"All the seas of the world tumbled about her heart." Explain with reference to context.James Joyce's "Eveline"

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In his Dubliners, James Joyce wrote of the tragic Irish, a people for whom the assertion of psychological freedom is impossible because of the historical, political, religious, and social patterning of Ireland's Dublin in the 1900s.  Eveline is among these tragic Irish, for she cannot break the ties of her promises to Blessed Margaret Mary Alacoque and her dying mother to take care of her little brother.  Also, she lacks the courage to leave what she has known:

It was hard work--a hard life--but now that she was about to leave it she did not find it a wholly undesirable life.

As she stands among the crowd in the station at the North Wall, a dock on the river Liffey from where the ferry boat to Liverpool leaves each day, Eveline prays to God to direct her and show her her duty.  As the boat blows its "long mournful whistle into the mist," Eveline feels much distress as the adult world of desire ebbs and her fear of the unknown rushes in:

All the seas of the world tumbled about her heart.  He was drawing her into them: he would drown her.  She gripped with both hands at the iron railing.

It is at this point that Eveline experiences what Joyce has termed a psychological paralysis. For, she is caught in the circumstances of her life at home and she surrenders to her religious servility, her subservience to her father, her promises to her mother and her self-deception--a tragic figure.