Eveline, a young Dublin woman, is sitting at the window watching dusk fall. She notices that few people are out, except the man who lives in the last house on her street. She listens to his footsteps as he approaches the part of her street filled with newer, red houses. Her mind flashes back to her childhood, when the area with the red houses used to be a field where the neighborhood children played. At the time her favorite brother, Ernest, was too old to play with them, but the Devines, the Waters, the Dunns and little Keogh the cripple were all there. Eveline’s father used to go looking for them with a blackthorn stick. Her father is abusive, but Eveline remembers him being less violent during her childhood. She was happier then. Now her mother is dead and all of her siblings and the neighborhood families have either moved away, or died. Eveline is also planning to move away.
Eveline is overcome with nostalgia as she looks around the room at the familiar objects covered in dust. She notices the photograph of her father’s friend, the priest, who is now in Melbourne, and the print of the promises made to Margaret Mary Alacoque, a French nun and saint. Now Eveline begins to question whether or not it is “wise” to leave her home, where she has food, shelter, and familiarity. She imagines the gossip about her at the Stores when they find out she has run away from Dublin with a man. She decides she will not miss the Stores, since her boss, Miss Gavan, is often particularly critical of her.
Eveline imagines her new life in a foreign country, and imagines her marriage will help her earn the respect she is denied in Dublin. Lately her father has been threatening her more and more. When she was a child he used to spare her since she was a girl, but now that she’s almost nineteen and Ernest is dead and her brother Harry is often away for work, she has become a target. Money is also an issue of conflict for her and her father, who accuses her of being wasteful. Eveline works hard to feed her father and take care of two children who have been left in her care. Life is hard, but now that she is planning to leave, she realizes it’s not “a wholly undesirable life.”
Eveline is planning to take the night-boat to Buenos Ayres with Frank, an Irish sailor who lives in Buenos Ayres but was visiting Dublin when they met. She reflects on their relationship as she considers this decision. At first Eveline just liked the attention from Frank, but eventually she grew fond of him for his stories about foreign travels. Eveline’s father forbids her from seeing him, but she continues to see him in secret and eventually makes secret plans to move to Buenos Ayres with him.
She looks down at the letters she has been holding in her lap: one for Harry, and one for her father. She starts to think about all of the good memories she has had with her father, of him caring for her when she was sick, and going on family picnics together.
Eveline is running out of time before her departure. She hears an organ playing and is reminded of her mother’s last night before she died, when there was also organ music out on the street. She remembers her promise to her mother that she would keep the home together, but she also remembers the sacrifices her mother made and how they ended in her loss of sanity. Eveline begins to panic, desperately seeking an escape from a fate that looks very similar to her mother’s. She hopes Frank can “save” her, and reasons that she deserves to be happy.
Eveline resolves to go to the station to meet Frank. She is terribly distressed and she keeps praying to God for direction. At the last minute as Frank seizes her hand to lead her onto the boat, Eveline freezes. As she clutches the railing, and cries out in the direction of the sea, she realizes that she is too afraid of the unknown and that Frank will “drown her.” She watches Frank board the boat without her, feeling empty inside as he calls for her to join him.