by James Joyce
Characters in "Eveline"
She's the first "adolescent" of Dubliners, and the first female main character. Eveline's story is the shortest, too, and the plot is pretty simple. She has to decide whether she'll leave Dublin tonight on a ship to live with her main squeeze, Frank, or whether she'll stay in Dublin where her father, her job, and her home are.
Early in the story, Eveline "tried to weigh each side of the question," and that's probably a good thing for us to do, too. But wait a second. Hasn't she already "consented to go away" (Eveline.5)? She totally told Frank that she'll accompany him to Buenos Aires, but now that the date has arrived, she's having second thoughts. The very fact that this is the case reveals something crucial about Dubliners—that simply deciding to do something or wanting to do it desperately has almost no connection with actually getting that thing done.
To Go or Not to Go
On the pro side, Eveline loves Frank, and thinks he can protect her. She also hopes, in a vague sort of way, that she'll be respected more in Argentina as a wife than she is currently as a single woman and low-class worker. Finally, leaving Dublin will mean getting out of a bad family situation in which her violent and drunk father threatens her and makes her life miserable. For Pete's sake, lady, hop on the boat.
Not so fast. All those pros are actually tied up in the cons of her leaving, too. She's taking care of two young children, and knows they need her. Her father isn't always that bad, and he also needs her. And she's familiar with her home, and it's hard to imagine leaving it behind forever. She figures that she has "a hard life—but now that she was about to leave it she did not find it a wholly undesirable life." So the choice is becoming a lot less clear-cut now that she's done her pros and cons.
It's important to note that Eveline's list of pros and cons is pretty particular to her. The tone of the story, which mimics her voice, is sort of exaggerated and impulsive. It's also overly sentimental when it comes to things like pictures of old friends of the family on the wall. Would a wiser or more emotionally mature person actually worry so much about his or her "familiar objects" if it came down to leaving? Maybe not.
On the other hand, despite Eveline's obvious immaturity, her inability to make this decision makes a ton of sense. It's a pretty big decision, and she doesn't really know Frank all that well. Most of what she can say is that he is "very kind, manly, open-hearted" (Eveline.10). Sounds great, but is that really enough to follow him across the world?
What's really tragic about the story, then, is that Eveline is already at a disadvantage for making serious decisions (she's just not mature enough), and now she has to make one of the most serious decisions anyone could imagine. The collision of these two facts sets the stage for the climactic closing of the story, which takes place at the North Wall of Dublin, right in front of the ship to Argentina.
The Point of No Return
She's gotten this far. She's literally standing on the dock. Seems like she's made up her mind, right? She could have bailed on Frank at any point along the way if she didn't want to go. And the last lines of the story before the scene switches seem to be Eveline's final decision, her certainty that "She must escape!" and that "Frank would save her!" (Eveline.18). Sweet. Let's get this over with.
Oh wait. We may have jumped the gun here. Before she can actually make this decision and board the ship, Eveline has a major freak out: "she felt her cheek pale and cold" and "her distress awoke a nausea in her body." Her response to all of this is to pray for guidance (Eveline.19).
And of course the moment she finally decides is the moment when Frank's all, let's hit the road, babe "A bell clanged upon her heart. She felt him seize her hand" (Eveline.20). Apparently that bell, wherever it comes from, means that she's definitely not going, and she just holds on for dear life at this point, as if she was afraid not only that Frank "would drown her," but that the water itself would threaten her life.
And even though she has made a decision, and doesn't get on the boat, it's not like she does it with a lot of confidence. "She set her white face to him, passive, like a helpless animal" (Eveline.26).
She may have decided, but she's not exactly pumped about her choice.
Even though he's the main reason Eveline has such a big decision to make, Frank hardly figures into the story at all. Until he shouts three lines in the last page of the story, everything we know about him comes from Eveline's description, and it's pretty sparse.
He's from Ireland originally and has come back on vacation from his career as a sailor. At first, his relationship with Eveline went really smoothly and was all kinds of romantic: they went to the theater, he sang her songs, made up nicknames for her, and boasted of all his sailor adventures. The only problem was Eveline's father, who eventually banned her from seeing him, because he's a big fat jerk. Since they kept meeting in secret, the relationship kept on and eventually included an invitation to return to Argentina with him and be his wife. Swoon, right?
Not right. Even when Frank really comes on to the scene in the last section of the story, he does so mainly in order to be ignored. First, Eveline doesn't even hear what he's saying to her. Then, when he cries to her more and more urgently, hoping that she'll finally board the ship, she doesn't even acknowledge that he's speaking—or yelling. It's like Frank has sort of disappeared all of a sudden because Eveline "gave him no sign of love or farewell or recognition" (Eveline.26).
We don't really know how Frank feels about this because the story ends here, but it hardly matters: the real focus is just how completely and how suddenly Eveline has been convinced that going with Frank is a bad idea. Poor sucker.