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In the short story "Eveline" from Dubliners by James Joyce, Eveline is trying to escape from a harsh life where her childhood is ended abruptly by the early death of her mother from an unpleasant illness. The death means she feels obliged to stay on living in the family home to raise her little brothers. She gets no thanks for this sacrifice of her youth from an aggressive and unsympathetic father, so decides to take up her new boyfriend's offer of leaving the country on a boat - to head for a glamourous new start overseas. However, at the last minute during embarkation, she is paralysed by fear of the unknown and uncertainty - and decides to accept the familiar and reassuring - faults and all.
"Eveline" in Dubliners, a collection of stories in which James Joyce portrays the tragic Irish in what have been called "truths of human experience" as Joyce discerned the Irish in a defeated, colonial city. The fragmentary sketches of characters reflect the social climate of Dublin, a city occupied by the British. In his introduction to Joyce's Dubliners, Terence Brown writes,
Those truths provoked anger, an almost vindictive rejection of the Ireland that would or could not transcend them, the satiric shudder of recoil from the terrible and cruel squalor of so much that takes place in these tales (marital abuse, violence against a child, sexual exploitation and entrapment, casual political corruption, religious hypocrisy).
As one of these stories, "Eveline gives a sketchy portrait of a young woman who is indecisive and subservient. She dreams of receiving respect from people in a new home in a distant country: "She would not be treated as her mother had been." Yet, as she comtemplates her new life, "now that she was about to leave it she did not find it a wholly undesirable life."
Somewhat circumspect is the young man who wishes to take her to Buenos Ayres where he has a home. With this man taking her to such a faraway place, the suggestion of Joyce is that the girl's leaving would be more exile than voyage with the man that she must meet secretly. That Eveline lacks conviction on her departure is partly because her father has "found out about the affair and forbidden her to have anything to say to him." So, she has to meet him secretly.
One evening Eveline, realizing that "her time was running out," sits by the window, leaning her head against the window curatin where there is a odour of dusty cretonne., which suggests the death of her dream. This smell of funeral homes reminds him of Eveline's mother and her promise to her to keep the home together:
A bell clanged upon her heart.
In an epiphany, Eveline realizes that she canot
As she mused the pitiful vision of her mother's life laid its spell on the very quick of her being--that life of commonplace sacrifices closing in final craziness.
Unconvinced, Eveline repeats in her mind, "Frank would save her." But, she remembers her brother, who will be left alone with the father, to fend for himself. Still, Eveline reminds herself, "Could she still draw back after all he had done for her?
A bell clanged upon her heart. She felt him seize her hand.
All the seas of the world tumbeld about her heart. He was drawing her into them. She gripped with both hands at the iron railing.
Having arrived at the station on the appointed day, Eveline is surrounds by brown baggage, a color reflective of her life. The "black mass of the boat" are caught by the eye of Eveline as she prays to God to direct her. But as Frank calls to her Eveline experiences an epiphany, the moment in which she realizes that she cannot abandon the promise to her mother, nor can she expose her brother to the sexual abuse that she has suffered. She must stay to protect her brother.
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