Eveline by James Joyce

In Eveline by James Joyce we have the theme of memory, responsibility, decisions, conflict, escape, guilt, paralysis and letting go (or rather the inability to let go). Taken from his Dubliners collection the story is narrated in the third person by an unknown narrator and from the opening lines of the story it is apparent that Joyce is delving into one of the major themes of the story, that of memory. Eveline can remember, as a child, playing across the road from her home, in a field that no longer exists. This is significant as it suggests that in some ways Eveline is lamenting the past, a past when she remembers her life was easier. It is also significant that Eveline mentions her mother and father when she is recalling playing in the field. This is important as there is a sense that Eveline’s life was happier or easier when her mother was alive. By mentioning her father and mother, it also connects Eveline to both. A connection that Eveline finds hard to break.

As the story continues it also becomes apparent that Eveline has a major decision to make. Whether or not to move to Buenos Ayres (escape) with Frank. She is torn between staying at home and looking after her father and younger siblings or moving to Argentina. Again this is significant as it suggests an internal conflict within Eveline. Despite it being clear to the reader that Eveline’s father is an abusive, controlling and domineering man, who spends a lot of time drinking, Eveline still has a strong sense of compassion for him. Again Joyce utilises memory to highlight to the reader as to why Eveline may have compassion for her father. Eveline can remember as a child her father wearing her mother’s bonnet in an attempt to make Eveline and her brothers and sisters laugh. This memory is also important for another reason as it suggests that a bond (or connection) still remains between Eveline, her siblings and her father. Despite how her father treats her, Eveline still feels connected to him.

There are also traces of symbolism in the story. As Eveline is sitting by the window she notices all the familiar objects around her and despite dusting them every week, the dust remains. Eveline’s action, of dusting every week for so many years is significant as it suggests repetition, doing the same thing, which in turn would suggest a paralysis within Eveline. It is also significant that the dust remains. This suggests that no matter how much Eveline does while at home nothing will change. Little Keogh, the cripple is also symbolically important as he in some ways acts as foreshadowing in the story. Like Little Keogh, Eveline too by the end of the story remains crippled or stuck to the past unable to move to Buenos Ayres with Frank. There are also further examples of paralysis in the story. At the beginning of the story, Eveline is sitting by the window. Later as the story progresses Joyce tells the reader that Eveline ‘continued to sit by the window, leaning her head against the window curtain, inhaling the odour of dusty cretonne.’ In many ways this line mirrors the opening lines of the story which in turn would suggest a paralysis within Eveline.

Despite knowing she would be better off going to Buenos Ayres (escape) with Frank, and starting a new life, Eveline still finds it difficult to let go, which again suggests to the reader a state of paralysis. Even when she is standing by the dock with Frank, she remains unsure of what to do and through prayer, seeks guidance. This is significant as it suggests that Eveline is relying on someone else (God) to help her make up her mind. Just as she relied on little Keogh to keep ‘nix’ when she was younger and she relied on her mother’s calming influence over her father, Eveline is stuck (paralysed) at the dock relying on someone else again. In some ways she has not moved on from the past nor has she let it go.

The element of guilt that Eveline feels regards her promise to her mother is also a factor in holding her back and stopping her from leaving for Argentina with Frank. However despite her promise to her mother ‘to keep the home together as long as she could,’ Eveline’s memory of her mother’s death acts as the impetus for her to finally realise that she has to leave her father and move to Buenos Ayres. There is possibly an awareness within Eveline that she does not want to live and suffer as her mother did (living with her father). However this epiphany (of realising she must leave her father and Dublin), is short lived.

It is her inability to let go of the past (and her family) which results in the sense of paralysis at the end of the story. While Frank is boarding the boat, Eveline stands motionless, staring at him. There is no sense that Eveline has the courage or strength to begin a new life. Despite the opportunity to start a fresh, new life with Frank, Eveline is stuck in the past unable to move forward. Her fear of a new beginning and her perceived responsibility to her younger siblings and father results in her staying in Dublin. Eveline will return home to her father and life will continue to remain the same. There remains a sense of paralysis within Eveline.

Cite Post
McManus, Dermot. "Eveline by James Joyce." The Sitting Bee. The Sitting Bee, 26 Jun. 2014. Web.


  • Clear analysis and easy to understand.

  • I am reading your analysis as I read along in Dubliners. The analysis helps me to process and give meaning to the little peculiarities to Joyce’s writing which I most usually catch, but most certainly never fully understand.

    I am reading this in preparation for trip to Dublin. I am Irish-American by ancestry but realized I know little of Irish history or literature.

    Do you know of any resources that will contextualize Dubliners in Irish history? It would be quite helpful to know what is going on in Ireland in the early 1900’s.

    For example, at the beginning of Eveline the man who bought the field (which was a place of unity for all different kids) was from Belfast. He did not build a houses like those in the neighborhood, but assumedly more expensive ones with “shiny roofs”.

    I feel as if this could be representative of the tensions which were starting to grow between present day Ireland and the North. Imagine a rich Belfaster who comes in and builds shiny homes in a field which used to unite children. What is left, seemingly, is a reminder of division of religion, culture and class. Is this representative of how Dubliners felt about people form the North?
    (But as I noted, I don’t have the historical knowledge to say whether my analysis holds water)

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Patrick. A good place to start when it comes to Joyce’s Dublin is The James Joyce Centre in Dublin. As for the relationship between North and South I haven’t really reflected on this but your assessment is plausible. There may have been animosity between both sides. Ireland did after all change in the coming years becoming an Independent country and hostilities where heightened right through till the Good Friday Agreement.

  • I am to face my exam which includes this short story.The analysis is logical and you have skillfully devided the story into themes which helps to understand easily. The help this analysis gave is priceless at the moment. Thank you very much and keep it up.

  • thanks so much!

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