Eveline

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Dust Symbol Analysis

Dust Symbol Icon

Dust represents monotony. The dust in the house keeps collecting no matter how frequently Eveline cleans it, paralleling the monotony of Eveline’s life in Dublin: she is constantly taking care of people or cleaning, only to wake up and do the same thing the next day. The children will always grow hungry again just as the dust will always collect again.

In the opening lines, Eveline breathes in the scent of “dusty cretonne” and notices that she is tired. The dust is a reminder of her endless daily tasks, which seem empty of meaning. Dust also represents death, or the cyclicality of life. It calls to mind the Biblical phrase “from dust to dust,” which implies that dust is simply the absence of existence, either pre- or post- life. At one point Eveline wonders “where on earth all the dust came from,” not because she is genuinely curious but because she is fed up with the senseless repetition of her housework.

Dust Quotes in Eveline

The Eveline quotes below all refer to the symbol of Dust. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Paralysis and Inaction Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Penguin Classics edition of Eveline published in 1993.
Eveline Quotes

Home! She looked round the 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. Perhaps she would never see again those familiar objects from which she had never dreamed of being divided.

Related Characters: Eveline Hill
Related Symbols: Dust
Page Number: 29 – 30
Explanation and Analysis:

As Eveline is contemplating whether or not she should leave Dublin, she is struck with a wave of nostalgia as she looks at the objects around her house. Of course, she is not actually emotionally attached to any of these objects, but she finds herself attached to the familiarity and comfort that they represent. This nostalgia, along with her fear of the unknown, end up triggering her paralysis at the end of the story.

Eveline spends a lot of time focusing on the dust coating the objects. In the text dust primarily symbolizes death, as well as monotony, since Eveline is tasked with dusting these objects every day. This is related to her role as a woman in 20th-century Dublin, as women were typically charged with the cleaning and keeping of the house. She wonders where the dust comes from, almost as though questioning the point of her meaningless, monotonous task. Her skepticism about the importance of dusting and how the dust even gets there in the first place indicates that she is somewhat aware of how empty and meaningless her life is.

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Her time was running out but she continued to sit by the window, leaning her head against the window curtain, inhaling the odour of dusty cretonne. Down far in the avenue she could hear a street organ playing. She knew the air. Strange that it should come that very night to remind her of the promise to her mother, her promise to keep the home together as long as she could.

Related Characters: Eveline Hill, Eveline’s Mother
Related Symbols: Dust
Page Number: 32 – 33
Explanation and Analysis:

Eveline is still trying to make a decision, but she seems to be comforted by the familiarity of both the scent of dusty cretonne (heavy fabric used for upholstery) and the sound of the street organ. She likes the familiarity of both of these things, even though they are both associated with death. Dust represents death, but since Eveline is familiar with death both in its literal and figurative forms, she finds it comforting. Similarly, the street organ reminds Eveline of the night her mother died (as she heard one playing then), but she also knows the tune, and she potentially sees this coincidence as a sign that she should stay and keep her promise to her mother. Eveline’s sense of duty to keep her promise to her mother is a reflection of her Catholic values and upbringing. The idea of breaking a promise is so blasphemous that she would sacrifice her own freedom and happiness in order to keep her promise.

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Dust Symbol Timeline in Eveline

The timeline below shows where the symbol Dust appears in Eveline. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Eveline
Paralysis and Inaction Theme Icon
The Many Forms of Death Theme Icon
...against the curtains, watching dusk fall on her street. She notices that it smells like “dusty cretonne” (heavy fabric used for upholstery) and that she is tired. There is hardly anyone... (full context)
Paralysis and Inaction Theme Icon
Women and Society Theme Icon
The Many Forms of Death Theme Icon
Catholic Values and Confinement Theme Icon
...is suddenly overcome with nostalgia as she looks around at the objects that she has dusted over the years. She wonders where the dust comes from, and then realizes she may... (full context)
Women and Society Theme Icon
The Many Forms of Death Theme Icon
Catholic Values and Confinement Theme Icon
...was sick, and entertained the children on a family picnic. Eveline notices the smell of dusty cretonne again and hears a street organ playing outside. She knows the tune, and it... (full context)