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SMilan - Eveline. Analysis of short story.
[author: Sara Milan - postdate: 2007-12-18]


Eveline is one of the short stories from Dubliners (London, 1914) by James Joyce. Dubliners is divided into section of according to age. Eveline belongs to the section  of adolescence. It is the story of a young love and it is mainly centered on the figure of this girl that lives in Dublin. Joyce presents the dilemma faced by a young woman who must either care for her father and children or flee her homeland with a sailor who has made a rather ambiguous proposal.


The story
A young woman of about nineteen years of age sits by her window, waiting to leave home. She muses on the aspects of her life that are driving her away, while "in her nostrils was the smell of dusty cretonne". Her mother has died as has her older brother Ernest. Her remaining brother, Harry is on the road "in the church decorating business". She fears that her father will beat her as he used to beat her brothers, and she has little loyalty for her sales job. She has fallen for a sailor named Frank who promises to take her with him to Buenos Aires (spelled Buenos Ayres). Before leaving to meet Frank, she hears an organ-grinder outside, which reminds her of a melody that played on an organ on the day her mother died and the promise she made to her mother to look after the home. At the dock where she and Frank are ready to embark on a ship together, Eveline is deeply conflicted and makes the painful decision to not leave with him. Nonetheless, her face registers no emotion at all.


The protagonist of the story is Eveline, a girl railroaded to have a poor life, without satisfaction, on the score of the death of her mother Eveline is a withdrawn and passive woman, subdued by her father. She is conditionated by the local mentality and religion. She prefers to live in the past, in her memories. Her mind is inhabited by father, mother, brothers and sisters, family priest, old playmates, many of whom are named, and her sailor boyfriend. However they can't be called a character; they are all part of Eveline's mental apparatus. Eveline is the only character in the story, though even she "passive, like an helpless animal" doesn't seem to be much of a real autonomous character. It seems that she is living in a prison from which she is unable to escape. As a matter of fact when she has the possibility of movingeastward with Frank, finally she doesn't accept the proposal because the memory of her mother's fate keeps her in Ireland and in her dingy girl life.

Joyce adopts the semiotic model; in other words he creates a subject trough a series of transformations.

In Joyce's opinion a subject in order to be such  must have three competences: knowledge, powerfulness and willingfulness. In the  case with  Eveline, her transformation framed the transformation of other characters. She tries to change her statement but she isn't able to do it. In the end we can consider Eveline like a zero subject ( a subject that doesn't posses any competence) because she fails every attempt to change her position. In addition the initial situation is made worse by this process of transformation. If originally she is sad, finally she is desperate.


Space and time:

The principal function of the setting is to contribute to the mood of narrative. We can distinguish three different settings: an external setting, frightening and unacceptable; an internal setting, Eveline's dingy, poverty-ridden home; a mental setting, Eveline's few objects of remembrance.

There are a lot of elements that give information about space. As an example, the window is the barrier between the internal setting and the external setting. The internal one is characterized by a general sense of abandonment (the dust on the curtains, the out of tune harmonium, the darkened photo). There are also a lot of elements that give the idea of time: she looks the evening, they play every evening, a long time ago....


Point of view:

The technique uses by Joyce is perfectly suitable to a kind of fiction. The centre of interest is the way in which a character change his or her perception of a situation. But in Eveline, Joyce, is concerned with the operation of  an underdeveloped mind, unable to conceive of any personal point of view whatso ever.

Infact Eveline is prevented from making a bid from freedom, because she cannot conceive of living anywhere else than home. She has been condemned to her drab existence, precisely because of her lack of point of view. Nonetheless the story has a point of view. The reader can realize that Eveline is as blind to the world outside as she is to her home life. As a result, the reader must recognize that what seems to be a solid fact and the narrative base of the story (Frank asserted prosperity and promise of marriage) is really up more than a careful statement of what Eveline has accepted.


Part of Joyce's narrative skill goes into shaping the world perceived by Eveline in such a way as to communicate her pathos and her paralysis of thought, speech and action. So we must distinguish the simple colloquial voice of the character Eveline from the voice of a skilful narrator, however covert. Joyce makes obvious to make Eveline's mental voice prominent, but the style of the story is the result of any blend of telling and showing, narrating from a clear vantage point external to the character. ù

The writing style is unique for its era since the action takes place in the protagonist's mind, as descriptions of the heroine's reaction to internal and external impressions and memories.