In James Joyce’s short story, we become acquainted with a young woman named Eveline who is forced to make the very difficult decision: live her days in her native Dublin alongside her family, or abandon them for a chance at a love affair with a captivating man she knows very little about. Eveline struggles to find the answer to her dilemma and ultimately decides to listen to her departed mother, her heart and her faith. All three echo the same message: devotion to one’s family above all. Eveline’s sense of obligation towards her family was no match for any feelings of love that she might have had for her suitor, Frank. In the end, this was the right decision for a young woman such as Eveline, who was not yet ready to make such a life altering resolution.
Throughout the narrative, it is very clear that Eveline is immensely committed to what remains of her family – her younger siblings and her troubled father. It was the promise she made to her dying mother that still resonates with her, she was to care for and keep the family together for as long as she could. Eveline was born in a time when “the essential characteristics of a respectable woman, regardless of class…were that she have an overwhelming desire to marry, remain subordinate to and dependent in that relationship…where a woman’s natural sphere was the domestic where she engaged in reproductive and not productive tasks.” (McLoughlin). Although it was Eveline’s desire to someday become married, she was already fulfilling an important role, being a surrogate mother to her younger siblings and a caregiver to her alcoholic father.
This sense of duty was something that Eveline did not take lightly, for she knew that when alive, her mother was the glue that held everything in place. Now that her mother was no longer alive, she was obligated to follow in her mother’s footsteps: no matter how difficult this path may be. Despite her sad reality, Eveline was full of hope that better days would come and her existence would improve. Proofs of that false sense of confidence were the many good memories that she could recall as a young child when she would play with other children, when her father comforted her, and when her mother was still alive. Eveline discerns that she will endure.
We come to learn that Eveline is not one to wallow in misery. Despite the ill treatment she receives at work where she is constantly being berated by her superior, this girl takes it all in stride. Continuing to work and bring home those seven shillings that help her support her small family. When it comes to her father’s mistreatment, Eveline understands and even feels sorry for her father, since she knows that despite his flaws, if she left him he would certainly be lost without her. Eveline accepts the life she was dealt, for it is the only life that she knows with complete certainty.
In Eveline’s life, perhaps the most influential figure is her dearly departed mother, who she constantly mentions. It was her mother’s tragic life and choices that Eveline now comes to comprehend. Despite her mother’s ill fate, Eveline hopes to emulate her maternal essence. The love and devotion to her family was perhaps her mother’s lasting legacy. Eveline always looks to her departed mother for guidance, remembering her last words “the end of pleasure is pain,”(Joyce 6) a phrase that at that time made no sense to her, but when it was time to make the decision to leave with Frank, made all the sense in the world. It was her mother letting her know it was not wise to abandon her family and to put her own pleasure ahead of her family that is dependent on her. Perhaps this was a premonition: after having experienced the pleasure of running away with Frank, Eveline would surely feel pain afterwards. It was not just her mother’s words that made her doubtful about Frank’s intentions, but even her own father had warned her about those sailor fellows. At last, if there ever was a reason that Eveline wanted to run away it was not because of the affection she had for Frank, it was because she grew weary of her day to day and wanted excitement; she wanted change.
Truthfully, it was going to take more than a few romantic gestures to make a smart and religiously devout young woman like Eveline leave her family and her homeland. Eveline valued the safety and stability that her home and family brought to her. In the end, she came to terms with the fact that, with a drifter like Frank, she would never be content living a life full of uncertainty.
At the end of the story, as much as many of us would have wanted Eveline to leave behind her depressing life in search of love, we find that there is a real element to her situation. Eveline could not leave: the only logical thing for her to do was to stay. It was against her nature to turn her back on those she loved, she cared too much to do that. It did not matter if the people who were the object of her affection were worthy of her kindness or not. We fail to realize that knowing the kind of person that Eveline is, she would have succumbed to great feelings of guilt for having forsaken her younger brothers and sisters, and left them in the care of their father who was not only negligent, but was himself growing in age and not likely be able to care for her siblings. Eveline would not have found happiness in Buenos Aires knowing that her siblings were probably suffering back in Dublin. Most importantly, Eveline could not break that promise she made to her beloved mother. How many of us would break a promise that we made to our dying mother? Neither God nor her mother would have forgiven her if she had gone through with her plans to escape. In the end, it took great strength of character and self-sacrifice to do what Eveline did, many of us would have put our own happiness ahead of others.
Joyce, James. “Eveline.” Literature and the Writing Process. Ed. Elizabeth McMahan, Susan X Day, Robert Funk and Linda S Coleman. 8th ed. Upper Saddle River: Pearson, 2011. 3-7. Print.
McLoughlin, Dympna “Women and Sexuality in Nineteenth Century Ireland.” The Irish Journal of Psychology (1994): 266-275