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It is clear that the characters of Eveline and Polly in these two short stories are very different and are presented in contrasting ways by Joyce. Eveline is a character who feels burdened by her moral responsibility to her father and family, and, as much as she desires to escape the same fate that her mother experienced, which Eveline describes as a life made up of "commonplace sacrifices closing in final craziness," when she finally has to make a decision, she finds herself paralysed and unable to move, trapped by the reality of her situation. Note how Joyce describes this as she stays behind hte barrier and watches Frank as he implores her to follow him:
She set her white face to him, passive, like a helpless animal. Her eyes gave him no sign of love or farewell or recognition.
The reader's sympathies are engaged with this description of her as being "like a helpless animal." The governing adjective, "passive," serves to highlight the way that she feels trapped by circumstances that feel so much bigger than she is and from which she feels powerless to break free.
Polly is a much more ambiguous character who is, at least in part, responsible for her own situation. Although it would be possible to argue that she is used very cruelly by her mother, at the same time, it is clear that Polly is at least in part a creator of her own fate, and the way she sings the song, "I'm a... naughty girl," confirms this to the reader. Polly can be seen to be just as ruthless as her mother in the way that she seduces the poor Doran, and then feigns sadness and emotion in order to increase his guilt and ensure that he proposes to her. In this way, she can actually be seen as being very similar to her mother, who is described in the following fashion:
She dealt with moral problems as a cleaver deals with meat: and in this case she had made up her mind.
Both Polly and Mrs Mooney therefore are presented in ways that show they are cold and calculating, and do not engage the sympathies of the reader in the same way that Eveline does. However, women in both of these stories are also represented as having to make do as best they can with brutal situations. Whether it is the drunkenness of Mr Mooney or the difficult home environment that Eveline has to cope with, women are shown to suffer greatly.
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