Eveline

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Catholic Values and Confinement Theme Analysis

Themes and Colors
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
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Eveline, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Catholic Values and Confinement Theme Icon

Joyce clearly illustrates Eveline’s desire for freedom, but in the end she stays behind—partly because of her Catholic background and its religious teachings involving guilt, sacrifice, and promises. Eveline’s appreciation of the Catholic value of sacrifice becomes clear in her duties caring for her family. She seems to sacrifice a great deal of time and effort tending to their needs, and she is living “a hard life.” Eveline sees the sacrifices her mother made for her family, as well as the toll it took on her as her mother eventually became insane and died: “that life of commonplace sacrifices closing in final craziness.” It is this memory that causes Eveline to frantically call for an escape, and vow never to be in the same position as her mother. Yet eventually Eveline sacrifices her wish to leave Dublin for the sake of her family. As she acknowledges, this decision is only going to lead to further sacrifices, as in her mother’s case.

Eveline also feels strongly obligated to fulfill her promises, both those she made to her mother on her deathbed and her religious promises to God. She hears the street organ playing as she is contemplating her options, and immediately sees it as a sign—perhaps from God or just a coincidence—because it reminds her of the eve of her mother’s death, when there was also street organ music outside, and when she promised her mother that she would “keep the home together as long as she could.” Eveline also begins to question her decision to leave when she remembers the promises to Blessed Margaret Mary Alacoque, a French nun and saint who introduced the idea of devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. These written promises are hanging on the wall, and as she notices them she starts to question whether or not leaving is the right thing to do.

Catholicism plays an important role in Eveline’s life, and generally speaking was the dominant religion in 20th-century Ireland. Eveline’s Catholic values play a large role in her inability to leave, and she ends up sacrificing herself for these values emphasized by her religion. Joyce is critiquing Catholicism and its emphasis on guilt, since ultimately Eveline’s guilt causes her to stay in Dublin with her abusive father.

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Catholic Values and Confinement ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Catholic Values and Confinement appears in each chapter of Eveline. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Catholic Values and Confinement Quotes in Eveline

Below you will find the important quotes in Eveline related to the theme of Catholic Values and Confinement.
Eveline Quotes

And yet during all those years she had never found out the name of the priest whose yellowing photograph hung on the wall above the broken harmonium beside the colored print of the promises made to Blessed Margaret Mary Alacoque.

Related Characters: Eveline Hill, The Priest
Page Number: 30
Explanation and Analysis:

Eveline’s attention to these two religious objects not only serve to show the reader the importance of Catholicism in Eveline’s life, they also represent the two options she is choosing between. The priest represents a form of death, as Eveline later mentions he has moved to Melbourne, rendering him essentially “dead” in that he is no longer present in Dublin or her father’s life. The priest has successfully escaped from Dublin, just as Eveline plans to do. In contrast Eveline notices the promises to Blessed Margaret Mary Alacoque (a French nun and saint), which represents her alternative option to stay in Dublin. This print shows the importance of both Eveline’s promise to her mother as well as her Catholic duty to stay behind and care for her family—and these religious values and promises eventually lead to her paralysis and inability to leave Dublin. Eveline’s devotion to keeping her promises, both to Blessed Margaret Mary Alacoque and her mother, represent Catholic values. It isn’t until Eveline mentions the print of the promises to Blessed Margaret Mary Alacoque that she really begins to question her decision to leave.

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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.

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.