Eveline is an interesting story: it seems to be haunted
by a prescence, the prescenece of Eveline's mother
. Look at Eveline - her face is white, and she's almost a ghost
herself. Like Maria
in a Clay
she's moving closer to a living death
day by day. So are many character - look at Polly
in The Boarding House
. In fact, Joyce described her as a "sleepwalking bitch
" in Ulysses
, a not particularly flattering description.
The critic Susan Kramer suggests that Joyce has written Dubliners with a “three-tiered psychological framework consisting of desire, repression and aggression” and that this structural mechanism operates as part of the whole book, and within each story. Eveline, as the third story, functions as the beginning of Joyce’s movement into the study of repression, and its links with the other two thematic elements. Firstly, Joyce takes Nietzsche’s existentialist arguments and inverts them: Eveline has clearly experienced her epiphany, which in her case is a perceived insignificance of life, that has arisen from the religious dogma and monotonous way of life she has experienced in Dublin. Yet, this realisation does not liberate her, as Nietzsche would suggest - she fails to understand her situation fully and thus is left confused and helpless. We are told, “She sat at the window watching the evening invade,” and “Her time was running out.” However these images of passivity are juxtaposed with her self-created inability to act against time’s power, and crucially, it is Eveline’s self-awareness and resulting existentialist angst that leads to this constant internal conflict - thinking that if she were to leave, “her place would be filled up by advertisement,” she allows the complexities of life to run over her. Thus I honestly believe Joyce is attacking the theories of one of his contemporaries, suggesting Eveline’s mental paralysis is a result of her epiphany - in fact, this is shown structurally: past memories are placed deep within large sections of text, and hurriedly described as if Eveline is attempting to flee them. Joyce’s use of free indirect discourse also achieves an intimate tone where the third person manages to convey Eveline’s tone of uncertainty and conflicting views. She says, “It was hard work - a hard life - but now that she was about to leave it she did not find it a wholly undesirable life.” The repetition of the third person pronoun in the above example reflects the continually self-aware state Eveline finds herself in, and the repetition of certain words, like life (rather than using a pronoun), means that she appears to be in a trance-like, pensive state that mirrors mental instability and paralysis, to which Joyce is comparing life in Dublin. Indeed, she refers to her mother’s “final craziness” with simultaneous awe and fear.
Repression also manifests itself in other forms; we are told her “head was leaned against the window curtains,” and the symbol of the closed curtain, as suggested by Freud, symbolise the manner in which Eveline has been held back from freedom; whether physical, or the ability to think freely and openly. I don't know too much about Freud so if any experts or more knowledgeable people have a proper Freudian interpretation, I would love to hear it, by the way
Religious dogma appears to play little part in her life; a “yellowing photograph” of a priest appears to be not only an attack by Joyce on the decay and failure of the Catholic Church, but a suggestion that Eveline has not tended to her faith. Thus, bound by cultural pressure yet freed through the power of her mind, she finds herself in a state of numbness where existence almost holds no meaning to her. She inhales “the odour of dusty cretonne” and ponders about dust, and these stale, destructive images have clear undertones of death - perhaps that is exactly why she is fascinated with them. Once again Freud may be of relevance: he suggested that all organisms are controlled by two fundamental instincts: eros and thanatos which can be considered as the ‘life drive’ and the ‘death drive’. Eveline’s comfort in the presence of objects symbolising death shows us that she finds solace in the perpetual and known, even if it means death. This comfort outweighs the ‘life drive’ and thus leads to a state of paralysis, where it appears she is slowly dying (Fight Club, anyone?), until the final passage where she appears to complete the passage to death. In addition to this is imagery symbolic of obligation that fills the house: she thinks of the “coloured print of the promises made to Blessed Margaret Alacoque,” which is a reference to a French nun who introduced the concept of devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Eveline is also bound by a perceived obligation to her family that was requested by her mother, so one cannot claim that blame must be placed by Eveline for not leaving - these subtle ties to Dublin hold her back, and it is interesting to note that she does not speak at any point in the story, showing that Joyce is using this verbal silence as a metaphor for the manner in which she is stifled.
Moving beyond repression, Joyce also explores another form of escape - death. Throughout the story Eveline is motionless (even after the line break, the first sentence is “She stood.”), silent and “tired.” At the end of the story she “set her white face to him Frank, passive, like a helpless animal. Her eyes gave him no sign of love or farewell or recognition.” Firstly, there is a layer of irony present: the “black mass of the boat” with its dark colours may be an allusion to the raft that crossed the River Styx, normally associated with a journey to death. However, by staying in Dublin Eveline’s inert, colourless face is like that of a ghost, and she has condemned herself to death. I believe that Joyce, having saturated the scene with images of death is making a wry point about the sheer futility of life in Dublin, and a suggestion that there is, in fact, no escape. What, then, is Joyce blaming for this tragic situation, and does this mean the story cannot be considered as an example of bildungsroman? I believe that it is necessary to look at the story as part of the whole text, and understand that Eveline forms only part of Joyce’s overall criticism. Its function is not to place blame (Joyce leaves that for other stories) or show character development but merely to show the consequences of failures in the political and philosophical structures of Dublin that lead to a paralysed generation of humans.
More Dubliners essays can be found at the node Dubliners. This essay has been moved to a new w/u after consultation with a God and an Editor.
Other Dubliners Essays: