"Eveline" by James Joyce
Like "Araby," "Eveline" is a story of young love, but unlike Mangan's sister, Eveline has already been courted and won by Frank, who is taking her away to marry him and "to live with him in Buenos Ayres" (49). Or has she? When she meets him at the station and they are set to board the ship, Eveline suddenly decides she cannot go with Frank, because "he would drown her" in "all the seas of the world" (51). But Eveline's rejection of Frank is not just a rejection of love, but also a rejection of a new life abroad and escape from her hard life at home. And water, as the practical method of escape, as well as a symbol of both rejuvenation and emotional vitality, functions in a multi-faceted way to show all that Eveline loses through her fear and lack of courage. By not plunging into those "seas of the world that tumble[d] about her heart" (51), Eveline forsakes escape, life, and love for the past, duty, and death.
Like many of the stories in Dubliners, moving eastward in "Eveline" is
associated with new life. But for Eveline, sailing eastward with Frank is as much an escape as a promise of something better. From the story's opening, she is passive and tired (46) and remembers old neighbors like "the Waters" who have since escaped east "to England" (47). She looks forward to "going... away like the others" (47). She admits she will not be missed at her job (47) and at nineteen, without the former protection of her older brothers, she is beginning to feel "herself in danger of her father's violence" (48). Her
father takes what little money she earns and she is in charge of her two younger siblings as well (48). The sound of a street organ playing an Italian
tune is both a call to her from the East across the water and a reminder of her mother's death. She cannot end up like her mother, "living a life of commonplace sacrificies closing in final craziness" and her only recourse is to "escape" with Frank; "He would save her" (50) if she goes with him east across the seas. When she fails to go with Frank, Eveline indeed succumbs to the prospect of an imprisoning life like her mother's.
Water also signifies rejuvenation, the possibilities of a new life. In
contrast to her present life full of "hard work-a hard life," Eveline looks forward to exploring "another life with Frank" (48) and a new her across the seas (49). Compared to re-living her dead mother's life, Eveline has a chance to live her own life and begin something with Frank that is brand new, open-ended, and unstamped by the impressions of the past. Though she can hardly imagine what her new life might be like, Eveline knows it will be unlike the one mapped out for her by her father. But perhaps it is the very uncertainty about her life with Frank that finally terrifies her. Known duty and hardship is finally preferable to unknown possibility, and as Frank draws her into the "seas of the world," she feels at last that "it was impossible" (51). One cannot begin a new life unless one leaves behind the old, and "the seas" of rebirth are too much for her. Unable to make that leap of faith, she remains behind, "passive, like a helpless animal" (51).
Eveline also rejects love and emotional vitality as represented by "the
seas of the world" (51).When she contemplates leaving with Frank, Eveline thinks of home as providing "shelter and food" and the companionship of "those she had known all her life" (47); not once does she think of leaving behind
those who love her. Eveline knows her father and siblings depend on her and need her but she doesn't feel loved. But "Frank was very kind, manly, open-
herated" (48) and after the "excitement" of being courted she "had begun to
like him" (49). She knows Frank can give her a new life, and "perhaps love, too" and "she had a right to happiness" (50). Yet Eveline is not certain she will find love with Frank, just as she doesn't know what kind of life they will have together. The adult world of desire, longing, fulfillment, and heartbreak roil about in "the seas of the world that tumbled about her heart" (51) and this unknown world of emotional vitality and power is as frightening to Eveline as the physical reality of sailing halfway round the world. In this realm she might drown, yes, but she might just as likely learn to swim. Yet by declining "to test the waters" Eveline condemns herself to a life without emotional fulfillment at all. In the rite of passage from adolescence into adulthood, Eveline feels only that the transformative experience will "drown" her old self and she is unable to adequately imagine a new self emerging from the waves.
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