Eveline and Maria are connected by their sense of duty and their desire for independence. Eveline, as a young girl of nineteen, faces a choice: whether to stay with her abusive father or run off to South America with Frank, a sailor she has met. Maria, an older woman who works in a boarding house, cherishes her independence but is still emotionally attached to the family that had employed her as a servant. Both women long for freedom but are unable to find it.
Eveline hopes that Frank, the sailor, will "save" her by taking her out of Ireland. Although she has a job, her life is controlled by her father, who demands her wages and threatens her with violence. Nevertheless, she feels bound by a promise to her dead mother to keep the family together, as if she were personally responsible for the emotional health of her father and brothers. It is this sense of duty that ultimately prevents her from going with Frank. She realizes that she is not in love with him, and as they are about to board the ship, she has a change of heart and abandons him. It is unclear if this is an act of courage or cowardice.
In "Clay," Maria has achieved a certain level of independence. Unlike Eveline, she is not controlled by a man, and her money is hers do spend as she will. Yet, like Eveline, she is bound by a sense of duty to people who cannot provide the emotional fulfillment she craves. Her visit to the family where she worked for years is bittersweet: Joe and the others are not her real family, and despite her having cared for Joe like a "real mother," her coming among them on All Hallow's Eve is a bit of a performance.
What connects Eveline and Maria is their need for love and fulfillment, and their sense of duty to men who are emotionally or physically abusive. Lacking any kind of recognition as individuals, both women seek to find happiness in embracing the roles that have been prescribed for them. In other words, they are both desperately alone.