant works did much to refine and popularize the concept.
James Joyce has made important contributions across many different genres. These include a play, Exiles (1914) and two collections of poetry, Chamber Music (1907) and Pomes Penyeach (1927). His legacy, however, is often said to rest on his renowned novels – The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916), Ulysses (1922), and Finnegan’s Wake (1939).
The initial phase of his fictional output began in 1914 with the publication of Dubliners, a collection of fifteen short stories set in his home city of Dublin, Ireland. Each of the stories depicts the lives of ordinary people in a seemingly simple and direct form of narration. Yet, they contain experimentations in technique, plotting, characterisation, description, dialogue, and narration. Many critics consider Dubliners to be a space where Joyce perfected his craftsmanship.
The stories in Dubliners are carefully organised so that readers may draw meaning from the relations between them, and not just from individual narratives. They showcase the human condition across a wide range of behaviours and emotions, including ones that were socially unaccepted. The narratives contain uncensored depictions of drunkenness, child and spousal abuse, gambling, prostitution, petty thievery, blackmail, and suicide.
The themes of paralysis, corruption, and death seem to unify the different stories. In various stories, the characters seemed to be trapped or unable to move forward in life. The stories trace their corruption and deterioration. The symbol of death seems to be ever-present in the text. In fact, the first and last stories of the anthology – “The Sisters” and “The Dead” – revolve around death.
The city of Dublin is portrayed as the “centre of paralysis”, a place where genuine human emotions are left meaningless (Daiches 1162). In a way, Joyce is responding to the various crises of the modern world. In particular, he is concerned with the loss of traditional value systems as well as with their corruption. So social institutions such as the church, marriage, and family are dissected in Dubliners.
At first glance, “Eveline” might seem to be a short tale about an individual and her inner conflict. However, as we examine it in depth, it becomes clear that a lot is happening beneath the surface. The simplicity of the language and narrative in the story is misleading.
In terms of the overall narrative of Dubliners, it is clear that “Eveline” has a unique place:
- It is the first story in the collection to use third-person narration
- It is the first story in the collection to focus on a female protagonist
- It is the first story in the collection to focus on an adult protagonist
- It is the only story in the collection to take a character’s name
It could be argued that Eveline, as a character, broadens the perspective of Dubliners to include the obstacles and limited options faced by women in twentieth century Dublin. Her identity is built in relation to the men in her life – her father, brothers, and lover. After the death of her mother, she takes on the role of keeping the family together. She rejects a life-altering opportunity because she cannot completely free herself from this patriarchal duty.
The central character of Eveline remains unnamed for a large part. We only know we are listening to the musings of a woman, based on the usage of the pronoun ‘she’. Slowly, the narrative presents more details such as her current mental state, setting, and future plans. Thus, the third-person narrator of the story selects and chooses events and memories that are vital for understanding the character.
Eveline is portrayed as an individual who is torn between two choices. She can either choose to be content with the harsh realities of her life in Dublin, or she can make a dramatic escape to Argentina with her lover. Throughout the story, she appears to be weighing both options. Even as she remembers the abuse and unhappiness she faces at the hands of her father and her employer, she seems to find little moments of contentment in between.
Eventually, the memories of her mother, past happiness, and small kindnesses overshadow her desire to escape Dublin. Her sense of family duty seems to be directly connected to her fear of an unknown life in a faraway land.
Eveline’s decision to stay behind is foreshadowed in many parts of the narrative. In an earlier passage, she remembers watching her friends leave Ireland. This is paralleled in the concluding section where she watches Frank leave. She becomes just another figure in a vast crowd of Dubliners watching their loved ones leave the city.
“Eveline” emphasises the power of the past to trap and paralyse individuals. It is because of her memories and attachments that Eveline cannot head into a new future with Frank. The story also highlights the guilt she feels for pursuing happiness in her life. She is far too emotionally tied to her family and her land to leave everything behind.
One of the deepest conflicts in the story is between modernity and tradition. On one hand, Eveline’s life in Dublin is based on the social order of the times. She is placed within the traditional family and cultural values of her age. Throughout the narrative, we see her inner struggle to free herself from the control of tradition.
The desire for modernity is visible in many aspects of Eveline’s thoughts. She is frequently disillusioned with the old way of life, represented by her mother. She feels that there is no one left to protect her. Her wish is to lead an existence of happiness and peace. This is possible only if she leaves Dublin behind.
Thus, as with other characters in Dubliners, Eveline represents an individual who is unable to break loose of the city. She is trapped in a state of emotional and social paralysis. In the end, she becomes ‘passive’ and emotionless even to the man she loves.
6.3.4 Literary Devices
“Eveline” showcases many instances of modernist experimentation on the part of James Joyce.
- Mode of narration: Here, we see an intermixing of the ‘Stream of Consciousness’ technique and the Interior Monologue. The third person narrator reveals the mind of the character (Stream of Consciousness), but does so using conventional order, syntax, and punctuation (Interior Monologue).
- Ambiguous Ending: The open-ended conclusion of “Eveline” challenges readers to an extent. It is left to them to draw meanings from the story as opposed to the author/narrator clearly stating his or her standpoints.
- Flashbacks and Flash Forwards: The story makes efficient use of both flashbacks (going back in memory) and flash forwards to create the effect of being within the character’s psyche.
- Parallels and Contrasts: Joyce uses parallels or contrasts in the story to give deeper context to his characters.
- Eveline’s Father and Frank: In the story, Eveline’s father and Frank are contrasted with each other. Eveline’s father stands for the deadening routine of domesticity. Frank, on the other hand, represents an unknown life, full of excitement and strange new things.
- Eveline’s Mother: The tragic figure of Eveline’s mother represents what life in Dublin would eventually turn Evelin into. She would lead a life of daily sacrifices, with little moments of pleasure that would ultimately end in pain.
- Eveline’s Friends: Eveline’s childhood friends leave Dublin for distant lands. Their actions may be contrasted with Eveline’s inability to escape the city.
- Windows: They represent the lens through which Eveline views the world. This is important since the readers see everything in the story through her eyes.
- New Construction: The newly constructed buildings that Eveline sees projects the idea of change. She has a complex relationship with change as it represents both loss (her old playfield) and transformation for her.
- Everyday Objects: Many of the objects that Eveline observes sparks deep memories and thoughts in her. They stand for the emotional power of small moments. (eg: The painting of her father’s friend).
- Music: Music carries a special relevance in the story. When Frank courts Eveline, he wins her over by taking her to see a musical play. Yet, it is the melody played on the organ that reminds Eveline of her promise to her mother. Thus, the pivotal moments in the narrative are acccompanied by music.
The symbols create a moment of realisation in Eveline. She becomes aware of deeper meanings or motivations as she reflects on certain symbols. Joyce refers to such events as epiphanies. In effect, they are ordinary or everyday objects that cause Eveline to understand herself and her decisions deeply.
The narrative style and thematic elements offer us a psychological portrait of a young woman. She is emotionally entrapped in Dublin and strives to be free of the city. We are able to clearly see the universal concerns that James Joyce puts forward through her personal dilemma. The failed quest for freedom in “Eveline” can be viewed as a metaphor for the human condition.