The relationship between Eveline and her father is clearly an abusive one, and it does very much reflect the expectations of how women were treated and expected to behave in 20th Century Ireland. Eveline is struggling with this internal conflict over whether she should stay in her miserable, abusive life caring for her father in Ireland, or run away that very day with Frank to Buenos Ayres. Joyce shows us their relationship through only specific lines and short memories Eveline recalls as she is sitting, looking out the window contemplating her decision. Her position by the window alone shows us that she is trapped by this promise she made to her dying mother that she would look after the household. This is a very typical promise for an Irish daughter to make back then, especially being the eldest. This is what daughters would do. Their hopes and dreams (which mostly consisted of getting married and having children) came second to the plans their fathers already had for them. Eveline is doomed from the start because she is the eldest female and her mother is dead.
Here is where the reader first starts to understand Eveline's relationship with her father: "Even now, though she was over nineteen, she sometimes felt herself in danger of her father's violence." This shows us that she is literally terrified. She lives a sad life with him, where she does not feel loved or even...
safe. Later, she mentions that this is why she has started having "the palpitations."
Yet, like many abused wives and children are known to do, she tries to rationalize how her father really does love her, even though he is abusive, cruel and selfish toward her. It says, "Her father was becoming old lately, she noticed; he would miss her." Here, Eveline is beginning to guilt herself into staying. She uses this and two memories of times when her father wasn't so bad (made her laugh once when her mother was alive and made her toast once when she was sick) to justify to herself why she shouldn't leave him. This seems ludicrous to the reader. In all of her life, she can only really remember two times when her father was somewhat nice to her.
Her father hates Frank because, of course, he wants Eveline to stay at home and continue cleaning the house taking care of the cooking and shopping. "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," (p.33).
Frank is the exact opposite of her father. "Frank would take her in his arms, fold her in his arms. He would save her," (p. 35). Frank is filled with life and wants to take Eveline all over the world. She would actually have a chance at living her life, experiencing happiness and love, the exact opposite of what she will experience staying in Dublin with her father.
But she cannot go. Joyce craftily continues to show us that she is dead inside already and is doomed to live and die in Dublin. He describes her frozen at the end of the book, paralyzed by her fear of leaving her cruel father and breaking the promise made to her mother.
Eveline is one of many sad characters that Joyce uses throughout The Dubliners to paint pictures of what life was like in 20th Century Dublin. He also wrote these stories based on his own experiences with people he actually knew and encountered. I am sure he knew many women like Eveline, who struggled with this very conflict.