Eveline is the first female protagonist that Joyce introduces in Dubliners, and many of her thoughts and desires are influenced by her role as a woman in 20th Century Dublin. Whether or not she is aware of it, her decisions are greatly affected by outside social forces.
Eveline’s indecisiveness and resulting inaction is largely a result of women’s roles in society at the time. Society has told her she is powerless, and so she feels powerless. This sense of powerlessness is partially why Eveline is unable to make a decision and she feels she needs a male figure, either God or Frank, to “save” her from her present situation. Eveline sees marrying Frank as a way to gain respect, so she is aware that she is somewhat helpless without a husband. As a woman, she does not have a lot of mobility when it comes to her status. As she is trying to decide whether or not to leave, she reasons through her rights, saying “Why should she be unhappy? She had a right to happiness.” This need to justify her own desire to be happy is also a result of social oppression. Eveline is the caretaker of her father and two children, and she feels guilty leaving for the sake of her own happiness, knowing that they are relying on her. This is because society has told her that she is a caretaker and should be driven by others’ needs, not by her own desires or pursuit of happiness.
Eveline’s role as a woman also affects her views and experiences with violence. As Eveline’s father begins to threaten her more, he also justifies it by threatening her “for her dead mother’s sake.” Eveline feels like she is becoming her mother and thus the new outlet for her father’s violence. However, since she grew up in this environment, she has been exposed to violence and is somewhat used to it. There seems to be a great deal of blame placed on Eveline’s mother. Eveline herself even says “She would not be treated as her mother had been,” implying that this is some sort of conscious decision her mother made that Eveline can choose not to make. When Eveline does in fact end up staying, it becomes clear that the decision to stay in an abusive relationship is complicated and much less of a decision than it seems, or perhaps not even a decision at all. Eveline has seen her mother sacrifice her well-being, and eventually sanity, and it is only natural that she does not question that she should do the same. When Eveline begins to have heart palpitations because of her father’s threats, this does not prevent her from staying behind. She has seen her mother put her health at risk for a man and it doesn’t seem unnatural for her to do the same.
Eveline is motivated by what marrying Frank could give her – respect, more freedom, an escape – but at the final moment she comes to the realization that she does not really love Frank, and regardless of what changes would result from marriage, she will always be trapped in her role as a caretaker and rendered powerless by society.
Women and Society ThemeTracker
Women and Society 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.
Miss Gavan would be glad. She had always had an edge on her, especially whenever there were people listening…But in her new home, in a distant unknown country, it would not be like that. Then she would be married – she, Eveline. People would treat her with respect then. She would not be treated as her mother had been.
Even now, though she was over nineteen, she sometimes felt herself in danger of her father’s violence. She knew it was that that had given her the palpitations. When they were growing up he had never gone for her, like he used to go for Harry and Ernest, because she was a girl; but latterly he had begun to threaten her and say what he would do to her only for her dead mother’s sake.
He took her to see The Bohemian Girl and she felt elated as she sat in an unaccustomed part of the theatre with him…People knew that they were courting and, when he sang about the lass that loves a sailor, she always felt pleasantly confused…First of all it had been an excitement for her to have a fellow and then she had begun to like him. He had tales of distant countries.
As she mused the pitiful vision of her mother’s life laid its spell on the very quick of her being – that life of commonplace sacrifices closing in final craziness. She trembled as she heard again her mother’s voice saying constantly with foolish insistence: –Derevaun Seraun! Derevaun Seraun!
She stood up in a sudden impulse of terror. Escape! She must escape! Frank would save her. He would give her life, perhaps love, too. But she wanted to live. Why should she be unhappy? She had a right to happiness.
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.