James Joyce’s short story Eveline portrays a grim image of the lives of women who lived in Dublin at the turn of last century. Eveline, a part of the Dubliners collection, tells the story a young girl torn between duty and escape. Eveline is not able to choose. Her life reflects an unchanging, cyclical perspective that echoes Joyce’s observations on Dublin life. The struggle of Eveline is expressed through a narrative based on a third-person viewpoint and stream of conscious technique. Eveline’s perspective is essential to conveying her literal and mental struggle between her desire to be free and her obligation to remain. By examining Eveline’s desires and thoughts, the narrative is able to carry the plot. The story is not filled with physical action but the significance lies in Eveline’s paralysis, both psychologically and spiritually. Three major figures are reflected in the perspective: the window and the dust that never stops, as well as the memory of Eveline’s dead mother. These figures represent both the personal turmoil of Eveline and also the wider context of Dublin. The use of stream-of-consciousness method and a third party narrative exposes Eveline’s crippling paralysis in both mind and body.
Joyce’s narrative starts with an image of Eveline as seen from afar. Joyce’s narrative begins with a description of Eveline from afar, as if he were sitting across the room. The narrative finally reaches the point where it resembles Eveline’s voice in the 5th paragraph. Eveline thinks to herself, “It was a tough life – a life of hard work – but she did not consider it unwelcome.” (Joyce 555) The sentence has no grammatical structures and lacks commas. This creates the impression of constant mental activity. In the final scene, the narrative switches to a standard third-person perspective with a simple but emphatic description. “She set her face to him in a passive manner, like an animal.” Her eyes did not show him any sign of love, goodbye, or recognition.”
Joyce uses the words ‘windows,’ and ‘dust,’ liberally in his text. Eveline interacts both physically and mentally with them. The window figure is used to represent a divide in the world of home and outside. The contrast between Eveline, who is repressed and the window symbol that anticipates her future creates an atmosphere of hopelessness. The window, which appears outside Eveline’s conscious awareness in the story, creates a duality: Eveline’s subconscious imprisonment by the window and her liberated life are both created. Joyce’s second ‘dust figure’, however, makes the duality unstable. In two places, they are both mentioned: “SHE watched the evening invading the avenue from the window. She was tired.” (Joyce 552) And again on page 554: “Her time was running out but she continued to sit by the window, leaning her head against the curtain and inhaling the dusty cretonne odor. She was tired.” (Joyce 550) And again, on page 554, “Her time was running short but she continued sitting by the window and leaning against the curtain with her head, inhaling a dusty cretonne odor.” (Joyce 555). The dust is a reflection of Eveline’s ‘paralysis,’ her prolonged life of static living. Eveline is unable to see beyond her window because of the accumulation of dust. Joyce makes a comment about her corrupted desire for dust to cover her belongings.
“…reviewing her familiar objects, which she has dusted weekly for so many year and wondering where it all came from. She would probably never again see those familiar objects that she never imagined being separated from. (Joyce, 552)
Eveline lives off of mundane, repetitive activities like dusting. Dusting and the material dust she collects prevents her from leaving home. In the passage, the point of perspective is key to conveying Eveline’s psychological shackles with domestic life as well as her anxiety over possible escape.
Joyce’s narrative is efficient, capturing Eveline’s fearful future speculations and her mental journeys in the past. Joyce’s most complicated character, Eveline’s Mother, relies on stream-of-consciousness technique to make her effective. Eveline’s mother is an ambiguous figure. She is both a model to emulate and a comforting memory. The dead mother also represents a lifestyle Eveline may adopt. Eveline remembers that her father put on her mother’s bonnet in order to make her children laugh. Her father used to put her mother’s bonnet on so the children could laugh. (Joyce 554).
Eveline is left with an ambiguous final impression of her mother. Eveline’s thoughts are full of caution, even though they may be erratic. In the end, Eveline’s choice is reminiscent her mother’s decisions in the past. It’s a paralysis which plagued 19th century Dublin women.
Joyce’s narrative method combination is effective for revealing Eveline’s mental conflict. This technique allows for a harsh realism to flourish, as well as dense symbolism. Like many of Joyce’s stories, this one is marked by the imprisonment of routine and a desire for escape. Eveline relies solely on the dust in the window to remember her mother and is emotionally unreducible. These figures reflect the underlying turmoil of Eveline and the greater context of Dublin. A third-person narrative combined with stream of consciousness exposes Eveline’s paralysis, both mentally and physically.