Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
If what James Joyce intended to demonstrate in all the stories in Dubliners (1914) was the squalor and spiritual impoverishment of typical Irish lives, then “Eveline” is unquestionably in keeping with this general intent. Although still a young woman, Eveline dwells on the past, on the debilitating nostalgia of how things were when her mother was still alive and when her father was “not so bad.” She takes solace in childhood memories, dwelling on playmates and siblings who are now either dead or gone. She cannot fully imagine a future away from her family, her neighborhood, or her nation, and when it comes time for her to take her life into her own hands, she is paralyzed and unable to act.
The theme of escape will be a familiar one for those who have read Joyce’s semiautobiographical novel, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916) or its earlier and even more personalized version, Stephen Hero (1944), written between 1904 and 1906 and ultimately published as a fragment after Joyce’s death. “Eveline,” also written in 1904, was inspired by one of the writer’s neighbors when the Joyce family lived at 17 North Richmond Street in Dublin. Eveline Thornton, the daughter of Ned Thornton, fell in love with a sailor, whom she married and with whom she ultimately set up housekeeping in Dublin, according to Richard Ellmann, Joyce’s biographer. Not only did the prototypical Eveline marry her sailor, but also her...
(The entire section is 635 words.)
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Among the most obvious themes in Dubliners is that of paralysis. In fact Joyce emphasizes this theme from the very first paragraph of the first tale in the collection, “The Sisters.”
Every night as I gazed up at the window I said softly to myself the word paralysis. It had always sounded strangely to my ears, like the word gnomon in the Euclid and the word simony in the Catechism. But now it sounded to me like the name of some maleficent being.
The theme and word “paralysis” hang over many of the tales; the stories, according to Anthony Burgess, are, “studies in paralysis or frustration. . .” An overwhelming sense of fatalism imbues the tales. The protagonists are in situations they cannot alter. The Irish-Catholic milieu and the social conditions thwart each character’s attempt to better his or her fate. The environment is stagnant, and each character is ultimately incapable of any change. The realization of one’s paralytic plight and the frustration that ensues can cause a protagonist to lash out with violence, like Farrington in “Counterparts.”
This sense of stagnation or paralysis is emphasized with the very words Joyce uses. The story “Eveline” presents an excellent example. The protagonist barely moves throughout the tale. The verbs which describe her are often verbs of inaction, for example “sat” in the first paragraph. Verbs are also...
(The entire section is 1190 words.)