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Water, specifically the sea, represents the unknown, and Joyce uses it to illustrate Eveline’s fear of the unknown. At the end of the story, when Eveline is filled with anguish and rendered immobile by the difficulty of her decision, she feels “all the seas of the world tumble[d] about her heart.” The fact that her heart comes back into the story is significant since she reveals that she has a health issue of palpitations. This image implies that the very thought of leaving Dublin and entering the unknown “seas” is causing her emotional distress, and perhaps heart palpitations as well. She feels that Frank is “drawing her into” the seas and that eventually “he would drown her.” She is not ready for the unknown, and she feels like Frank is pressuring her. The sea also represents freedom, which is one and the same as the unknown to Eveline. She is afraid of both freedom and the unknown.

Water Quotes in Eveline

The Eveline quotes below all refer to the symbol of Water. 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

Still they seemed to have been rather happy then… That was a long time ago; she and her brothers and sisters were all grown up; her mother was dead. Tizzie Dunn was dead, too, and the Waters had gone back to England. Everything changes. Now she was going to go away like the others, to leave her home.

Related Characters: Eveline Hill, Eveline’s Father, Eveline’s Mother, The Waters, the Dunns, and the Devines, Ernest, Harry
Related Symbols: Water
Page Number: 29
Explanation and Analysis:

Eveline is very familiar with death. As she lists the friends and family members who have died, along with those who have moved away, it becomes clear that these are essentially equivalent in Eveline’s mind. To Eveline, leaving Dublin is a form of death, and the way she discusses both death and moving away without emotion, and as though they are the same, highlights the idea of being dead while alive. She has felt “dead” her whole life since she has been trapped in uninspiring Dublin and a constricting family situation, and so the idea of actual physical death does not provoke a lot of emotions from her. She sums death up coolly, reducing it to “Everything changes.” Her emotionless attitude about death serves to highlight the idea that she is, in a sense, already dead.

The fact that other families and individuals have moved away also emphasizes that Eveline’s desire to escape is not unique; others have also felt compelled to leave Dublin. Further, it is no coincidence that Eveline’s neighbors are named the Waters. This deliberate name choice echoes the symbolism of the sea. The fact that the Waters family has gone back to England symbolizes that they are different, they are not from Dublin, and now they are back in an unknown country. Now that the Waters family has left for England, they are just as unknown and distant to Eveline as the sea.

It’s also worth noting that though a third-person narrator is speaking here, they often inhabit Eveline’s thoughts and perspective. This is emblematic of Joyce’s style of “free indirect discourse.”


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Could she still draw back after all he had done for her? Her distress awoke a nausea in her body and she kept moving her lips in silent fervent prayer. A bell clanged upon her heart. She felt him seize her hand: –Come! All the seas of the world tumbled about her heart. He was drawing her into them: he would drown her.

Related Characters: Eveline Hill, Frank
Related Symbols: Water
Page Number: 33 – 34
Explanation and Analysis:

Eveline’s heart plays a very important role in this passage. The only other time she refers to her heart in the text is when she mentions her palpitations. The motion of a bell clanging on her heart parallels this phenomenon of an irregular or rapid heartbeat. This is again reiterated in Joyce’s description of “all the seas of the world” tumbling around her heart. These two descriptions of Eveline’s heart could be metaphors that signify she is once again experiencing palpitations as a result of her stressful decision. The stress of leaving Dublin is causing a similar reaction as the stress of her father’s threats, and in a way this equates the two risks Eveline is choosing between. She is either going to experience the stress of a totally unfamiliar environment, or the stress of her father’s violent behavior. This is part of the reason why Eveline’s escape becomes suddenly less appealing—she begins to see it as a risk that is just as stressful as staying in Dublin.

Eveline contemplates whether or not she can still change her mind after all that Frank has done for her. Once again, because she is a woman in 20th-century Dublin, she is considering her duty to those around her, rather than her own desires. But soon after the sea, which symbolizes the unknown, comes back into the text and Eveline realizes that Frank will “drown” her. Essentially Eveline realizes that if she leaves with Frank, she will “die” in many ways. She will get married, which means the end of her life as an individual, and she will also be leaving Dublin, which means she will essentially be dead to everyone who lives there, just as those who left became “dead” to her. Note also that Eveline turns to “silent prayer” in her moment of distress, reverting to her traditional Catholic values that advise her to stay.

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Water Symbol Timeline in Eveline

The timeline below shows where the symbol Water appears in Eveline. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Paralysis and Inaction Theme Icon
Escapism and the Exotic Theme Icon
Women and Society Theme Icon
The Many Forms of Death Theme Icon
Catholic Values and Confinement Theme Icon
...ship. She feels the pressure from Frank, as if he is leading her into the sea, and she suddenly feels he will “drown her.” She clutches the iron railing, and cries... (full context)