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James Joyce's 'Eveline' - Fantasy, Paralysis and The Mundane

Updated on April 25, 2013
The sailing ship Adolphine moored at the Custom House in Dublin, circa 1880. Public Domain Image.
The sailing ship Adolphine moored at the Custom House in Dublin, circa 1880. Public Domain Image. | Source

Where the previous stories in Dubliners have been concerned with childhood and the false starts - exploring language (in 'The Sisters'), a brief foray into the adult world (in 'An Encounter') and the explosive fantasy world of a first crush (in 'Araby'), 'Eveline' revolves around its eponymous heroine's inability to leave her family for a future with her young and dashing lover.

‘Evaline’ is concerned with the sheen of fantasy she lends to her thoughts during a brief affair, but her dominant fantasy is concerned not with her lover, but a nostalgic fantasy of home and sentimentality.

Page references to Dubliners are for the Penguin Modern Classics edition.

'Eveline' and the Fantasy of Nostalgia

Eveline sees her world, and especially her father, in retrospect:

‘they seemed to have been rather happy then. Her father was not so bad then’;

‘now that she was about to leave it she did not find that it was a wholly undesirable life’;

‘sometimes he could be very nice. Not long before, when she had been laid up for a day, he had read her out a ghost story and made toast for her at the fire’ (Dubliners, pp.37, 39, 41).

However, these are clearly musings of fantasy, and the dissatisfaction seen in the young narrators of the previous stories – 'Araby' and 'An Encounter' can also be seen in Eveline, for each of the above statements is made as if to justify darker truths:

‘her father used often to hunt them in out of the fields with his blackthorn stick’;

‘She had hard work to keep the house together and to see that the two young children who had been left to her charge went to school regularly and got their meals regularly’;

‘latterly he had begun to threaten her and say what he would do to her’ (Dubliners, pp.37, 39).

Her flights of fancy about her future with Frank, her lover, also mirror the younger narrators’ fantasies: where the first, in ‘The Sisters’ sees everything in relation to himself and his own thoughts and feelings, and the second, in ‘An Encounter’ only truly sees his friend Mahony’s worth when he feels himself in danger, so too Eveline’s thoughts of Frank are not of him as an individual, but what he will do for her:

‘Frank would save her. He would give her life, perhaps love, too […] Frank would take her in his arms, fold her into his arms. He would save her,’ (Dubliners, p.42).

Introspective Paralysis and Nostalgia in 'Eveline'

For Eveline, introspective paralysis has already set in. Except for her small and unconvincing thought that Frank will ‘save’ her, her fantasies are already looking to the past and inwards to the mundane that is already in her life. In the previous story, ‘Araby’ the boy has no such boundaries in his love and quest fantasies.

Like 'Araby' 'Eveline' is a turning point in the progression of the collection. Eveline the young woman chooses her mundane family life over Frank, eschewing adventure for safety, and in doing so she must make her pitiful existence more appealing through nostalgic fantasy about her abusive father. The mundane has become entrenched in fantasy - as it will later for Maria in 'Clay', twisted to become something like a parody of the magnificent quest the young boy imagines himself on when he goes to Dublin's Araby fair in the hope of gaining Mangan's sister's affection.

Why Does Eveline Stay in Dublin?

In the end of the story, Eveline chooses to stay at home rather than sail to a new life with Frank. My reading of Dubliners is that the characters are paralysed by their fantasies and illusions, and in 'Eveline' the young woman, as soon as a chance presents itself to move on with her life, begins to fantasise nostalgically about the past.

Paralysis of various shades runs through Dubliners - the physical paralysis of the priest in 'The Sisters'; the paralysis of the young narrator in the same story who cannot break out of the language and connotations of the people around him; the paralysis of Maria in 'Clay', who is unable to see herself as she is and instead sees herself through the eyes of others - or how she wishes others would see her; the paralysis of Gabriel in 'The Dead', who attempts to control everything and everyone in his life and is faced with a shocking revelation of his wife's past that rips his world apart until he finally lets go of his control in an epiphany of snowy universal realism.

Eveline is transfixed by the rose-tinted spectacles she sees her past through, paralysed into indecision, and, finally, makes a choice that is not really a choice at all, but simply a continuation of the past and present.

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