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Analysis of Eveline and the Women of Her Time Essay


Born and raised in Ireland, James Joyce was the oldest of ten surviving children born to Mary and John Stanislaus Joyce. Apparently, Joyces childhood greatly influenced his fiction and provided settings and much of the subject for all of his writings. Written in 1914, the short story Eveline reflects the issues of that time period in Ireland. Set against the backdrop of the Irish suffrage movement, Eveline, the title character, is greatly affected by feministic issues typical of its period. By exploring Evelines relationships with men, the societys expectations of her, and her obligations toward her family, James Joyce not only focuses on the theme of escape, but also the moral history of his country. Eveline, a nineteen-year old, is much like the young women of Ireland in the early twentieth century. Having lost her mother and an older brother, Eveline is obligated to take up much of the responsibilities of the household at a young age while taking care of a drinking father and avoiding his abuses. Despite all these, Eveline still treasures the memories of a happier time. She recalls lovingly of her childhood when she was allowed to run around with the neighborhood children and the one occasion when her father was very nice (Joyce, 3). All Evelines happier times end with the death of her mother, and she is forced to face her unhappiness with her present life. Her one chance of escape comes with a young man named Frank. Frank, a sailor, promises to take her away to Buenos Aires and give her a respected married life. As a result, Eveline is torn between her conflicting desiresher desire to pursue happiness and desire to stay loyal to her family. Eventually, she decides to go with Frank. However, due to Evelines fears of the unknown and the societal expectations of women at that time, Eveline is unable to let go of her past and embark upon a new life. Instead, she stays home in her unhappiness. Using the literary technique of the stream of consciousness, Joyce sculpts a tortured young woman whose thought processes and internal struggles are emphasized. In doing so, Joyce casts a sympathetic touch on an insecure, passive, and yet loyal Irish young woman.

Evelines insecure nature evokes sympathy and understanding from the readers because it makes it impossible for her to accept changes and instability that unavoidably come with changes. Although Eveline dreams of a place where she could be respected and perhaps even loved, her fears prevent her from changing her life for the better. The presence of Frank presents Eveline with a chance to improve her life. In describing Frank, Eveline uses words such as very kind, manly, and open-hearted(Joyce, 2). This suggests that Frank represents not only a respectable life to Eveline, but also the protection and adventures she want. Perhaps in Evelines subconscious, she is desperately craving the securities that come with a very kind, manly, and open-hearted husband. However, in the meantime when such a husband is not secured, Eveline clings onto her present lifestyle despite of her unhappiness. Throughout the story, Evelines interaction with her environment casts an insightful look into her insecurities. In the beginning, Eveline is introduced as a young woman whos leaning against a cretonne curtain. Here, the cretonnea heavy cotton material, symbolizes her difficult life. Like how she leans on the cretonne, Eveline relies on her present lifestyle as her physical and emotional crutches in life. When surveying her house before taking off with Frank, Eveline reviews all its familiar objects which she had dusted once a week for so many years, wondering where on earth all the dust came from (Joyce, 1). Here, the dust symbolizes Evelines life at home. The constant collection of the dust represents the economic despairs that accumulate in the household. Despite the fact that Eveline and her brother work hard to support their family, their wages are constantly consumed by their fathers drinking ways and the maintenance of the familys basic needs. In turn, Evelines hanging onto the dust-covered furniture symbolizes her clinging onto the economic despairs at home for the sake of stability. The description of Evelines perceptions of her home and its furniture highlights the young womans desire to hang onto her past for the comfort of its stability. As a result, Eveline could not imagine being divided from her life at home like how she could never dream of being divided from the furniture of her house (Joyce, 1). To go away with Frank means Eveline must part ways with these familiarities and embrace the unknown. This is especially difficult for Eveline because up to this point, all of her comfort and strength have originated from these familiarities. Perhaps in Evelines society, stability is the one sure thing a young woman could ever hope to obtain. Perhaps in Evelinea terrified young womans mind, everything ranging from respect to love to happiness pales in comparison to the comfort of stability. Perhaps in the last moment when she decides against going away with Frank, Eveline finally realizes the meanings of her mothers last words that the end of pleasure is pain. Eveline realizes the danger in pursuing pleasure and gives up her chance at a happier life for the comfort of miserable stability at home. Finally, Evelines insecurities make a decision for her to stay. As a result, the young woman hangs onto the railing desperately to avoid being dragged away by Frank. Here, the railing symbolizes the stability of her old life and her hanging onto it symbolizes her choice to remain in her childhood home. After experiencing Evelines dilemma with her, it is difficult to criticize her choice of staying at home. Rather, Evelines fears and insecurities reflect our own anxieties and make us empathize with her even more deeply. In reality, people choose stability over the unknown all the time because of their insecurities. Criticisms of Eveline for her insecurities are not only hypocritical, but also a denial of our own rights to have fears and to be human.

Because of Evelines abusive environment, her development of a passive attitude toward life under her fathers repression is understandable. Eveline has lived in an abusive environment all her life, and this lifestyle, over time, has become habitual to her. She is so accustomed to living in constant fear that she doesnt know any better. Eveline begins the story by recalling her childhood memories of having to keep watch of her father just to avoid a ruthless beating. Even now, though she was over nineteen, she sometimes felt herself in danger of her fathers violence, James Joyce writes. Latterly he had begun to threaten her and say what he would do to her only for her dead mothers sake. In spite of these memories, Eveline stubbornly insists on the possibility of a happier life and that its not too bad (Joyce, 1). Instead of rebelling against her father and standing up for herself and the family, Eveline takes her fathers abuses silently and submits to his wasteful ways. Eveline willingly gives her wages to her father and takes whatever amount his drinking ways would spare to buy food for the family. Even though shes deeply unhappy about his wasteful habits, Evelines habitual fear of her father takes over and shes too afraid to even disagree with him. Similarly with Frank, she retains a passive attitude toward their relationship. Throughout their relationship, Eveline never shows any intense emotions for Frank. She simply accepts Franks pursuit and advances. Although a willing participant, Eveline assumes the position of a mere spectator in her brief relationship with Frank. She listens to Franks stories while never questioning them; she goes to see plays arranged by Frank; and she submissively agrees to meet Frank secretly after her fathers disapproval. In spite of her passive ways, Eveline fiercely craves a better life. However, beaten by her abusive environment and habitual acceptance of male dominance, Eveline unwittingly gives up her chance at a better life.

Despite having an abusive father, Evelines unchanging loyalty toward her family arouses sympathy. Since her mothers death, Eveline has taken care of the family for her father. She does not complain of her responsibilities, but only hopes that her father would not sabotage her efforts. Still, Evelines father spends Evelines hard-earned cash to feed his abuse of alcohol. In addition, Eveline takes care of her younger siblings dutifully by herself, including feeding them and making sure they go to school. By keeping her promise to keep the family together as long as she could to her dead mother, Eveline surrenders her chances at happiness for the survival of the family. When an older brother is allowed to live outside of the family home and only provide monetary support, Eveline is forced to provide not only physical support, but also an emotional shelter for her younger siblings. Even after Eveline makes the decision to go with Frank, she is plagued with guilt toward her family. Eveline is haunted by this guilt: her mentioning of her dead mother is always characterized by a sense of guilt. She knows that without a caretaker, her family would not stay together and might not even survive. Eventually, it contributes to her decision of not going away with Frank. Her loyalty now becomes a prison of her present state where she is obligated to take care of everyone except herself. Nevertheless, Eveline inspires sympathy and even admiration for her loyalty.

Like most young women living in Ireland in the early twentieth century, Evelines taking care of her family is a common expression of the societys oppression of women. Before the success of the Irish suffrage movement, women were perceived as inferiors to men politically and domestically. Not only were women not given the rights to vote, they were also obligated to be the main support for their families and their men. For generations, women such as Evelines mother had suffered painful lives devoid of pleasure and respect. Even Eveline, a rebellious young woman, is largely affected by societys expectations of women. She wonders what people of the town would think of her after they hear of her departure with Frank. What would they say of her in the stores when they found out that she had run away with a fellow? Eveline thinks, Say she was a fool, perhaps. Victim of the society, Eveline is forced to stay and take care of her family and sacrifice her own happiness. Furthermore inequality can be seen in Evelines relationships with men such as her father, her brothers, and Frank. Evelines father treats her differently from her brothers. Although she thinks she lucky to be spared from the physical abuses typical of the male children of the family, she is in reality the more unfortunate one whos really stuck with dealing with her father. Unable to leave her home like her older brother, Eveline stays home to endure his abuses. Evelines relationships with men are all characterized by a passive nature in which she takes what men are willing givegood and bad. In a sense, Eveline is a symbol of the suppressed women of history. Like generations of women, Eveline is expected by the society to make sacrifices for the happiness of everyone else except herself. In the form of a failed escape, James Joyces short story Eveline characterizes a young womans unfortunate situation as a hopeless prison house for generations of women set up by the society, the men, and the women themselves.

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