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Friday, January 28, 2011

DUBLINERS, by James Joyce: "Eveline"

Finally my Dubliners experience has found a heart in Joyce!  So far (1) the stories, while undeniably, blindingly brilliant, have done virtually nothing to draw the reader--or me, anyway-- "into" the characters and "feel" for them.  Here in "Eveline" --well, how can you not feel sorry for this girl, stuck as she is between this rock and a hard place, understand why she chooses in the end what she does, and yet fervently wish she'd chosen the other?  Also (2) --and I wonder if this is related at all to, and even facilitates, the former (1) --this is the simplest of the stories thus far in the collection, at least as far as layers and symbols are concerned, or else I'm totally (and this is certainly not unlikely) missing the boat here.  Does the general simplicity of this story encourage its pathos?

The story is divided into, not the obvious two (obvious by marker of a printer's dividing line in my copy), but three sections.  The division between one and two is less superficially obvious--more a tonal division between act one and act two, if "acts" there may be in so short a story.  The dividing "line" here, I believe is the long descriptive paragraph for Frank.  Pre-Frank, the prose is markedly negative; the contrary, of course, is the case post-Frank.

Act I, samples of the negative: the evening invades; she was tired; dead, dead, dead; the more distant from the present, the more ideal; the brown and yellow, as opposed to the new and, by contrast, more ideal red; Miss Gavan; the arguments and abuses of her father.  The transition into something less negative is that very last sentence leading into Frank, and Act II:

"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."  (Nice cadence here, by the way.)  Earlier, Joyce says, or has the girl think, "Everything changes."

The implications of these two sentences speak for the entire story--conflict, character, setting, everything.  The girl has before her a drastic change, and a change for the unknown.  The unknown is a typically scary place, and the known, often regardless of however miserable, is pretty much always preferable to the unknown, at least inasmuch as, again, the unknown is scary (and those naysayers who claim that the unknown--adventure--is not scary but exciting, well, if it were not scary it could in no wise create the adrenaline that verily lends the sensation of excitement in the first place; adrenaline junkies just like to get scared), and it is this that holds the intrigue.  Eveline is torn between, on one hand, staying where she is, despite its monotony, is discomfort, and its potential danger (her father's abuses, particularly as she increasingly gains similarity to her mother), and, on the other hand, embarking (literally) for the greener side across the sea.

Act II, examples of the positive: the white envelopes, indicating how she at least wants to feel for the coming adventure; "but she liked Harry too"; the distinct and abiding good of her father; the new connotation of the "odour of [the] dusty cretonne"; but we quickly slide back to the negative as memory of that good in father leads to his defense of his wife against the "damned Italians."  Eveline is stifled by recalled death and stands in eager/anxious anticipation of her escape.  ("Dereraun Seraun" is most likely--I had to look this up--invented by Joyce; however, the wide variety of implied "definitions" offer pretty idea for what he might have intended.)

Of course, she doesn't escape.  Wracked with fear, she opts for the grayish-brown constance of Dublin over the green adventure of Buenos Ayres (sic).

The theme of the story, I believe, is not change, but a derivative thereof: "the more things change the more they stay the same."  Cliche', sure, but in wording only, not application, and that simple, apparently oxymoronic sentence applies across the entire span of the story, much like the two sentences from before.  Nearly every line of the story holds indicator of something having changed, changing, or awaiting change.  In the end, however, and despite all this change all over the place, really, nothing changes: Eveline stays right where she is, and, interestingly, the things that drive her to seek change in the first place are, tit-for-tat, the very things she can't bear to leave behind.


There are two other items that I want to point out (not the only potentially point-worthy, as there are many (though these others are generally indicative of trends and referents we've already dissected at length), but, I think--forgive me--the point-worthiest), one of foreshadowing, the second of contextualizing; both, however, are perhaps zoomed-in a little too far:
  1. "Damned Italians" -- aside from the irony of racial abuse here (Joyce lived in Italy for most of his life--though this could be scorn from the one-eyed man in the form of mockery toward an assumed bigotry of his countrymen), I think the words from Eveline's father and where/how (from within the happy-ish Act II) they're written/remembered indicate a prejudice against if not travel then foreigners in general.  If she possesses any of the same bigotry of her father, then her fear of this adventure heightens;
  2. "Eveline!  Evvy!" -- maybe I'm slow (likely), but I didn't notice until now the girl's similarity of name to Eve of Old Testament fame.  Hmm.  Is Joyce saying that if Eve had not been pushed out by God for her transgression....  No.  He's saying that Eveline is perhaps missing out on the knowledge and experience that simply cannot be had from within her little, well, garden, no matter how dark and dreary.  And maybe all of Dublin is an Eveline, not an Eve.  Perhaps Joyce sees himself as, by contrast and in context, a masculine incarnation (not an Adam, however) of the more laudable of the two women.  I expect he would see Eden as a prison; also he, in no way, sees himself as a holy or righteous man; so Eve, indeed, is the better woman, and Dublin is a, Eveline: a cowardly failure.

As I said at the beginning, I really see this as the first of the stories thus far to have some spark of life.  Despite the gray tragedy of it, it is a tragedy!  Whatever the other stories were, they were not tragedies, as--for me--a story for whose characters I care not can never come across as tragic.  This poor girl, Eveline!  What a hand she get dealt!  I wonder, and perhaps this is the most salient question: is it her fault?


  1. Before I say anything, let me be up front that I've only read this one once, and it was a few weeks ago.

    This is the first story in the collection that has really appealed to me. You're right that it may not have as many layers as the others, but it actually has a heart.

    To me, this story is autobiographical. I think that this episode may be Joyce's love letter to Dublin. As many things that are wrong with the place, you don't abandon your family and you don't forsake where you're from. Yes, Buenos Aires would be logically, empirically, demonstrably better for her, but I think that what Joyce is getting at is that we don't always make logical choices. Sometimes from where/whom we come is inextricably tied to who we are, and trading that in is burying a part of your soul, even if there might be something better in the distance.

  2. So, perhaps the contrary to what I was saying, this is regret for his departure, rather than criticism of his country's homebodies.

  3. I think that it might be that. I mean, while he leaves Ireland, all his works focus on it. He has to have some lingering love for it.

  4. There's a pretty hefty internal conflict there, though, else why all the spite? He paints a pretty freaking ugly portrait.

  5. It's definitely not a flattering portrait. I don't know. I may be totally wrong, but I just get the feeling that sometimes we say the worst things about the people (or in this case, places) that we love the most. I think that this story is about that tension. Joyce spends the entire book "convincing" himself that he doesn't, shouldn't love Dublin, but when it's all said and done, I think that this story tells us that maybe he can't ever completely stop loving it, even if he wants to.

  6. I fully see your reasoning, and it sounds really good. I was guilty of saying those same sorts of things about my hometown, but when it comes down to it, I love that place. Same with good ol' Sagnasty. What a crummy place (sorry, whoever's out there reading this), but I love it. I think you're right.

  7. Of course, with the giant contrasts and conflict already in this story I don't think it's that big a stretch to assume even that both interpretations--he wants to stay; he's glad he's left--are right.

  8. I'm pretty sure that I agree. I think that, intellectually speaking, leaving Dublin was a no-brainer. But I think that part of his heart regrets the decision.


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