In the short story, Eveline, James Joyce introduces us to the life of a young woman named Eveline. Paralysis being one of the main themes plays a major role in her life and her surroundings. She has the opportunity to escape with Frank, a sailor she had met, to Buenos Aires in search of a new life, or to stay in her dreary and gloomy life she already knows. To understand Evelines final decision we have to analyze the reasons that prevent her or paralyze her to stay in her present life. Her fear of the unknown; the fact that she does not know Frank well enough; and the many attachments she has to her home, prompt Eveline to make her decision.
The meaning of paralysis can be defined in many different ways. Evelines paralysis begins with her life as a child, growing up in Dublin Ireland at a time where the environment was very unhealthy for a young girl. Her family life and home was no different. Eveline lives alone with her father, a man who was an alcoholic as well as abusive. The memory of her mothers craziness before dying is one of the main reasons she is hesitant to leave Ireland and her father. She cannot end up like her mother, living a life of commonplace sacrifices closing in final craziness. Despite her fathers abusive nature she tried to remember the few happy times. She recalled the time her father made her toast and put on her mothers bonnet to make the children laugh. Eveline wants a new life but is afraid to let go of her past and her promise to her mother to keep the family together. The room where most of the story is told is also significant in presenting the theme, while she sat in her room reviewing all its familiar objects which she had dusted once a week for so many years, wondering where on earth all the dust came from. The dust collecting around the house and the aged yellow painting of Mary Margaret Alocoque, a French nun, enable the reader to get a sense of the death and loneliness surrounding Eveline, thus presenting the theme of paralysis.
To Eveline, Frank represents a new and exciting lifestyle that she has not had the opportunity to experience after taking over the mother role. Her routine, mundane lifestyle that Eveline has led, appears to be comforting to her because of its stability, whereas being with Frank is something new and spontaneous. Perhaps Eveline is not so much in love with Frank as she is with the opportunity to embark on a new lifestyle that contradicts everything she has known and become accustomed to. Eveline thinks she loves Frank, but is apprehensive about her future with him. She likes Frank; she thinks he was very kind, manly, open-hearted. She truly wants nothing more than to believe in him, but is cautious because of her past with her father. Eveline tried telling herself that living with her father might not be so bad or risk the unknown life with Frank, saying she had shelter and food and those whom she had known all her life. She begins to believe she might have put too much faith in Frank. She also questions whether he will end up like her father. Eveline is fearful that nothing will be different, if Frank is not different. As she reflects on her past she discovers now that she was about to leave it she did not find it a wholly undesirable life.
When the time comes for Eveline to make her life altering decision she falters. Frank is urging her to go as they are at the station and Eveline becomes frozen in a state of emotional paralysis, unable to make a decision. When she meets him at the station and they are set to board the ship, Eveline suddenly decides she cannot go with Frank, because he would drown her in all the seas of the world. Eveline grips onto the handrails that lead down the steps to her new life. Her hands clutched the iron in frenzy. The handrails represent stability and control. They represented the life she has always known and the comfort that it provides, thus leaving her in a state of paralysis. She stood there watching him, her eyes gave him no sign of love or farewell or recognition.
One cannot begin a new life unless one leaves behind the old one. Unable to make that leap of faith, she remains behind, passive, like a helpless animal. Eveline, paralyzed by Dublin, her past, her present, and her fears of the future, and cannot bear to leave and risk the unknown. To understand Evelines final decision we had to analyze the reasons that prevent her or paralyze her to stay in her present life. Paralysis takes on more than one meaning and goes way beyond physicality. There is perhaps no example of this paralysis as bleak as that of the seemingly doomed and completely immobile Eveline herself at the end of her story.