Joyce’s use of perspective and his characteristic stream-of-consciousness style allow the reader to see Eveline’s thought progression clearly as she contemplates running away to Argentina with her lover, Frank. Eveline’s inability to make a decision, a sort of mental paralysis, results in actual physical paralysis at the end of the story as she stands outside watching Frank board the ship but cannot bring herself to join him. Through her inability to make a decision, she inadvertently decides to stay behind in Dublin.
Eveline has a logical thought process as she considers her options. She observed her father’s violence toward her mother and brothers growing up, and resolves to leave so she will not end up in the same situation. At the same time she knows that both her father and the children she takes care of are relying on her, but also reasons that she deserves to pursue her own happiness. Despite this logic, her emotions kick in and she begins to feel guilty for leaving them. She is also influenced by her fear of the unknown. She admits that her current life is “a hard life,” but now that she is making plans to leave, Eveline starts to think about all of the good things and the certainty that her current life provides, finding it not “a wholly undesirable life.” Nostalgia plays a large role in Eveline’s decision to stay as well. She is attached to the past, and even though the people from her past are long gone, she cannot bring herself to leave the city that she associates with them. Rather than focusing on her present relationship with her father, she uses their past experiences together to justify her bond with him, remembering when he read her ghost stories and made her toast while she was sick and another time when the family went for a picnic while her mother was still alive. Joyce is perhaps using “Eveline” as an opportunity to critique this type of glorification of the past, since here it prevents Eveline from escaping an abusive relationship and pursuing her own happiness. Her nostalgia causes her to sacrifice her future, and despite her logical thought process, her final decision is ultimately caused by a gut feeling.
Eveline’s paralysis is also caused by her sense of powerlessness. She continually looks to two things to save her from her situation: Frank, or men in general, and religion/God. She is constantly either praying to God or thinking about how Frank will help her become more respectable or change her situation: “He would save her.” Because Eveline is a woman in 20th Century Dublin, it is logical that she looks to Frank to save her. Marriage was the primary way for women to gain social or economic status during the time period, and part of the reason Eveline is looking for someone or something to save her is because in 20th Century Dublin she is mostly powerless. Eveline also looks to God, or her religion, to save her. She prays to God for the power to make a decision, and even at the station as she watches Frank board the boat she is “moving her lips in silent fervent prayer.” Eveline’s religion also further perpetuates the idea that someone else, another male figure, can save her, and that she perhaps does not need to make an active decision. But this feeling of helplessness, however rooted in women’s roles and society, is also part of the reason Eveline is unable to take control of her fate and make a decision. She has grown up in a society where she is powerless and needs someone to save her, and so she is unable to claim ownership of her own fate. Her sense of powerless, along with her emotions and nostalgia, prevent her from making a decision based on logic and perspective.
Paralysis and Inaction ThemeTracker
Paralysis and Inaction Quotes in Eveline
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.
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.